The Golden People – Fred Saberhagen (1964)
‘THEY AMENDED THE LAWS OF NATURE
PLANETEERS GO HOME!
The planet was called Golden in honor of the planeteer whose ship had crashed there years before. It was an Earth-type world, with humanoid natives, and other creatures that were–something less.
Or maybe more, for almost all of the planet was covered by an invisible Field which blanked radar, damped the power of the Earthmen’s stunners, immobilized their robots and caused watches to run backward. No machine or weapon more complicated than the lever or knife could work inside the Field.
Which meant that the Space Force had to revert to the primitive to explore the world of Golden. And obviously, someone or something hidden in the vast reaches of the planet had planned it that way. . .’
Blurb from the M-103 1964 Ace Double paperback edition
One of Saberhagen’s novels of Planeteers, a semi-military organisation who survey and assess newly discovered and developed planets. Their remit seems fairly wide and includes some enforcement duties.
The structure is somewhat awkward, since it is broken into three distinct time periods which stunts the flow of the narrative slightly.
The book starts in a children’s home where Adam Mann gets into a fight protecting young Ray Kedro from bullies.
Ray, it turns out, is one of a hundred ‘Jovian Children’ who were the subject of eugenics experiments on Ganymede. The children have some ESP capabilities, and concerned authorities have taken them into care. Very soon, however, they are returned to Dr Nowell on Ganymede.
Much later, Adam, distraught at the death of his wife, joins the Planeteers and is teamed up with Boris Brazil, the hero of ‘The Water of Thought’.
Adam and Boris are posted to the planet Golden which is covered by a mysterious field beneath which nothing electronic or mechanically complex will function. There is one area where the field is absent, and humans have built a settlement here, trading with the local alien natives. The major predator is the ‘geryon’, a malformed beast with a long prehensile neck and disturbingly human features. They hunt in packs and torment their prey.
When Adam disobeys orders and tries to save a young native girl he fails and almost loses his own life.
The narrative jumps forward several years. Adam has resigned and become a trapper on Golden, selling furs to human tourists. Just then, one of the Jovian people, Merit, arrives with her non-Jovian husband and Ray Kedro. We learn that the one hundred have gained significant influence in human business and affairs.
Then, someone tries to kill Merit’s husband. This, the secrets of the one hundred and the mystery of the aliens who built the forcefield all seem to be connected,.
It’s a good read and one which hasn’t dated too badly as long as one doesn’t dig too deep into the scientific aspects (which are few).
In this and ‘The Water of Thought‘ Saberhagen raises issues of colonialism and exploitation, making it clear that humans have processed every world they’ve found for their own benefit. It’s a point made subtly but it comes across.
Humans, consequently, are faced with the possibility of being exploited themselves since the Jovian children (led by Ray Kedro) virtually control human society. It’s possibly no coincidence that Saberhagen wrote Kedro as a blonde. Kedro develops a master-race fixation and sees the Jovian Children as a separate and superior race. It’s fascinating that the idea of Homo Superior in this form i.e. evolved children being born to human parents in the space of a genration, was a product mainly of the 50s and 60s, a time when there was a wholesale change in the behaviour of young people in the wake of the Second World War, and an ongoing fear of nuclear destruction or radiation. ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, ‘The Chrysalids’, Zenna Henderson’s ‘People’ stories etc. all stoke the fuel of a mass paranoia particularly in the States, where paranoia is more or less compulsory, at least among Republicans.