Galactic Medal of Honor – Mack Reynolds (1976)
‘The Galactic Medal of Honor was the most important, the most coveted award of all time. It was given only to a handful of the bravest and most self-sacrificing of those defending Earth from the mysterious alien invaders that had appeared fifty years before. It was almost always given posthumously.
The bearer of this medal became the idol of all mankind, would never want for any necessity of luxury – would never want for anything.
Everyone on Earth sought that medal… One man was going to cheat to win it – and live to regret it.’
Blurb from the 1976 Ace Paperback edition
An unremarkable and rather dated piece from Reynolds in which space-pilot Donal Mathers – fatigued by long weeks alone in space – is offered the chance to earn (duplicitously) the famed ‘Galactic Medal of Honor’ whose recipient is granted system-wide fame, free lunches for life and liberties above the law.
Earth is on constant alert against The Kraden; aliens who, fifty years before, invaded the Solar System, engaged in a battle with several Earth ships, and then fled. It transpires eventually that the Kraden were on a peaceful mission and that the whole subsequent military operation has only been maintained for political and economic reasons.
Meanwhile, evil and corpulent businessman Demming has discovered an abandoned Kraden ship and persuades Mathers to ‘discover’ the ship, pretend to engage in battle and thereby disable it, somehow killing all the aliens on board (who are conveniently already long dead).
The plans works unbelievably well and Mathers is awarded the Galactic Medal of Honor and is consequently used as a figurehead and political pawn for Mr Demming and his radioactive element mining company.
Mathers goes off on long binges of women and alcohol, but redeems himself just as power is about to absolutely corrupt him.
This is apparently an expanded version of a short piece (‘Medal of Honor’ AMZ 1960) which is sadly merely expanded rather than updated since the style seems more suited to 1960 than to 1976.
It has interesting points in that Reynolds (a member of The Socialist Labor Party) at one point has a character launch into a lecture expounding the pros and cons of Capitalism, State Capitalism and Communism which is sadly not an everyday feature of Space Opera. Reynolds unfortunately lays the ‘evil big business’ theme on with a trowel. Demming is a gross, corpulent businessman who will eat a five course meal followed by an entire rack of lamb for dessert, and he doesn’t mind who sleeps with his daughter, emphasising the moral cesspit into which these capitalists have fallen.
Despite his socialist credentials Reynolds throws in references to ‘queers’ which, if in a work of some depth one could argue was the view of the character and not the author. Unfortunately this is not a work of some depth and does discredit to an author striving add a serious political dimension to his work.
‘He didn’t catch any of their names, save those of the two actors, and he knew them already, of course; Ken Westley and Rexford Lucas. It came as a shock to realize that both were homosexuals, and neither bothered to disguise the fact off-lens as they were now. Both even had limp handshakes and he suspected that both would like to get him into bed.’