Monday, June 9, 2014

The Mind Brothers

The Mind Brothers, by Peter Heath
No month stated, 1967  Lancer Books

A strange product of the Swinging Sixties Spy genre, The Mind Brothers was the start of a three-volume series, churned out by Peter Heath* between 1967 and 1968. What sets this particular series apart is that it veers into science fiction, with a superhuman from fifty thousand years in the future(!) who travels back in time to the 1960s to help fight Communism!

Jason Starr is our hero, a young computer programmer who worked for the RAND coproration before being contracted by the Air Force to work on a psyops warfare project in Vietnam. This kind of cred would normally make for a villain, but Jason’s a good guy who just wants to end the war. Experiments on lab rats prove that his psyops work, as the rats run in fear whenever the gear is turned on. So the equipment is hooked up to the bottom of a military aircraft and Jason rides along to oversee a field test.

Instead the plane’s shot out of the sky, ambushed by a Chinese patrol which apparently was lying in wait, as if the Chinese knew the plane would be coming by. Jason Starr dies in the ensuing crash, but here begins the sci-fi angle. A portal appears in the air and pulls his corpse into the far-flung future, where it is cloned and reconstituted. Jason is sent back to the ‘60s, where his unharmed but unconscious body is discovered by the puzzled crash investigators. He wakes up in the Navy hospital in Pearl Harbor, with no memory of having died nor of having visited the future.

Jason learns he’s been framed; researchers discovered that the equipment on the undercarriage of the downed plane was useless junk, with no affect on anything. Now Jason is discredited, with the implication that he swindled the government. He’s returned to civilian life, but many doors are now closed to him. Then one night he’s visited by a strange figure who looks much like Jason himself, only with no hair and sort of superhuman features – this is Adam Cyber, from 50,000 years in the future, the last surviving human, and the man who saved, rebuilt, and cloned Jason.

In a weird flash-forward we see that computers became so powerful that eventually humans turned the entire Earth over to them, leaving the planet to colonize other worlds. Adam Cyber chose to stay behind, and was dissolved into a sort of fluid state (exactly like the protagonist of Another End) for several thousand years; when reconstituted into human form, he discovered that the computers had recreated the planet down to the smallest microbe. Even the grass was robotic. A crying Adam Cyber realized mankind had taken a wrong path, and decided to go back in time to prevent this future.

Through some reasoning that Heath doesn’t really explain, Adam decided upon the late 1960s, and as a host Jason Starr, claiming Jason was a scientific genius on par with the greats. Since he’d need a body of the era to travel back in time to inhabit, Adam transported Jason’s body forward in the future so as to recreate a copy for himself. Or something! Now Adam Cyber (his last name chosen from a book on cybernetics, and the “Adam” of course for being the first man of that future world) is Jason Starr’s “Mind Brother,” here in the late 20th Century to ensure hummanity doesn’t make the mistakes that caused his world to become a reality. 

As if all this wasn’t enough, Jason also discovers he was set up – the Chinese patrol that ambushed him in ‘Nam no doubt stole away his psyops equipment, replacing it with junk, but was also tipped off by someone where the plane would be in the first place. It’s payback time! Jason and Adam sneak into CIA headquarters in Virginia and Adam puts a bug in the CIA’s main computer (one of the old, wall-spanning types), blackmailing the CIA into helping them; Jason and Adam will repair the computer if the Agency will give them its support in finding the culprits behind the psyops theft. This leads them to Bombay, India, but not before Jason picks up a pretty gal named Maria and takes her back to his hotel for a little vaguely-described sex.

While sitting on the tarmac in an Arabian country during a layover, Jason spots some dude plant a bomb on his plane. Yet for unstated reasons he waits until the plane is in midair to inform the captain there’s a bomb stowed somewhere aboard. An incredibly unbelievable sequence follows in which Jason and the pilots unscrew the floor panelling, get into the luggage compartment, and find the bomb with minutes to spare, Jason having deduced that the bomb would be set to blow within an hour or two after takeoff. He ends up tossing the bomb overboard and the plane continues at a low altitude to avoid decompression. The sequence was also unintentionally eerie, given the recent MH370 mystery, Jason’s plane even flying over the Indian Ocean.

In Bombay, Jason again nearly gets killed, this time by a taxi driver who tries to set him up. A weird chase ensues, with Jason running through the refuse-festooned streets of Bombay, including an unsettingly-bizarre bit where he thinks he steps on “the belly of a dead woman.” After this he reconnects with Adam Cyber, who’s chilling at the Punjabi Hotel, and the reader can’t help but wonder how he got there. I mean, did he teleport? Why didn’t he fly there with Jason? It’s not explained. Once the “brothers” get hold of Mr. Chatterji, aka the taxi driver who set up Jason, they discover that “The Brotherhood” is behind all of this nonsense. It all appears to be a plot by wily Chinese scientist Dr. Lau and Otto Krupt, a former Nazi.

The final quarter of the novel comes off like a proto John Eagle Expeditor, with Jason and a team of Sherpas navigating through the icy dangers of Tibet. Here in appropriate pulp style Dr. Lau has a hidden fortress, from which he’s perfecting the psyops gear he stole from Jason. The pulp stuff is really piled on here, with even cells filled with creatures, locals who have been mutated by Lau in various experiments. Heath writes the action with tongue in cheek; it’s not outright comedy, but it toes the line, as Jason blows away various stooges and Heath documents it all in deadpan style.

Heath takes us into the homestretch with the revelation of who was behind the plot to frame Jason, and former friends turn out to be enemies. By novel’s end, Jason has regained his professional stature, and he figures Adam will soon return to the future, now that this current business has been dealt with. However Adam reveals that he’s stuck here in the past, which of course sets the stage for ensuing volumes. Lancer doesn’t mention this is the start of a series, though.

Anyway I enjoyed The Mind Brothers enough that I’ll eventually check out the second volume, if for no other reason than I happen to already have it.

*Some sources state that Peter Heath was the pseudonym of an author named Robert Irvine.  However according to Hawk's Authors' Pseudonyms III (1999), Peter Heath was the pseudonym of an author named Peter Heath Fine, who was born in 1935 and only had the three Mind Brothers novels to his credit.  According to this site he died in 1975, at the young age of 40.

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