This is a melding of 1949-s “Gateway To Darkness” and 1950’s “Gateway To Glory.” Both novelettes are crime oriented with the second more satirical. This is a good one to pick up. Then again most of Brown’s work, SF and crime-mystery are worth checking out.
An asteroid has been wandering through space for millions of years without realizing there’s other life aside from itself.
Crag is a former spacer who thanks to a technicality is tossed out of the service and has an artificial left hand after an accident. It looks like any other but it is deadly. He supports himself by being a master criminal. He’s a thief, a smuggler and a killer. This time he’s framed for carrying a drug that’s so dangerous it causes anyone who takes it to go on a killing spree before dieing.
He’s up before the same judge that six years ago had to let him go after a verdict of not guilty. He gave him a long lecture and Crag has hated him ever since. This time he’s found guilty but gets an unusual offer. The judge offers him a million dollars to steal an item from a lab on Mars for him. It’s not exactly stealing. He wants a disintegrator that’s under tight security. Crag is supposed to build a realistic copy and steal the original.
His first test is to see if he can successfully get past the guards at the judge’s house. He does and meets the judge’s knockout wife. That doesn’t matter since he hates women after his wife left him for someone else. He nearly kills the judge and his wife because he was told he was headed for the psycher. That device erases your memories and you come out someone else.
Turns out the judge is only going to have false papers made and his wife is the technician that will pretend to run the machine on him. The judge says he wants to form a third political party that will take over and run things so there’s no more war etc. The lab is on Mars and Crag is the judge’s space pilot as an excuse to go there. After the Martian adventure they end up on the living asteroid where the judge has something to tell Crag.
The second part of the book finds Crag with a half million dollars. He wants to go on a huge binge to spend as much of it as he can. On Mars he checks into the Luxor Hotel where money gets you anything and everything. This is a great satire on luxury hotels.
Reports of a new planet forming in the asteroid belt are all over TV. The asteroids are all coming together. Crag is the only one who knows the sentient asteroid is behind it all. He gets a real charge when the planet is named Cragon. That’s possible because the entity can get into anyone’s mind it wants to. It does respect Crag’s wishes about invading his gray matter.
Crag is having a good time getting drunk and trashing his hotel room. He finally strikes up a friendship that leads to a caper involving a jewel robbery. He also gets a chance to take care of the snooty hotel manager.
This is a good read and the second part was especially fun thanks to the Brown sense of humor being on display.