This paperback consists of three books previously published by Ace combined into one volume. They are Planet of No Return, The War of Two Worlds, and World Without Stars. The first two were each 1.2 of an Ace double (where two books were bound together, one upside down). They were all typeset for the older paperback short size. (Paperbacks got taller sometime in the 1960s). The pages have large white space at the top and bottom and they still have to old Ace blurbs and World without Stars has the small black and white drawing by Jack Gaughan on the title page.
The stories are good Poul Anderson. Each is 30 to 40 thousand words making them quite short for novels, but to me this is a good length. It allows for one good idea which is carried to a good conclusion. There is no sense that these are extended short stories or truncated novels. All are well written and each has an interesting Science Fiction idea at its core.
The first story, Planet of No Return (1954) is a story in Anderson’s Psychotechnic League series. It is a story of the exploration of space which is opposed by local earth politics. The crew of an exploration team has to succeed or man will never move on to the stars.
The second story, The War of Two Worlds (1953), is the about a war between the native race of mars and humans. The hero discovers that there is a group of aliens from a nearby star who are manipulating the governments of the two planets so that they can easily be conquered. The hero must cooperate with a noble enemy in order to reveal the plot and save the solar system.
Both of these stories are Space Opera. The politics in the story reflects the politics of the times. The books are full of action and heroism and are good to read, but not particularly great.
The last story, World Without Stars (1966) is a much different story. On the surface it is the story of men marooned on a distant planet between galaxies and there are no local stars so the only object in the sky is our own milky way galaxy seen as a large spiral. The shipwrecked men have to survive on an inhospitable world with an ancient race of creatures that wishes to enslave them.
What makes World Without Stars a very good book is the idea that men are all but immortal due to advances in medicine. A man can marry, stay 100 years with a woman and then go off travelling 100 years before coming back to her. This makes the huge distances between stars available to men. The men shipwrecked on the planet , if they can find food, can wait 100 years to be picked up. Memories build up over a long life and they have to have older memories purged from time to time to make room for new ones. Even with a thousand years of experience, a person might only have a hundred years of memory. There is a sad subplot about one of the crewmen and his memories of his wife that are 5,000 years old.