"The Eyes of Bolsk" is a science-fiction novel by Robert Lory, published in 1969, as one-half of an Ace Double. The other half was "The Space Barbarians" by Mack Reynolds. And as that book was one of the longest, "The Eyes of Bolsk" was one of the shortest, at 85 pages. Its short length didn't preclude it having an involved plot. This book has some things in common with his other Ace Double, "Masters of the Lamp", which I read previously.

There is a subset of science-fiction that begins with the idea of aliens so advanced that they are incomprehensible. This book begins like that, peeking in on some aliens that are somewhat like Time Lords, and in fact, each chapter begins with a chapter from their training manuals. Because as we learn in the second chapter, they have to recruit agents, in this case, human agents, to do act for them. The agent they recruit, Jared Kane, is a CIA agent, presumably in the 1960s. He is transported far away because the titular Eyes of Bolsk are a McGuffin that needs to be destroyed. We are then told the history of the Eyes of Bolsk, which puts us in sword and sorcery story where the tyrant Bolsk was assassinated by his son Doyak, but his eyes remained living and pose a menace. Jared then goes to the world of Trovo, where after a swordfight with a man named Aufcash, he learns that an evil man named Rai the Philosopher has become an immortal vampire and...

Okay, I read this three days ago, and to be honest, I have already forgotten how all of this links together. But that is kind of the point. There is a kind of science-fiction, maybe exemplified in popular culture by Doctor Who, but also in written science-fiction by Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance, where the profound and the ridiculous rub shoulders. Scales of time and power levels and the idea of unfathomably powerful aliens occur next to picaresque protagonists who are caught up in chases and brawls. This book was creative, humorous, and surprising, and managed to mix together multiple layers of action and significance in 85 pages. But, significantly, the name "Robert Lory" isn't quite as famous in science-fiction circles as Michael Moorcock or Jack Vance. The creativity of this book goes a long way, but it doesn't quite go far enough to make up for the difficulty it presents. Some of that, as is often the case, probably rests with the Ace editors (especially since they gave the other side of the Ace Double almost 160 pages), but be that as it may, this story mostly missed its mark.

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