Battle For The Stars – Edmond Hamilton (1961)
‘The Fate of the ‘Ancient Planet’ Earth depends on the skill and courage of a single spaceship commander as the constellations war across the galaxies – a vivid intensely dramatic novel of the future every science fiction fan will want to read.’
Blurb from the 1967 Paperback Library edition.
Hamilton produces an interesting idea which is never really fully developed here. Originally written in the 1950s this 1961 version is an expanded version.
Jay Birrell is the Commander of the Fifth Squadron of Lyra, one the five sectors of space which was once controlled by Earth under the banner of the United Worlds. Although Earth still considers itself to be in charge of the galaxy the five sectors have long been autonomous and are ruled by the Commanders of their military fleet.
Interestingly, Hamilton tells us that when man ventured into space he found many E-type planets already populated by humans, suggesting either some form of convergent evolution or some seeding programme by agencies unknown. This mystery is not further explored or even mentioned, which is a shame since it would have made an interesting side-plot.
Almost as soon as the novel opens, Birrell’s ship is lured into a Star Cluster by ships from the Orion sector and he is kidnapped and questioned about the Lyrans’ plans for Earth. Birrell, mystified by the questions, manages to escape but is subsequently asked by the Lyran commander, Ferdias, to take his squadron to Earth to attend a commemorative ceremony.
It appears that Earth has become important as a figurehead and that the Orionids are planning to claim Earth and – inevitably – attempt to control the galaxy.
Once the Lyrans have arrived on Earth it transpires that the Orionids are indeed planning to invade, and Birrell has to convince a reluctant United Worlds government to let him deal with them. Hamilton makes some points about government bureaucracy obstructing the military in what they have to do to get the job done, but that problem is soon dealt with.
What follows is a standard action plot which culminates in a space-battle in which the forces of Lyra – aided by the remaining fleet of the United Worlds based on Earth – fight off the nasty Orionids. There is a twist in the tale however, as Ferdias himself has plans to control Earth – something which Birrell was warned of by Tauncer, the evil Orionid.
For something published in 1961 it reads as remarkably dated. Hamilton is a competent writer but fails to expand his original tale into something which would have seemed contemporary at the time.
There are some interesting features. The sections dealing with events in space work very well, taking into account the dangers of radiation, and proving the FTL ships with radar screens which translate FTL images into meaningful visuals. The rest of the science is, however, decidedly non-Einsteinian, and there appear to be no relativistic effects to the ships whatsoever.
Earth however is a disappointment and doesn’t seem a great deal different to the world we knew in the Sixties. The galactic society is disappointingly Americocentric and it stands to reason that of course the Headquarters of the United Worlds would be in North America.