Part one: the reader
You’re in London, 1952. The Great Smog has been on the city for days. You’re sick of not being able to see your feet, of the soot and sulphur on your skin and in your lungs. Cows are keeling over in Smithfields. And you’re sick of the cold, not to mention the rationing. All you want is a bit of distraction. But the cinema’s closed because the smog creeps in, and there’s only old Auntie Beeb on the wireless.
Down in the The Underground, from a newsstand, you buy your escape.
The colours of Time and Space gleam like the future. Rand Le Page, it says on the cover, the French Master of Science Fiction. It is in capitals so it must be TRUE.
There’s a machine, glossy and electric, the kind that’ll make things better one day. FENS! It says, and you wonder what is meant by it. You read.
The prologue and first chapter have so much to take in: spaceships and alien monsters, time machines and barbarians, along with all the trouble in the First Protemporal Imperium. Monsieur Le Rand is bold and generous with adjectives, never sticking with one where two might do. His many adverbs slowly, surely, inexorably draw you deeper into the Time King’s vast, vaulted halls. You're not sure what’s going on, but you do know the exact colour of all the Time Kings’ eyes, and what their hands are like. The baddies all carry huge, glittering swords. They have names like Zreka and Cleon. You’re completely and utterly hooked.
Rick Evans is your hero. He's a Scientist in a Nuclear Research Facility. He has a luger in his pocket and he’s willing to use it. He’s not one of those over-complicated chaps. At one point he’s cat-like, but you’re willing to overlook it.
His sidekick has an odd name, Teratha, but Rick’s too polite to mention it. Her main qualities are physical, although she has a knack for asking the right question at just the right moment. She can also find the perfect spot to mine for silver.
You learn that these Time Kings, whose future Britain is medieval, except for the leftover time machine, like to send their warrior hordes into the past to kill barbarians. You're not sure why, but it's probably better than having them rampage around at home, especially as all those deaths don’t seem to have any historical repercussions, unforeseen or otherwise. The warrior hordes bring Prisoners Out of Time for the Kings to do experiments on, you’re not sure what those are, except fiendish.
Rick and Teratha are taken out of the First Atomic Age, your time, and definitely England, because there is a pub. Rick uses his luger and they escape from the Imperial Palace. They're helped out of the city by rebel Lords from the marshes (FENS!). You wish you could curse like them:
'By the seven hells of Shamrazuck!'
They like Rick because he is a Scientist and because he has a luger. Luckily, the Time Kings have never thought of bringing back weapons from the past. Even more luckily, Rick accidentally makes an ancient time barrier machine work when a long, jewel-encrusted sword shorts out a coiled thrumming thingamabob. But Rick has to rush off and rescue silly-goose Teratha from the Palace. He is helped by Groper who says:
‘Maybe I’m blind and bedridden, but don’t let that fool you.’
Because he absolutely knows more about everything than you had the cheek to expect him to, and, even better, gives Rick a LASER.
Armed now with Science, a luger and a Needler Ray, Rick is unstoppable. He needs at least three exclamation marks per page to do him justice.
You arrive at the final scene breathlessly, excitedly and with a moment's surprise at the huge metal structure which you can't quite recall being mentioned.
There is a sunset. There is a hand in a hand. You decide to call your first son Rick.
Closing the cover, you wonder what this genius Rand Le Page is like, as a man. You wonder who he is.
Part two: the writer
You’re sometimes Rand Le Page, sometimes other writers are. He's a figment, doesn’t exist. It’s one of several House Names used by Curtis Warren, the publishers, and used however they choose. Sometimes you’re another figment entirely.
Really, you’re John S Glasby, and you wrote Time and Space in collaboration with Arthur Roberts.
Nobody who writes for Curtis Warren uses their real name, because they don’t own anything that’s published. It works like this: CW sees what genres are selling, and what story ideas are popular, then tells you the story you must write. They’re going to publish 40 books this year, their best ever.
Time and Space is your second book, not that anybody knows yet; you’ll be putting out six this year (one having the splendid title Cosmic Echelon). It'll be bit of a dash, but you're in demand. You’ll have written another 250 or so by the 1960s. Not just speculative fiction, you’ll turn your hand to westerns, hospital romances, crime stories, desert adventures, spy novels, war stories and Lovecraftian Mythos.
All the while holding down your day job as an ICI Research Chemist.
After the write-to-order lark is done with, you’ll publish non-fiction guides to variable stars which will be praised by none other than Patrick Moore. (Oops, you should probably forget I mentioned the subject, in case it spoils something.) You’ll become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Astronomy, and, after you retire, you'll publish novels under your own name. You’ll even get an obit in the Telegraph, but I shan’t tell you when.
If you're wondering about Arthur Roberts, nobody seems to know much at all about him. Oh, for a time machine, eh?
To find out more about Rand Le Page, check out the excellent Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.