Road To The Rim – A Bertram Chandler (1967)
Chandler takes us back to the beginning of John Grimes’ career when he was working for the Survey Service. Now he has transferred to the Merchant Navy and is not only immediately at odds with the Captain but feels out of place in a Service which seems to have a different perspective on the political set-up of the human worlds. He makes friends with the purser, Jane, who hails from the Rim worlds, the outlying planets toward the edge of the galaxy.
Grimes’ view, and obviously his career, changes when a ship is raided by pirates, and the Captain – whose lover was on board – is thirsting for revenge. They are able to plunder the stores of the ransacked ship and discover that the pirates plant a homing beacon on the ship within its cargo, which makes it easy to find and loot in space. Despite Grimes’ reluctance to bend the regulations he follows his heart and helps the crew to deliver justice to the pirate ship.
Chandler is the first to admit that his tales are seafaring adventures transferred to an interstellar format, although he is doing himself a disservice there since they are rather more than that, and make interesting points about politics, power and the abuse of it.
Chandler is also Australian, and there are no doubt parallels between the culture of the Rim Worlds and his own country. A small dose of endemic sexism is provided in the shape of the Captain’s gallery of heavenly beauties that he keeps in his cabin as evidence of his ‘one in every port’ philosophy. Paradoxically, this in contrast to Chandler’s rendering of Jane as an independent and feisty individual and – surprisingly for the time – not at all stupid.
Extrapolation was not a Chandler strongpoint, though to be fair with the subject matter he seldom needed it, although one does wonder whether many writers (Chandler is not alone) would really have thought that smoking in the enclosed environment of a spaceship was really a good idea.