Simak would probably be marketed as a Young Adult writer today (if any of his work was still in print.) One of his first novels, Ring Around the Sun, also became one of the first Ace Doubles, and it was a significant success.
The New York Herald Tribune called it “Easily the best science-fiction novel so far in 1953,” and in the highly-regarded survey Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove labeled it his best book, alongside Simak’s better-known classic City.
More recently, Ring Around the Sun featured prominently in Stephen King’s 2001 bestseller Hearts in Atlantis. When eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield gets an adult library card for his birthday, it’s one of the first books he checks out. The mysterious dimensional traveler Ted Brautigan, on the run from the minions of the Crimson King and renting the upstairs apartment, approves of Bobby’s choice.
“I have read this one,” he said. “I had a lot of time to read previous to coming here.”
“Yeah?” Bobby kindled. “Is it good?”
“One of his best…In this book,” he said, “Mr. Simak postulates the idea that there are a number of worlds like ours. Not other planets but other Earths, parallel Earths, in a kind of ring around the sun. A fascinating idea.”
Ring Around the Sun intrigues young Bobby in others ways, too.
Bobby… ate supper by himself, reading Ring Around the Sun with the TV on for company. He hardly heard Chet Huntley and David Brinkley gabbing the evening news. Ted was right about the book; it was a corker. The words seemed okay to him, too, although he supposed he didn’t have a lot of experience just yet.
I’d like to write a story like this, he thought as he finally closed the book and flopped down on the couch to watch Sugarfoot. I wonder if I ever could.
Maybe. Maybe so. Someone had to write stories, after all..
Lord of the Flies was a hell of a book, maybe the best he’d ever read. Ten pages in he was captivated; twenty pages and he was lost…
He felt a little giddy. He thought Lord of the Flies was about as far from Ring Around the Sun as you could get…
I found it interesting how King uses the space between these two books to show Bobby’s first steps into adulthood. Understanding the dimension-hopping premise of Ring Around the Sun gives Bobby the comprehension he needs to understand where his friend comes from, but it’s his fumbling attempts to understand Lord of the Flies that first prepare Bobby for the horror that befalls Ted.
Here’s the blurb from the Ace Double version, which in turn quotes from Groff Conklin’s review:
Rave Reviews for the Superior Science-Fiction Adventure!
Let Groff Conlkin, book reviewers for Galaxy, tell you about Ring Around the Sun:
“Here is a straight science fantasy — and a genuinely lovely book, too. It is one of those bitter-sweet, tough-gentle, purely magic fairy tales of super-normal powers, parallel worlds, enormously advanced civilizations — and children’s playthings — that take you completely out of yourself.
“…It deals with the daydream of a Better World Next Door; the powers of paranormal magics like the mesmerizing spin of a child’s top; a superscience that can produce indestructible modern conveniences practically free of charge, and the inspiring struggle between the humdrum dirtiness of Earthly industrialism and the enchantment of far-advanced science in the “better” parallel world.
“It, too, in a different way, is believable, exciting and satisfying, with some of the most ingenious plot twists in recent-science fiction.”
More excited plaudits for this novel on the next page…
Ring Around the Sun originally appeared in Galaxy magazine, published in three parts starting with the December 1952 issue.
Does it seem odd to anyone else that Conlkin’s rave review of Ring Around the Sun appeared in the magazine that first published it?
Ring Around the Sun appeared in hardcover from Simon & Schuster in 1953; the Ace Double version followed a year later.
When the Ace Double line died, Ace brought many of the most popular titles back in print as standalone paperbacks. Here’s the 1959 Ace paperback edition, with an effective cover by Robert E. Schulz.
I thought the Avon 1967 paperback edition, with its colorful psychedelic cover, was frankly less effective.
The 1979 New English Library (UK) version took the cover concept in a different direction, with a detailed painting by Tim White.
The 1990 Mandarin UK paperback brought back some of the adventure tone of the 1954 Ace Double edition, with a cover by Alex Pang.
Finally, the 1992 Carroll and Graf edition — part of a broad effort to bring much of Simak’s best work back into print — offered a rather generic cover.
The Carroll and Graf edition was the last time Ring Around the Sun was in print in English. There was no digital edition.
Its sister book, on the flip side of the Ace Double, was L. Sprague de Camp’s Cosmic Manhunt, an alternate title for his famous 1949 novel The Queen of Zamba. Here’s the book description, with editor Don Wollheim’s poetically over-the-top plot summary.
A Human Needle in a Space-Wide Haystack!
The chase began in a stuffy little office back on Earth, but it led Victor Hasselborg into the trackless chaos of outer space to a remote planet where civilization was only in its lusty brawling infancy.
On the hunt for a wealthy patron’s runaway daughter, that detective soon discovered that a cosmic private eye has worlds of trouble. Masquerading on the planet Krishna, where to be an outlander meant death, Hasselborg not only has to contend with passionate, not-to-be-denied (and not quiet human either) native females, ferocious man-eating beasts, but also with scheming, warring native Napoleons!
L. Sprague de Camp’s talented pen has turned out a vivid, multi-colored interplanetary adventure on a world whose everyday doings will leave you breathless!
I think Wollheim should have stuck to writing his own promo copy, rather than cribbing from Galaxy reviews. Not that there was anything wrong with Groff Conklin’s restrained piece on Ring Around the Sun, but he forgot to mention the trackless chaos of outer space, civilizations in lusty brawling infancy, or passionate, not-to-be-denied native females. A critical oversight, in my book.
This was the only appearance of “Cosmic Manhunt.” Under the title The Queen of Zamba, however, L. Sprague de Camp’s classic space fantasy originally appeared in the August 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine (cover by Hubert Rogers).
The Queen of Zamba is the first of de Camp’s Krishna novels. The Wikipedia entry on the novel has a fine summation of his ambitions for the novel:
The planet Krishna is de Camp’s premier creation in the Sword and Planet genre, representing both a tribute to the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and an attempt to “get it right”, reconstructing the concept logically, without what he regarded as Burroughs’ biological and technological absurdities. De Camp intended the stories as “pure entertainment in the form of light, humorous, swashbuckling, interplanetary adventure-romances — a sort of sophisticated Burroughs-type story, more carefully thought out than their prototypes.”
The 1954 Ace Double edition introduced a number of changes that de Camp didn’t necessarily approve of. When it next appeared in paperback in the US, in the 1977 Asimov’s Choice selection from Davis Publications (Dale Books), it was with de Camp’s preferred text, and the book also include the Krishna novelette “Perpetual Motion.” This version had a cover and interior artwork by Jack Gaughan.
The 1982 Ace edition features perhaps the best cover of the lot, by Paul Alexander, which nicely captured the science fantasy elements of the novel .
Anthony Fallon, the hero of The Queen of Zamba, appeared again in The Tower of Zanid, and also as a minor character in The Swords of Zinjaban.
Ring Around the Sun / Cosmic Manhunt was published by Ace Books in 1954. It is 190+128 pages, originally priced at 35 cents. Both novels are currently out of print, but relatively inexpensive in the used book market.
We’ve covered the following Ace Doubles so far:
ATTA/ The Brain-Stealers by by Francis Rufus Bellamy and Murray Leinster
The Ship from Atlantis/ The Stolen Sun by H. Warner Munn and Emil Petaja
Vulcan’s Hammer / The Skynappers by Philip K. Dick and John Brunner
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G.C. Edmondson
Bow Down to Nul / The Dark Destroyers by Brian W. Aldiss and Manly Wade Wellman
Gateway to Elsewhere / The Weapon Shops of Isher by Murray Leinster and A. E. van Vogt
The Cosmic Puppets / Sargasso of Space by Philip K. Dick and Andre Norton
The Beast Master / Star Hunter by Andre Norton
Big Planet by Jack Vance
City Under the Sea by Kenneth Bulmer
The Forgotten Planet (Planets of Adventure) by Murray Leinster
Six Worlds Yonder / The Space Willies by Eric Frank Russell
Sentinels of Space / The Ultimate Invader by Eric Frank Russell and Donald Wollheim
Ring Around the Sun/ Cosmic Manhunt by Clifford D. Simak and L. Sprague de Camp
The Trouble With Tycho/ Bring Back Yesterday by Clifford D. Simak and A. Bertram Chandler
The Last Planet (Star Rangers) by Andre Norton
A Touch of Infinity/ The Man With Nine Lives by Harlan Ellison
Kirkus Looks at Donald A. Wollheim and the Ace Double
Tales of Outer Space/ Adventures in the Far Future edited by Donald A. Wollheim
The Pirates of Zan by Murray Leinster
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.