My life in outer space

Posts tagged “Galactic Empire

The Promise of The Child – Tom Toner (2015)

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)
So, I had this e-mail from Tom Toner in January 2017 asking me if I wouldn’t mind reviewing this, ‘The Promise of The Child’. I was in two minds about this as, being a generally kind sort of person, I was worried that, if I hated the novel, I would have to post a negative review. This has happened before, and I’m sure that I feel far worse about it than the authors involved who no doubt take bad reviews as part of the job and aren’t likely to track me down and give me a good kicking. They haven’t as yet, but I guess there’s still time.
My fears, it transpires, were groundless, as this is probably one of the best debut novels I have encountered since Alistair Reynolds’ ‘Revelation Space‘, which it resembles in some senses. Others have compared it to Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun’ , Jack Vance, Moorcock, M John Harrison and various others who have pursued a somewhat baroque exploration of SF. The style has a fascinating history which extends back beyond Moorcock to Vance, Charles L Harness, Leigh Brackett, and beyond there to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Clark Ashton Smith. One is impressed to see it so freshly reinvented.
Some twelve and a half thousand years from now, Humanity has spread out into the galaxy, finding no other life (barring the one glaring discovery of two incredibly ancient corpses of what appear to be sentient dinosaurs preserved in the icy cold of the outer Solar System.).
All life outside of Earth is descended from that of Earth, and Humanity itself has splintered into various species which exist in a complex hierarchical system, at the pinnacle of which are the immortal Amaranthine.
The narrative follows several key figures. Lycaste is a Melius, a larger human form that can change the colour of its skin. Lycaste lives in what we presume to be a far future Cyprus, and is famous for being – at least in Melius terms – beautiful. Lycaste is a sensitive individual, deeply in love with Pentas, although the love is unreturned. His life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a Plenipotentiary, Callisthemon, a noble of a higher caste who is, he claims, carrying out a census. Pentas’ attraction to Callisthemon leads inexorably to an event which causes Lycaste to flee on a journey across the Old World.
Sotiris, originally himself from Greece, is one of the most ancient Amaranthine and suffering from a condition to which the older immortals are prone; a succumbing to delusions. There is strife among the Amaranthine. Traditionally their leader is the oldest of them, and a Pretender, Aaron, has arisen who claims to be older than any living immortal.
War is spreading across the Old World, a war in which Sotiris is a principle manipulator, and in which Lycaste gets unwilling involved.
Meanwhile, a machine which could potentially threaten the balance of power across the galaxy has been stolen and, along with its kidnapped creator, is being shipped between the stars through hostile territory.
This is, it has to be said, a work which demands concentration. Much like Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun’, there are some elements only partly explained, at least at first, which the general reader will either recognise or hopefully pick up on later, such as the vaulted worlds. These are essentially planet-sized Dyson spheres, hollowed out worlds with an artificial sun at the centre. One also has to contend with the various branched off species of Humanity, the baroque and complex societies and their equally complex political and social dynamics. It does however reward careful reading.
There are some devices which are hard to justify under rational science, such as the Amaranthine’s ability to bilocate using a planet’s magnetic field, apparently because of the build up of iron in an ancient body. The Shell, or The Soul Machine, has an even flimsier rationale for its operation, although these are minor quibbles.
One would have expected the presence of some form of Artificial Intelligence but, as with Dune (another baroque series infested with aristocratic class levels) there is a prohibition against creating such things although this becomes an important issue much later and explains some aspects of the earlier narrative.
Toner manages to convey a sense of languid and wistful decadence which pervades the novel, reminiscent of that of Vance’s ‘Dying Earth‘ and Harrison’s ‘Viriconium‘ sequence. The Old World is divided into rigid divisions of class and race, where everyone it seems has learned to know their place. One can also see a sense of Moorcockian entropy in this ancient society with its arcane rules and casual cruelty.
There is a very interesting scene where Callisthemon, the higher level Plenipotentiary visiting Lycaste’s region. discovers that one of Lycaste’s friends and neighbours is gay, although the term is never employed. Pentas enquires of him whether men can love each other in Callisthemon’s region. Callisthemon appears both amused and horrified by the idea, implying that it would never happen, and insists on changing the subject when he is pressed for an answer. It’s a very subtle moment, but it neatlly clarifies for the reader what form of society Callisthemon represents, as is indeed shown in later events.
Lycaste and Sotiris, despite some excursions to follow events and characters elsewhere, are the central two characters, and one could possibly argue that this is to the detriment of the other players. Some, without giving too much away, are unexpectedly despatched.just as one thought they were going to play a major role in the story.
It’s a tad vexing that other reviews I have seen posted have noted that they read (whatever) percent of the book and gave up. If this is the case, why post a review? It helps nobody, and one can’t be expected to provide a valid judgment having only read a tenth or a fifth of someone’s work. I would suggest that the author cannot be held responsible for other people’s laziness, although that may well be an oversimplification of the situation. There will always be occasions when one starts a book and realises that one is never going to finish it. One really has to ask the question, is it the book’s fault?
In this case, I don’t think it is. As a society we have learned to be spoonfed and we tend to shy away from entertainment (particularly books) that might be slightly challenging. This is challenging, but that’s not the book’s fault. If you can’t get into it, don’t blame the book. Move on. Find something you like.

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The Space Time Juggler – John Brunner (1963)

The Space-Time Juggler

‘DUEL IN THE ARENA OF THE STARS

Andalvar of the planet Argus, king of an interstellar empire, was dead and fear ruled in his absence. The dread of a power struggle between the treacherous Andra, and “Black Witch,” and the beautiful Princess Sharla showered panic upon the people and threatened to crumble the starry realm to dust. But their powers were restricted to the present, and before either could sit on the throne, they would have to come to grips with the man from the future who held the destiny of the universe in his hand. His name: Kelab the Conjurer – THE SPACE-TIME JUGGLER’

Blurb from the 1963 F-227 Ace Double Paperback Edition

Set in the same universe as The Altar on Asconel this inhabits that uneasy space between SF and Fantasy.
Following the death of the King of Argus, Andra, ‘The Black Witch’ has become regent on this colony world which has in the main reverted to feudalism. Her older sister Sharla – missing for seven years and presumed dead – suddenly reappears to claim her place accompanied by Landor and the swordsman Ordovic.
Another stranger also arrives, Kelab the Conjuror, a man who appears to command magic and, it seems, is interfering in court business.
It would be giving the plot away to explain anything further as it’s a brief read which is well-written but suffers from a lack of cohesion between the slave-owning and sword-wielding society and the hi-tech elements.
There is no individuality to this society. It is set in the mould of every other far future feudal planet favoured by the likes of Lin Carter and his contemporaries, which somehow always has to include some monarchist system. The characters are stock stereotypes with little light and shade. There is a decent enough surprise and plot twist bit one feels this could have been a far better novel given some thought to the world building and some space to develop characters.


Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (Imperial Radch #1) (2013)

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)

Although I am all for authors giving us a challenging read there are times when I wish for that Glossary of Terms which used to be a major feature of Sf and Fantasy novels.
I can just about live without that here, although a list of characters may have been useful since there is a relatively large cast all bearing long and unfamiliar names. This is acceptable since we are in a far far future where humanity has diversified both physically and culturally. The main challenge in this novel is the author’s use of pronouns to denote gender, since many cultures have languages – or so it seemed to me – where misuse of the terms for ‘he’ and ‘she’ could result in a grave insult. Thus, most characters throughout the book are referred to as ‘she’ as a kind of default setting.
It’s an interesting device to employ and no doubt some critics will argue – perhaps with good reason – that such a device subverts the reader’s mental view of the characters with some no doubt seeing main characters as either male or female. On the other hand others, including myself reluctantly, might suggest that a neutral gender pronoun should have been employed since the constant use of a word with which we are all intimately familiar as denoting female is simply distracting and despite the reader’s attempts to do otherwise will no doubt result in her (or him) visualising all the characters as female. I gave up and did just that very thing early on in the novel.
Breq, as the main character calls herself, is the last survivor of the sentient ship ‘Justice of Toren’ which was destroyed many years ago. ‘Survivor’ is perhaps the wrong word since Breq was a part of the ship’s consciousness and still identifies as being the ship.
In flashbacks through the novel we discover why the ship was killed and why Breq is on a mission to track down an alien weapon that can kill those who destroyed ‘Justice of Toren’.
Leckie has to be credited with having created a rich and detailed human universe of which we only see a small part. Human civilization is mostly dominated by the Radch, which employs ships such as Justice of Toren to carry out enforcement. The Radch is controlled by a multi- gestalt human named Anaander Maniaani. Indeed, the events which unfold within the narrative all lead back to one action on the part of Maniaani, and will no doubt continue to do so with a sense of Shakespearean inevitability to some ultimate conclusion in successive volumes.
Maniaani, it appears, is suffering a schism in her consciousness, possibly as a consequence of being infiltrated by the alien Presger, resulting in her being effectively at war with herself.
The novel raises issues of slavery, loyalty, consciousness and the morality of a dictatorship which sacrifices innocents to bring peace to billions.
It was nominated for and won several major awards including the Arthur C Clarke award and perhaps justly so. It is a well crafted and complex piece which is all the more importantly believable and featuring characters with flaws and human vulnerabilities, this all despite the fact that some are no longer completely human at all.
One is glad in this instance, given that it does not have a complete conclusion, that it can still be categorised as a stand-alone novel. I have always had minor qualms about the first books of a trilogy being nominated for such awards. I guess it upsets my sense of order since my view is that awards should be reserved for single novels.
Perhaps fortunately my views aren’t likely to sway the opinions of the selectors a huge amount so the point is moot.


Use of Weapons – Iain M Banks (1990)

Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)

Banks’ third Culture novel is original, poetic, at times amusing, at times tragic, and just beautifully written.
Cheranedine Zakalwe is, or was, a Culture agent, The Culture being a multi-stellar civilisation in effect ruled by Artificial Intelligences. It is a civilisation which is basically socialist, since there is no currency, poverty, class systems or war.
Outside of its borders the Culture works in oblique and subtle ways to reduce wars between planets. Zakalwe has been involved in several operations of this sort and has subsequently gone rogue and vanished.
Diezit Sma, the woman who originally recruited Zakalwe, needs to bring him in for a further mission; to abduct a politician who is being held by a faction on a primitive world, one who could possibly help to bring peace to several worlds heading toward war.
That is the basic plot, but Banks has embellished those bare bones beautifully with exquisitely carved facets of narrative.
Much of the novel is dedicated to Zakalwe’s examination of his own memories so that structurally we are leaping backwards and forwards between Zakalwe’s past life and adventures and his present day mission. Slowly the strands begin to connect with each other.
The title of this novel is perfect since we are presented, time and time again, with weapons of various sorts; the things with which Zakalwe feels most comfortable and which he, when the moment arrives, is reluctant to deploy.
As a child, living with his stepbrother and stepsisters, he and they stole a weapon to play with in the garden, and by sheer chance were able to foil an assassin’s strike on their family.
It can also be seen as a metaphor at various points, most obviously in the case of Zakalwe himself, who is nothing more than a weapon employed by The Culture, although admittedly for peaceful ends.
The other recurring motif is that of chairs which begins in the first section where an aristocrat Zakalwe is protecting sits down on a fragile chair which collapses under his weight.
Zakalwe returns to his family home one day to find his stepbrother Elethiomel, sitting naked in a chair with Zakalwe’s sister Darckense straddling him. Zakalwe is conscious of some repressed memory related to a chair but it is not until the denouement that the truth of this memory is revealed.
The characters are also beautifully out together. Some sections are almost self-contained vignettes of a point in Zakalwe’s past, such as the period when he travelled on an interstellar ship ferrying frozen colonists to a planet a hundred or more light years away during which he chose to be awakened for a period to experience the flight.
He spends several months in the company of two men, one of those peculiar heterosexual partnerships where the two men involved seem to love each other very much but are constantly competing to be the alpha male. It’s a beautifully observed portrait of male behaviour, and a clever counterpoint to Zakalwe’s nihilistic and suicidal mood at the time.
There are amazing settings, dark humour, wise-cracking personal bots, giant thinking ships with ridiculous names sailing through the blackness of space, and a jawnumbing twist at the end.
Banks was a very original voice in the world of SF.
If you haven’t read him then you should.


The Altar on Asconel – John Brunner (1965)

altar

‘Exiles of an extra-galactic god

BEACHHEAD FROM ANOTHER GALAXY

Whether or not he had wanted to turn back at the last minute, he couldn’t have – the wave of dirty, hungry people carried him helplessly along in their fervor to reach the temple. Like dope addicts, he told himself, they don’t even care about themselves, only about the thing that is inside the temple!

He remembered the day ten years ago when his older brother had been made a Warden of Asconel, a prosperous and happy planet, and he and his other brothers had left in the interests of their people. Now they had returned to a world where a fanatical cult had usurped the Warden’s chair, and men and women were gladly offering themselves up as human sacrifices to Belizuek – whoever or whatever that being from beyond the galaxy was…

I’ll find out, he told himself grimly, when I enter these doors…’

Blurb from the 1965 M-123 Ace Double paperback edition.

Part of Brunner’s ‘Interstellar Empire’ series, As a backdrop to this novel; Humanity spread out into space and discovered many abandoned starships. Using these, a Galactic Empire was established which has now collapsed, leaving the galaxy in a state comparable to Asimov’s Galactic Empire in ‘Foundation and Empire’ where the collapsing Empire is too weak to sustain itself but remains a formidable force.
Asconel was a progressive world outside of the dominion of the failing Empire (with however a hereditary warden it appears). Hodat inherited the wardenship and his three brothers decided to leave the planet to avoid being used as figureheads in any opposition to his stewardship. The youngest brother, Sartrak, has dedicated himself to study in a pacifist brotherhood.
Sartrak’s hot-headed brother Vix arrives to tell him that Hoday has been murdered and that his position as warden of Asconel has been usurped by one Bucyon and his telepathic partner, Lydis. They have brought a new religion to Asconel, one that seems unfeasibly popular and which features voluntary human sacrifice.
Sartrak and his brothers along with Eunora, a young telepath, return to Asconel, determined to rid the world of the evil that has mentally enslaved its people.
It’s a very enjoyable read. The background, however, is far more interesting than the novel itself. The rump of the Empire, whom we encounter en-route are an aggressive paranoid lot.


The Arsenal of Miracles – Gardner F Fox (1964)

arsenal

 

‘Was this the key to the universe?

OUTCASTS OF THE STARS

When Earth’s stellar empire was attacked by the Lyanir, a powerful race from the uncharted stars, it was Bran Magannon, High Admiral of Space, who met their battle-challenge. He saved the Empire, but he also fell in love with the beautiful young Lyanirn queen Peganna, and to the people of the Empire his name became that of traitor. Now he was a lone, brooding outcast among Empire’s outpost worlds, called Bran the Wanderer.

Then Peganna of the Silver Hair returned and told him of a fabled cache of deadly weapons left eons ago by the long-dead race of the Crenn Lir. She wanted those weapons for her people, to use against Empire if need be.

Bran the Wanderer laughed, and showed her how to find them. ‘

Front cover and interior blurb from the paperback 1964 F-299 Ace Double Edition.

Gardner F Fox is an interesting character, who began to write for DC Comics in his twenties during the Great Depression, and despite his name being somewhat obscure these days was an incredibly prolific writer, producing an estimated four thousand comic storylines and at least a hundred novels, which covered SF, Fantasy, Crime, Westerns and Sports stories.

Bran Magannon, an Admiral with the Empire Forces, was on the point of securing an engaging peace between the Lyanir and the Empire and had also fallen in love with their haughty queen, Perganna of the Silver Hair.
However, a false message was sent to the Lyanir, and their subsequent actions caused the Empire to think they had been double crossed.  The Empire attacked and the Lyanir retreated to ‘the uncharted stars’.
Magannon, a tad depressed, resigns his post and goes wandering through the galaxy, using the ‘teledoors’ of an Elder Race called the Crenn Lir, although it’s not clear why Bran is the only person to have ever discovered them.
One day, Perganna finds him. Once misunderstandings have been cleared up, she tells him that she needs his help to find the lost arsenal of the Crenn Lir.
Meanwhile, Perganna’s evil brother has usurped her position and is planning to sell his people in slavery to the Empire.
Once more we have this concept of Empires and Royalty, and two multi-planetary forces which are each unified, socially and racially, it appears.
For its time, the concept and the style is dated. In context, Philip K Dick was publishing ‘Martian Time Slip’ and ‘The Penultimate Truth’, Frank Herbert was about to publish ‘Dune’. The times they were a changing.
This is also a novel which is high on Romanticism and low on actual science, and seems coloured by Fox’s comic-book traditions. We encounter spaceships, matter-transmitter portals, odd alien machines and storage facilities, and not even an attempt to explain even the history of the science behind the Empire technology.
It’s not a bad read, but it does seem like a piece that would have sat more easily ten or fifteen years previously.


The Sundering (Dread Empire’s Fall #2) – Walter Jon Williams (2003)

The Sundering (Dread Empire's Fall, #2)

‘The 10,000 year rule of the Shaa is over. But their passing has left the galaxy leaderless. The many races of the empire now find themselves paranoid and fractious, facing civil war on an unprecedented scale. After ten millennia of peace, so begins the tale of a dread empire’s fall…

The alien Naxids have won a shattering victory, and the way is clear for an advance on the loyalist capital. To help save the city comes Lord Gareth Martinez, formerly a despised provincial officer, now a celebrated war hero. But three types of enemy await Martinez. The first are rivals in the service. The second are the intrigues of his brother. And the third is a mysterious survivor, Caroline Sula, a woman whose beautiful face conceals a deadly secret, and whose brilliant mind holds the key to victory over the Naxids.

Both sides claim the legitimacy, but as battle is joined, the very real danger exists that there will be nothing left for the victims to rule…’

Blurb from the 2004 Pocket Books paperback edition.

The second instalment of ‘Dread Empire’s Fall’ is, happily, an improvement on ‘The Praxis’, especially since it takes us into darker territory.
The Naxid rebels have attempted to stage a coup following the suicide of the last of The Shaa, the race that ruled a galactic empire for ten thousand years. Their initial attempt was failed, and now the other races, led by a multi-species government, are marshalling their forces to defeat the Naxids.
Once again the narrative moves between Captain Gareth Martinez, the young military genius with minor social standing – and Lady Caroline Sula – in actual fact a servant called Gredel who killed the real Lady Sula and took her place.
Between them they have to evolve new battle tactics for a space navy which hasn’t seen action in ten thousand years, and for an aristocracy which considers their new ideas to be impertinence.
Williams writes best when he’s focussing in on a room, a scene, a conversation. One cannot fault his human characterisation, since all his human characters are exquisitely rounded and easily distinguishable from one another.
The aliens however are less distinctive and are defined more by their physical attributes and habits than by their words and actions.
Williams’ other weakness is his unwillingness to draw back and give the reader some scale. There is no sense of the vastness of space, of the sheer size of the Shaa Empire itself. At one point in the novel a habitat ring is destroyed and some of the ring crashes to the planet below, causing worldwide devastation and death.
Williams attempts to portray the enormity of the event, made all the more tragic by it being a mistake that should not have happened, but it does not come across as being an important moment in the novel.
What saves the book is Williams’ brilliantly understated sense of institutionalised decadence and pomposity which somehow infuses this society without the author proselytising.
In tandem with the Civil War runs the Austen-esque romance of Gareth and Sula. They are very obviously the sundered lovers who are passionate about each other but cannot be together. Martinez proposes to Sula but she hesitates when he mentions (as you do) that they’ll have to visit the aristocratic gene bank to provide blood to confirm their identities and bloodline. He takes her hesitation for rejection and goes off in a huff and marries someone else.
Meanwhile Sula gets recruited into a resistance movement on the central planet preparing for when the Naxids invade, and Gareth gets posted to ‘The Illustrious’ under the deliciously peculiar Fleet Captain Gomber Fletcher. Gareth and Sula think of each other often and blow a lot of things up.
The Naxids are conspicuous by their absence, seen only as an abstract force rather than individuals, a device which doesn’t really work. They appear as a fleet of ships at one point, and as units of a brutal police operation toward the end of the novel. However, refreshingly, it is made clear that not all the Naxids are involved in the coup. The vast majority of the species are carrying on their lives within the Empire and supporting the multi-species government.


Alton’s Unguessable – Jeff Sutton (1970)

The Ships Of Durostorum / Alton's Unguessable

‘BEWARE THE ONE-OF-A-KIND WORLD

To the crew of the exploratory vessel Alpha Tauri, Krado 1 was a planetary paradise waiting to be taken. But had nature gone wild? Was evolution non-existent there? No one could understand why, of all the forms of life that might have populated Krado 1, only one species of bird and one species of rodent existed.

The explorers could not have known what lurked behind the thousands of bright, beady eyes… what manifested itself to the telepath Roger Keim as a soundless roar in the corridors of his mind… what was waiting to be released…’

Blurb from the 1970 76096 Ace Doubles paperback edition

This is a very workmanlike variation on the ‘alien loose on the ship’ story, with echoes of Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There’ and van Vogt’s ‘Black Destroyer’

An exploratory vessel of The Empire, Alpha Tauri, lands on an uncharted habitable world. Apart from vegetation, the planet seems empty of life apart from one species of bird and one species of rodent. The T-man (telepath), Keim, becomes increasingly nervous as he is hearing a constant roar of mental static.
This is because a castaway is already on the planet. Its name is Uli, a virtually immortal being from the edge of the galaxy, and the last survivor of nine who set out to escape an apocalypse in their region of space.
Uli – a small egg shaped beast with an eye at one end – has the power to project portions of his being into other creatures, such as the birds and the rodents. His plan is to infect the crew one by one, and to use the ship to take him back to the Empire of the humans where he can begin his conquest of the galaxy.
There’s a definite van Vogt-ian influence here. The mysterious ‘Empire’ is mentioned in passing but we are given scant details. Keim is the paradigm of a van Vogt hero, logical and alienated from his peers, but who is eventually proven right.
Keim is helped in his battle by Lara, a young crew member who has had to admit her own burgeoning telepathic powers.
The major flaw in the structure is that Uli is revealed and explained to the reader immediately in a massive bit of info-dumping which is, one would think, unnecessary.
There is an exciting ‘battle of wits’ denouement in which Keim and Uli both push their powers of cunning to the limit in order to destroy the other.


God Emperor of Dune – Frank Herbert (1981)

God Emperor of Dune (Dune Chronicles, #4)

The fans of ‘Dune’ and indeed the fans of Frank Herbert fall into two camps. There are those who are desperate for ever more tales of the universe in which Arrakis and its intricately structured interstellar society exists. Indeed, the likes of Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert are still churning out new ‘Dune’ material nearly fifty years after the first novel was published. Then there are those who feel ‘less is more’ and that ‘Dune’ should have been left as a quite extraordinary stand alone novel, undoubtedly a classic and arguably one of the top ten SF novels of the 20th century.
To be fair to Herbert, ‘Dune Messiah’ and ‘Children of Dune’ were not simply ‘more of the same’. They were stylistically pushing the boundaries of the first novel, but even so, lacked much of the complex structure and rich colour of the original.
This, the fourth novel, takes us three thousand years into the future. Young Leto, the son of Muad’dib. has entered into a symbiotic relationship with the larval forms of the giant sandworms. Having been encased within their bodies he has been slowly transformed over centuries until he is physically more worm than man.
Leto, being not only prescient but possessed of the memories of all his ancestors, is a difficult creature to assassinate, although people keep trying.
Where this novel fails is that the narrative is for the most part centred around Leto, and Leto is not a creature who is that mobile. Now and again he goes out on a cart, but not often enough.
Consequently there is a continual succession of scenes where characters are summoned to the Emperor’s presence, at which they have long – often meaningless – discussions, since Leto operates through the medium of riddles, or oblique comments which his guests and servants are expected to decipher.
Arrakis has been terraformed and there is now only one small desert left in which ‘Museum Fremen’ are allowed to dwell.
There is a shortage of spice – the ‘unobtainium’ that bestows longevity and gives the Guild starship pilots their ability to navigate hyperspace.
The Ixians, the Tleilaxu (who have provided a new Duncan Idaho for the Emperor after he killed the last one) and the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, are all suspicious of each other.
As with ‘Dune Messiah’ there is a sense of doomed Shakespearean inevitability about it all, particularly in view of the fact that Leto can – to a certain extent – see the future and knows what is going to happen.
There are some interesting points made both obliquely via the narrative and through Leto’s conversations and journals about politics and religion. However, Herbert is covering old ground here since ‘Dune’ had already examined quite subtly and in exquisite detail the complex overlapping boundaries of religion and government.
One would have to clarify, having said all that, that this is not a bad novel. It’s just not a good Frank Herbert novel. Herbert was a writer whose name figures largely in the pantheon of SF saints but, like Anne McCaffrey and Fred Saberhagen, seems to be doomed to be remembered for one book that spawned an industry of sequels and franchise, leaving his other work sadly neglected.


The Hard Way Up – A Bertram Chandler (1972)

The Hard Way Up (John Grimes, #3)

Seven short stories featuring the early career of John Grimes in the Survey Service, put together in a sequential fashion. They’re light-hearted fodder, and follow a fairly standard formula in which Grimes finds himself in a bit of a scrape, not always through his own actions.

With Good Intentions (Hard Way Up 1972)

Lieutenant Grimes joins The Pathfinder to ferry a party of surveyors to a planet where a primitive humanoid race is extant. The Survey Service has a ‘Prime Directive’ rule not to interfere, but Grimes can’t help himself.

The Subtracter (Galaxy August 1969)

Grimes takes control of ‘The Adder’ and is chartered to ferry a passenger from one planet to another. the passenger turns out to be an excellent chef and becomes popular with the crew, although his real profession is somewhat darker.

The Tin Messiah (Hard Way Up 1972)

Grimes’ next passenger is Mr Adam, a messianic android, who becomes a little irrational.

Sleeping Beauty (Galaxy February 1970)

‘The Adder’, under Grimes’ command, has to transport the Queen Egg of an insect race to a colony world. Due to delays en route, the egg hatches and the truculent young queen transforms the crew into her drones.

The Wandering Buoy (Analog September 1970)

Perhaps written in response to ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ (1968), we see The Adder discovering a spherical object drifting in interstellar space, which turns out to be an autonomous machine designed to show primitive species how to make fire etc.

The Mountain Movers (Galaxy March 1971)

‘The Adder’ is grounded on a world the natives and culture of which John Grimes finds suspiciously similar to that of Australian aborigines. They even have their own version of Ayres Rock. AS it turns out, there is a reason for this.

What You Know (Galaxy Jan 1971)

John Grimes, in charge of ‘The Adder’ has to ferry a demanding female Commissioner along with her staff and robot attendants. The Adder, from lack of maintenance, breaks down in interstellar space and is forced to request help from Skandia, a ‘kingdom’ of Scandinavian humans, whose relationship with Earth is somewhat strained.
Grimes is forced at the end to resign his commission in the Survey Service.