When last we saw DuQuesne in The Skylark of Valeron, he had been transformed into a being of pure mind by the other bodiless minds. They had all, in any case, been imprisoned in a vessel from which they could not escape and fired in a direction far away from the First Galaxy.
Seaton’s new alien friends, The Norlaminian minds, having thought things through, now realise that the vessel is likely to smash itself apart if it encounters any dense particles of matter at such an incalculable speed, and that DuQuesne is therefore likely to escape and return.
Seaton, thinking of Earth’s defence against such an outcome, enlists his alien friends to send out a specific thought, aimed at high powered minds who may have technology more advanced than currently known.
This is picked up by some of the humanoids in a far distant galaxy who are slaves of the Llurdians, a monstrous but ruthlessly logical race.
Some of the Fenachrone have also survived, and both DuQuesne and Seaton are ultimately forced to work together to battle an entire galaxy of evil Chlorans
Structurally it’s a bit of a mess. but its problems run deeper than that. The preceding volumes were all written in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties and were, to give Smith his due, cutting edge SF at the time.
Thirty years on, SF had changed a great deal and Smith had to produce a sequel that matched the original trilogy stylistically and with a consistent internal logic.
Smith himself was obviously much older and writing erratically. In ‘The Galaxy Primes‘ he introduced sexual themes which were of course being explored by other writers of the time. In Smith’s hands, however, they come over as being a little creepy.
In the Skylark universe it seems, many aliens wander about naked. So, being neighbourly and all, Seaton decides that he, Crane, Crane’s wife and Dottie should be naked too, as well as Hiro the space-chef and and his new ninja-assassin wife Lotus Blossom. Of course, they’re all perfectly happy with this notion.
DuQuesne gets his kit off too, in an odd encounter on board the ship of a new humanoid race. DuQuesne is considered suitable material for breeding and so is paired up with a willing woman who takes him off to extract his sperm in what one presumes is the usual way.
Genocide is still Smith’s preferred solution to any difficulties one may be having with truculent aliens, and wipes the Chlorans from the face of their galaxy.
Smith is retreading old ground here, resurrecting both the Fenachrone and the Chlorans, rather than creating new enemies to confront. There are in fact a surfeit of enemies, which results in people flitting hither and thither and yon, to very little effect.
Smith had never been overly concerned about relativity or indeed physics in general. Here Seaton (and indeed DuQuesne, the Fenachrone, and the human slaves of the LLurdians) is zipping about from galaxy to galaxy without any ill-effects or serious time-dilation issues.
The denouement also, is a little strange since DuQuesne decides he is going to set up his own Empire in which a form of eugenics will become part of social custom.
The Skylark series should, in all honesty, have been left as trilogy. This late addition adds nothing to the experience and comes as something of an anti-climax.
‘Valeron’ takes us more or less straight on from the end of Skylark Three, although we see the denouement from the perspective of Duquesne, who has captured a Fenachrone war-vessel and is hiding among their fleet. Thus, he witnesses the destruction of the entire Fenachrone race. While Seaton and his chums are racing off to pursue the final Fenachrone ship (which is attempting to flee to another galaxy) Duquesne returns to Earth and takes control of the planet.
We then rejoin Seaton, Martin, Dorothy and Margaret as they continue their adventures. Having destroyed the last of the Fenachrone, they then encounter the pure intellectuals, beings composed of energy and, in order to escape them, rotate themselves into the Fourth Dimension.
They are there captured by a fourth-dimensional civilisation. Unable to communicate, they are forced to escape. Seaton manages to rotate them back into our universe in the nick of time but finds that they are so far from their own galaxy, they are lost.
In a nearby galaxy however, they discover the planet Valeron, peopled by nice white humanoid types and currently under siege by the Chlorans, green amoeboid type beasties from a neighbouring planet.
Smith is pretty much repeating plotlines continuously but does so, it has to be said, in a very entertaining manner, despite his rather casual attitude to genocide, which he is happy to carry out with gay abandon in most of his work. He also quite cleverly interweaves what appears to be logical scientific theory and laws of physics with complete techno-nonsense, such as the convenient headsets that one can don to assimilate all the knowledge and expertise of a friendly scientist chum.
It’s juvenile hokum that is typical of – but generally far superior to – most of the contemporaneous work that was being published in the mid Nineteen Thirties.
The tale was first serialised in ‘Astounding’ in 1934 and published as a novel in 1949.
‘He had to bridge 100 generations…
Like an umbilical cord, the cortical hook-up linking Wayne Panu to his ship involved them in an unheard-of rapport, even in the ranks of the unique esper-pilot fleet that warred against the world-engulfing Mephiti.
In the outward surge into the far-flung galactic worlds for colonization Man had found but few habitable planets–but now even those few worlds were challenged. The Mephiti–dread, all-embracing fog forms–were Man’s match as they fought him planet for planet in the race for habitable space.
And only Wayne Panu, with his extraordinary ESP talents that went beyond the mind and the here and now–whose senses were strangely linked in the past to the heroes and legends of the ancient Kalevala–could retaliate in this fantastic war that devoured suns and swept across the ages of eternity.’
Blurb from the G-618 1967 Ace Doubles edition.
Wayne Panu is a military space pilot, attuned to a sentient ship, his mission is to destroy sentient life on habitable worlds. The weight of this responsibility is taking its toll. After his partner is killed, Wayne sets the controls to a dangerous and ridiculous limit and arrives in a Universe where he finds himself adjacent to a large copper spaceship with oars protruding from its hull.
An old man, Wainomoinen, takes him to a dying world where an evil witch, Louhi, has stolen the sun.
This is the third novel in which Petaja has adapted excerpts from the great Finnish saga, the Kalevala.
It is one thing to employ fantasy elements in a science fiction novel and rationalise them as futuristic science. It is another to move from a purely rational SF scenario to one of pure fantasy. That is not to say that it should not be done, but that it should be done in a way that works, which it does not do here.
Wayne is taken in by the fairly primitive Vanhat people, and within the space of a few pages is talking like a character from some Arthurian tale.
Perhaps given a longer page length this might have been something a little more special, since there is a clever conceit in the novel that the unfolding of events is dependent very much on Wayne’s character; what he was and what he has become.
A far better blending of the rational and the fantastic was carried out by Ian Watson in ‘Lucky’s Harvest’ and ‘The Fallen Moon’ which again takes the Kalevala as its principal source, to much better effect.
Probably the quintessential Space Opera of its time, the Lensman series has dated – although not so badly as the work of some of his contemporaries – due mainly, in my opinion, to Smith’s rather one-dimensional characterisation, his dialogue and his depiction of female roles. Paradoxically, given the rather limited characterisation of the humans his aliens are sometimes truly alien. Indeed, the mindsets of some of the non-human protagonists are often far more skilfully depicted than their human counterparts.
Despite that, provided one bears in mind the social climate in which this was written and reads the novel in context, they can still be hugely enjoyable.
The term ‘Space Opera’ is actually used within the text at one point when Kim Kinnison – the hero of the series – goes undercover posing as a writer of the genre. Whether the alter ego was based on anyone in particular is not known.
This is the finale to Smith’s six volume saga. Smith was an early forerunner of today’s ‘Big Concept’ writers such as Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter, and though some of his scientific fabulations seem somewhat preposterous by today’s standards it was Smith and writers like him who created that ‘sense of wonder’ for many readers, not only when this was published as a magazine serial in the Nineteen Forties, but when republished in book form in the fifties and (for reasons unknown) enjoying an unexpected renaissance in the mid-seventies. The series has recently been republished by an independent publisher and hopefully will find a new generation of readers.
Smith’s strength lies in his ability to convey the vastness of Time and Space, his premise being that billions of years ago a race of humanoids – The Arisians – was born in our galaxy and evolved far beyond the point at which humanity now stands.
They learned that by observation and the calculations of their powerful minds they could predict the future to a certain degree. They knew that a galaxy was about to pass completely through their own galaxy, and that the gravitational pull of suns against each other would produce billions of new planets, upon which Life would evolve.
They also knew that another ancient race, the cruel and tyrannical Eddorians, had plans to dominate both galaxies and sate their immortal lust for power.
The Arisians only advantage was that the Eddorians were not aware of their existence, and so was set in motion a plan which was to span millions of years, taking us through the fall of Atlantis, the Roman Empire and thus through the Twentieth Century and beyond.
In essence, this is an epic war of ideologies, in that the Arisians represent democracy and free will, while the Eddorians represent a system of Hierarchical totalitarianism, enforced by a militaristic regime (In this respect it is interesting to compare the physical description of Smith’s Eddorians with Heinlein’s Puppet Masters, who themselves are a metaphor for the forces of Communism. Both are sexless, emotionless amorphous creatures, who reproduce by binary fission, with each new half retaining the memories and skills of the original).
The Arisians’ secret weapon is a selective breeding programme which has been in operation on four different planets since intelligent life evolved.
Only one of the four races can go on to produce the super-beings capable of defeating the Eddorians.
Humans, of course, win the ‘race’ race and the couple selectively bred to give birth to the Homo Superior children are inevitably white and North American.
This idea of selectively breeding humans rather puts a dent into the concept of Arisians as benign Guardians of Democracy, and although one can argue that it was the Arisians’ only option, it is never really addressed as a moral issue within the text.
The Children themselves are four girls and boy who, in their late teens, have to conceal that fact that they are the most powerful – if underdeveloped as yet – beings in the Universe. We are led to believe that the girls will ultimately become the wives of their brother, and the mothers of the race that will replace the Arisians as Guardians of Civilisation.
An oddly incestuous episode also ensues between Kit (the boy) and his mother in a strange scene where she – in need of brain-restructuring and training, for want of a better phrase – allows the mind of her son to enter hers, rather than submit to mental penetration by the Arisians (of whom she has an incurable phobia).
The description of this act is oddly violent and not a little sexual, made worse by the rather stilted professions of love between Mother and son before the procedure.
But Hell, this is Pulp Fiction. It never pretends to be Shakespeare, and despite its political incorrectness I still find it a nostalgic and stonking good read.
‘The ship was called the Pleiades, and it was Earth’s first starship. It could travel instantaneously to literally anywhere in the universe – but that was just the trouble with it. For there was absolutely no way of predicting where in the infinities of space it would reappear when it winked out of the Solar System, and no way of knowing how to return.
it’s crew was two men and two women, each a Psionic Prime with mind-powers unparalleled in Earth’s history. The tale of how they pitted their powers against an entire universe is one of the daring adventure on the galactic scale such as could only have been written by science-fiction’s all-time great, Edward E. Smith.’
Blurb from the 1965 Ace paperback edition
A rather odd, late work from Smith in which he once more (as in his Skylark series) sends two couples off across the galaxy in a ship which, rather unimaginatively and improbably, has a Big Red Button. This, when depressed firmly, takes them to a random G-type planet in the universe.
No doubt in order to catch up with the times Smith introduces the tricky subject of sex into his Space Opera. There’s nothing raunchy about it. There’s a lot of talk about ‘pairing’. One couple eventually go off to a cabin together and emerge later for breakfast. In ‘Doc’ Smith terms, this is tantamount to porn.
The couple chosen for this voyage are the elite of Earth, a male and female ‘Prime’ (humans of high intelligence with telepathic, psychokinetic and teleportation powers) and two Gunther Firsts (as above, but with not so many powers).
They visit a succession of Earth-type planets in another galaxy, peopled by humans but with varying customs. Every planet is guarded by another race called the Arpalones who protect Humanity from various (and seemingly pointless) alien attacks.
Returning to our own galaxy after learning how to control the Big Red Button, they again find Humanity on many Planets, each with small numbers of Primes.
They set up what is essentially an ‘Interstellar Primes Club’ and return home to Earth where Belle Bellamy (the female Prime) deduces that the Universe is a vast living organism which has evolved the Arpalones as antibodies for one section of its body, while the Primes will do it in their own galaxy; ordinary Humanity being put in the role of blood cells, and evil aliens as diseases.
Once again, even at this late date, Smith throws in the quite agreeable (to all involved) concept of genocide, as when our heroic four help the Arpalones to wipe out a species of man-faced flying tiger which has been menacing the locals.
Also, quite absurdly, they save another world from Communism. Somehow, in this entirely separate galaxy, the Communist leaders have evolved Russian names.
From the author of ‘the Skylark’ and ‘Lensman’ series, this is a very sad point to which to sink.
Written around the same time as Harrison’s close friend and colleague Aldiss’ ‘Hothouse’ this is a relatively uncomplicated adventure, but one which breaks some ground, and which has a surprising longevity and almost cult popularity. It has spawned two immediate sequels and recently it seems Harrison collaborated on several Russian language Deathworld novels which have not (as yet) been released in an English translation.
So, Jason da Lint, bored interstellar gambler and psi practitioner is approached by Kerk Pyrrus, a man who wants to use Jason’s unique abilities to win a lot of money in a casino. The money will be used to aid the human society on Pyrrus. Jason agrees on condition that he is allowed to visit Pyrrus. Using his psi abilities, Jason amasses a dangerous amount of winnings and the pair barely escape with their lives. Jason has already discovered that Pyrrans are tougher, faster and more serious than most of humanity, partly due to their 2G planet, but also due to the fact that all animal and plant life on Pyrrus seems determined to wipe them out.
Once on the planet Jason senses that there are secrets the Pyrrans are not sharing and feels duty bound to solve the mystery of why the planet wants all humans dead.
It reads very much like a novel of the Nineteen Seventies, which is when I first read it myself.
Certainly it is very refreshing to find a tough female ship’s captain such as Meta back in 1960, although perhaps it would have been far more daring had Kerk’s role been a female one, since it is the diametrically opposed views of Kerk and Jason that are the driving force of the narrative.
It would have added a great deal of sexual tension to the dynamic had Meta been given Kerk’s role in the novel.
Harrison employs the concept of telepathy here very lazily, in that it is merely a literary means to an end; a convenient plot device. There is no attempt made to describe how it might be possible or what psychological consequences may occur.
Given that, as mentioned earlier, Aldiss was working on ‘Hothouse’ one would have imagined Harrison employing more imagination in his speed-evolved ecology. One also might have imagined his protagonists to have been a little more contrite over an apparent act of genocide when a race of possibly sentient beings are wiped out in a bombing raid on a volcano cave-system.
Yet, despite its now obvious flaws, it has dated well and is a worthy addition to any self-respecting SF library.
NB: There are apparently suggestions that Deathworld exists within the Stainless Steel Rat universe. That’s a debate for the Harrison experts.
‘After hundreds of years secretly manipulating the human race, the Starflyer alien has succeeded in engineering a war which should result in the destruction of the Intersolar Commonwealth. Now, thanks to Chief Investigator Paula Myo, the Commonwealth’s political elite finally acknowledge the Starflyer’s existence, and puts together an unlikely partnership to track down this enigmatic and terrifying alien.
The invasion from Dyson Alpha continues with dozens of Commonwealth worlds falling to the enemy. The navy fights back with what it believes to be war-winning superweapons, only to find that the alien fleet has been given equally powerful weapons. How the aliens got them is the question which haunts Admiral Kime. Could it be that the Commonwealth’s top-secret defence project has been compromised by the Starflyer’s agents, or is the truth even worse?
To Mark Vernon, mechanic and general repair man extraordinaire, it appears that he’s landed on his feet when he finds the perfect job on the most secure world in the Commonwealth. He and his family will never be in danger again now that he’s helping to build the starships that will evacuate the ultra-rich should the war be lost. Until one day when Nigel Sheldon arrives to ask him a small favour. You don’t say no to the man who created the Commonwealth. But the problem with smnall favours is the way they tend to grow…
With the war going badly and the Starflyer’s treachery threatening the very heart of the Commonwealth, only the alien’s destruction can turn the tide. As Paula Myo finally begins to close in on her prey, the operation is sabotaged from within. If the nemesis is ever to be beaten, Paula will have to work out which of her colleagues is plotting to betray the entire human race.’
Blurb from the 2006 Pan paperback edition.
Paula Myo, the Vulcan-like dispassionate detective has finally decided that the Starflyer (an insidious alien which the Guardians of Selfhood claim has been manipulating humanity human politics for centuries) is not a myth, but is having a hard time finding evidence to convince her superiors.
The prime Aliens have invaded a goodly chunk of the human Commonwealth of Planets and Ozzie Fernandez Isaacs, afro-mopped eccentric genius, has set off along the Silfen paths to try and find the adult form of the elf-like Silfen, enigmatic aliens who may hold the key to defeating the alien Primes.
Meanwhile, a sizeable cast of other characters whose lives become entwined in one way or another, find their own ways of helping to counter the alien menace.
As is usual for Hamilton, the sequel to ‘Pandora’s Star’ runs to some 1200 plus pages, very little of which is wasted space. Hamilton has become a master of conducting his orchestra of characters in a complex narrative of action, wonder, wit and spectacle, and rarely disappoints.
Unusually for any genre, however, Hamilton has limited this epic to two books. Philip Mann’s ‘The Master of Paxwax’ is the only other self-contained story I can think of that has been written this way.
Stylistically, this differs little from his ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy, continuing his interest in the survival of the self, which was examined there in terms of the Edenists’ digitised consciousness being transferred into organic entities and also through the return of ‘souls’ from the Beyond.
Here, as in Richard Morgan’s Tokashi Kovacs novels, memories are recorded in an embedded chip. Rejuvenation is common practice, and those who are killed accidentally can be ‘re-lifed’ via cloning and the memory recordings. Sadly Hamilton doesn’t take the opportunity to fully explore the ramifications of living for several centuries.
The question of genocide arises when Nigel Sheldon’s science team develop a device capable of triggering a supernova. In John W Campbell’s day, it was commonplace for humans to zip off across the galaxy and wipe out an alien race that was making things awkward for everyone else. EE ‘Doc’ Smith in particular wiped entire species from the faces of planets on a regular basis. Thankfully things have changed, at least as far as Hamilton is concerned, and the prospect of destroying an entire race, however inimical, is debated fully and the ethics explored.
The conclusion of Burroughs’ ‘The Moon Maid’ takes us centuries into the future from the time of ‘The Moon Men’ where the Kalkars have been wiped almost from the face of America. Their last stronghold is a lush coastal valley surrounded by desert in which dwells a tribe led by Julian 21st, also known as ‘The Red Hawk’
By this time the population of America has devolved into Amerindian tribes, but tribes who still follow ‘The Flag’ although (something which questions Burroughs’ notion of American ideals) they also still practice slavery. Admittedly, Burroughs points out that the slaves are treated with honour and decency, but they are nevertheless still slaves.
Julian’s tribe vows to invade the stronghold of the Kalkars and rid America of the last of them. In true Burroughs style he meets along the way a beautiful woman. The obstacle to their love is that she is the sister of the Or-Tis, leader of the Kalkars.
The Red Hawk prevails, the Kalkars are driven out and it is discovered that Or-Tis and his family have no evil Kalkar blood, but are genetically American.
‘The Moon Maid’ was originally written (or at least the ‘Moon Men’ section) set in a future America under the rule of Communists. Unable to find a publisher willing to print, Burroughs rewrote the story with the Communists replaced by the evil alien Kalkars, and subsequently topped and tailed it with the other two sections.
It’s an uneasy read from a modern perspective. Burroughs’ ideas on the purity of race have disturbing echoes in both America’s past and its future during the twentieth century.
There is an attempt at one point to put forth a view that the two sides should forget the ancient enmities of centuries before and live together in peace. From a dramatic point of view it would have been more interesting if the Kalkars had evolved during the elapsed time into a different sort of society, and peace been achieved.
The Kalkars however have not changed and are therefore exterminated (or at least driven into the sea) leaving the Americans victorious.
‘As humans spread throughout the galaxy, thousands of planets have been colonized.
Often, the colonists discover too late that an apparently hospitable planet
conceals a terrible danger to their survival. The fate of these colonies scattered
across the galaxy rests with one man, whose own fate is to race forever against
looming interstellar disaster.’
Blurb from the 2003 Baen paperback edition
Originally published as ‘Colonial Survey’ by Gnome Press in 1956, and reissued in 1957 by Avon Press as ‘The Planet Explorer’, Leinster’s rather romantic view of humanity’s colonisation of other worlds is tempered by solid scientific theory. Some of the stories here (which have been re-written and combined into a novel format) are merely puzzle problems whereby colonies in mortal danger with no hope of rescue are saved by genial Colonial Surveyor Bordman who employs logic and scientific theory to turn each crisis into a mere drama.
‘Solar Constant’ is set on a planet where Humanity is doomed because of the arrival of a premature ice-age, Bordman uses rockets to scatter sodium above the atmosphere so that more sunlight is captured and reflected back onto the planet.
He works a similar trick in ‘Sand Doom’, set on a hot desert planet populated only by Black people and Amerindians because of their genetic tolerance for sunlight.
Similarly, in ‘The Swamp was Upside Down’ Bordman saves a colony founded on an escarpment which juts out of a world-spanning ocean, and which – due to Man’s stupidity – is sliding back into the sea.
In the longer and slightly less satisfying piece, ‘Combat Team’, Bordman is confronted by an illegal colony on a jungle planet; a man and a family of genetically engineered Kodiak bears. The official colony has been almost wiped out by an indigenous hostile species. Our ever genial and resourceful surveyor uses the bears to help rescue the survivors of an official colony; finds a way of eliminating the hostile species and is also able to authorise the man/bear colony as a viable experiment, thus legitimising their presence on the planet, since the bears function much better than robots in this environment.
Had Leinster been less casual about the genocide of an entire species (see also EE ‘Doc’ Smith) then this tale would be more palatable today. Some views of Humanity and its place in the universe date very badly.
It will be interesting to see what aspects of early 21st Century genre work date as badly.
Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by nuclear war. Humans have fled to live in ‘Keep’s far below the surface of the oceans of Venus since the planet’s land masses are covered in jungles inhabited by deadly flora and fauna. The ruling government of this remainder of Humanity is an Oligarchy of immortals, the rest of the race destined to live out normal lifespans.
Against this background is told the story of Sam, the son of Blaze Harker, youngest in a dynasty of a powerful family of immortals. Blaze, however, is borderline insane and, for reasons we need not go into here, has his baby son surgically altered and abandons him to be brought up among the short-lived humans.
The child grows up with the name of Sam Reed, working initially under the tutelage of the Fagin-like Slider.
Meanwhile, the immortal Robin Hale believes that Humanity should be moving out onto the surface of Venus, a policy that the ruling immortals currently oppose.
Sam decides to help Hale; a decision which brings him into conflict with Zachariah Harker, while neither of them are aware of the fact that they are closely related.
Sam manipulates the media to raise volunteers and money to establish a colony on the surface, but is betrayed by his mistress.
The narrative jumps fifty years ahead to where Sam awakens in a street, having been helped there by a mysterious stranger. He discovers that he was discredited as a drug addict after his disappearance, but the surface colony is just surviving. He also discovers, to his surprise, that he has not aged and realises the fact of his immortality.
Once more, he rejoins Hale and launches a new campaign to establish Humanity on the planet’s surface.
The immortals, however, set up a long term plan to deal with Sam permanently.
It has elements of both a Shakespearean tragedy and a Dickens novel. Sam seems driven by his fury on a predestinate path. Indeed, Kuttner also includes the character of The Logician, a mysterious immortal, born on Earth, who has been masquerading as public logic machine, to which anyone can submit questions.
It was The Logician who advised Hale to start his surface colonisation programme. The Logician (who describes himself as a sort of oracle in the text, and who seems to extrapolate the future in much the same way as EE Doc Smith’s Arisians) explains that his talent depends on guiding people, rather than telling them what to do and it seems clear later that he has manipulated both Hale and Sam in order that Humanity can return to the surface.
Sam is eventually betrayed by another woman, programmed from birth for the role and placed in a position of trust, but Sam is not killed, merely put to sleep again by The Logician to be reawakened at a time when his drive and fury may be needed again.
Stylistically it has that odd juxtaposition of the feudal and the futuristic. For its time the use of drugs and narcotics in a narrative was not standard practice. Addiction features several times, the female surgeon who originally altered Sam’s physical appearance for instance was addicted to the lethal embrace of a native life-form which stimulated pure pleasure in her body as it slowly fed on her.
As is common for novels of this period, the concept of genocide (not just a species, but an entire biosphere) is not considered an issue.