In Retro-Review: Contraband From Otherspace

A terrific mystery that peters out as it goes along.

Contraband From Otherspace by A. Bertram Chandler

Published by Ace Books, Inc., 1967. Paperback of 104 pages at 50¢. 

Note: This is an Ace Double book. It can be flipped over for an additional story, which is Reality Forbidden by Philip E. High.

The cover: I was pleasantly surprised to find that this cover was created by iconic science fiction illustrator Kelly Freas. I purchased this book based on this cover, so even after fifty-two years this image can command attention. An ax shaped spaceship appears to be pointed downwards as three spacemen tethered together in suits of red, green, and yellow make their way to the vessel. It seems that one side of the strange ship is burned, as it sports no fin as its left side does. I like that there’s a hint of the ship the spacemen are leaving, with its fin protruding slightly from the bottom. The green stars in the dark of space give this setting a creepy tone. This is just gorgeous! Overall grade: A

The premise: From the first page, “Out there, along the outer edge of the galaxy, many strange things can happen, for there time and space undergo strange distortions and ‘space ghosts’ may appear where no ship ought to be. Where Commodore Grimes of the Rim Mamelute was concerned the derelict vessel, so strangely named Distriyir, was no space ghost. It was solid, it was real, and it was very disturbing. For one thing, it had been manned by desperate men and women clad in rags. For another, everything was curiously misplaced, misspelled, somehow wrong, even to the adjustment of seats as if people had tails! All too soon Grimes realized that the truth would be too dreadful to contemplate and that, whatever were the facts, he would have to act at once to blot out both the strange ship and its entire historical continuum, at whatever the cost!” A mysterious ship, an odd crew, and hints of aliens? Oh, yeah. This is right in my wheelhouse. Overall grade: A

The characters: Protagonist John Grimes is ready to retire as a Commodore for the Confederacy. In fact, he can’t wait. His wife is Sonya Grimes, a retiring Commander from the Federation. She tells him that they can use their retirements to purchase a ship and earn better pay. Their dreams are put on hold when a non-responsive ship is making for a sun. I really enjoyed this couple, with each contributing equally to the story. The villains, whom I can’t reveal anything about, are terrific and would make excellent foes in a film. Overall grade: A

The settings: The Rim Mamelute is a salvage tug that serves as the means for the heroes to get aboard the Distriyir. Not much time is spent aboard the former, but much is spent on board the latter. The state of the Distriyir when first boarded is fantastic. It was as creepy as any modern day novel, with gravity creating some haunting imagery. The original owners of this ship left some signs of their physical state throughout it, teasing what they would look like. The Otherspace that the leads journey to resembles the galaxy they know, with some significant changes. Overall grade: A-

The action: Once the crew of the Rim Mamelute makes its way into the other dimension tension lessens quickly. The individuals they encounter are not friendly and what these people use to assist their telepathy was the perfect motivator for the Grimes. Before this action begins, I was thrilled by the what’s discovered on the Distriyir, which was as suspenseful as any modern novel. Overall grade: B+

The conclusion: Chandler wraps things up very quickly, practically with a bow on it. I would have enjoyed seeming more of what there was to find, but it seems as though the writer had to finish at a set number of pages, which is entirely possible. Overall grade: B-

The final line: A terrific mystery that peters out as it goes along. I like the characters, the premise, and the ship, but once in otherspace the intrigue lessens. Things also conclude too neatly. I enjoyed this, but didn’t love it. Overall grade: B+

To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

To read the review of the flip book go to


Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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