My life in outer space

Posts tagged “Slavery

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.


Norstrilia – Cordwainer Smith (1975)


To our detriment, this is Smith’s only novel, his output otherwise being a large number of quirky short stories mostly set in this universe of The Instrumentality of Mankind. Having said that, ‘Norstrilia’ has a complex origin since it was originally published in two shorter separate parts in 1964 as ‘The Planet Buyer’ (which itself was expanded from a shorter piece ‘The Boy Who Bought Old Earth’) and ‘The Store of Heart’s Desire’
Roderick Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur McBan to the Hundred and Fifty-First (known as Rod McBan) is a boy living on the peculiar world of Norstrilia, heir to one of the prosperous mutant sheep ranches.
Norstrilia, or Old North Australia, where the people are still subjects of Queen Elizabeth II, (despite the fact she’s been dead for at least fifteen thousand years) was originally an Australian farming world until a virus attacked the sheep. What could have been tragedy changed the fortunes of mankind as a by-product of the sheep’s illness was Stroon, a longevity drug. Thus Norstrilia became the richest planet in the galaxy. The Norstrilians did not want to change their way of life however, and so incredibly high taxes are paid on any imported items to their world. Their children are tested in their teens to see if they are physically and mentally fit to survive, and those that fail get sent to a painless death.
Rod McBan is about to be tested, and his family are worried. Rod seems unable to hier or spiek. In other words, unlike the other telepathic natives of Norstrilia, he can neither hear thoughts nor project them. A girl who loves him, Lavinia, knows that this is not strictly true as there are times when Rod can hier everyone’s thoughts for miles around and when he is angry his mind is powerful enough to disable or kill.
Having survived the test, with the help of Lord Redlady, a member of the ruling body – The Instrumentality of Mankind – it seems Rod is still in danger from one Houghton Syme, an old schoolmate of Rod’s who is determined to kill or destroy him. Rod has access to an ancient computer, hidden on his land which, when Rod asks it for help, puts a financial scheme in motion. By the next day, Rod McBan is the owner of virtually all of Old Earth and therefore has to travel there to take ownership of his prize and escape the murderous attentions of Houghton Syme.
Once on Earth he becomes acquainted with the Underpeople; races of bioengineered animals who have a prophecy of a rich man coming to Earth to set them free. Could this be Rod McBan?
Smith certainly had a facility for creating well-defined characters. Norstrilia is set in a marvellously detailed if slightly unrealistic landscape. The narrative is peppered with songs and poetry which adds to a certain undercurrent of joy that suffuses the book.
Eccentric and fascinating figures appear and disappear, such as The Catmaster, who is a kind of guru/healer figure and the only Underperson allowed (by special dispensation of The Instrumentality) to take Stroon.
Smith throws in ideas right. left and centre, such as the giant alien architects who once visited human worlds and built indestructible buildings on various planets (on a whim) before leaving.
It’s a marvellously clever mix of comedy, drama, satire and romanticism, interspersed with poetry and song.
At the end of the day, however, it is simply the story of a young man who (much like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’) travels to another world, has adventures, makes friends and enemies and ultimately realises that what he wants and needs has been at home in his own back yard all the time.

The Movement of Mountains – Michael Blumlein (1987)

The Movement of Mountains

‘The Domers were huge and stupid.

Genetically engineered with a five year life span, they were salve miners, created and maintained to work the ice-cold planet Eridis. They brought out the fungus that became Mutacillin, Earth’s wonder drug.
But the Domers were changing.
A viral infection had spread from earth. They were becoming mentally, intellectually awakened. Memories and hopes were stirring in them. And in their near humanity they were becoming useless for their designed purpose.
Doctor Jules Ebert had to cure them, turn them back into cloned, mindless effectiveness…’

Blurb from the 1989 New English Library paperback edition.

From the outset this extraordinary novel sets us up for something rather unusual. Jules, the narrator of the novel, is a doctor, but one with an eating disorder. He and his lover Jessica live in separate areas of a future earth. Jules, being a professional, lives in an enclave where ‘guards’ will immobilise anyone not registered on their database. Genetically engineered Fargos Hounds roam the streets and consume waste plastic, before excreting it into recycling receptacles. Jessica lives in a less salubrious area where she pays her landlord and his son, Mingo Boyels, rent in the form of sexual favours.
Jessica is planning to move to the planet of Eridis, where a unique fungus has been found which produces Mutacillin, an antibiotic which mutates to combat even drug resistant bacteria. She has been offered a job working to discover how to grow the fungus off-world, something that has been so far impossible to do.
In the meantime, Mingo has visited Jules as a patient, exhibiting signs of herpes (thought to be extinct) but which may be a symptom of a new sickness called Barea’s disease, which seems to be beyond Mutacillin’s power to cure.
Jules and Jessica argue frequently. Jules will not believe the rumours that Fargos Hounds have begun attacking people until he hears a scream and sees Jessica running toward his home. Fargos Hounds are attacking her and others.
They argue again and Jessica tries to leave but is attacked by the ‘guards’ and is forced to stay.
The early sections are full of references to disease, both literal and metaphorical. The very shape of the town, Ringhaven, suggests a biological cell (it has a wall round it) which electrical antibodies are protecting against intruders.
The Fargos Hounds are like mutated cells. They have stopped behaving as programmed and have become cancerous, attacking the body that sustains them.
Jules, after much soul searching, decides to follow Jessica to Eredis, although his journey is delayed some months.
Mingo’s condition deteriorates and, although Jules referred him to a more experienced Doctor, he dies.
Eredis is a mining world where Domers, huge genetically engineered humanoids, toil through the short cycle of their lives to harvest Mutacillin. Jessica, it transpires, has become obsessed with the plight of the Domers who, as artificial life-forms, are treated as slaves. Both she and the director of the operation, Guysin Hoke, have been conducting clandestine affairs with two of the Domers, although their views on the creatures are fundamentally opposed, with Guysin viewing them as tools created for a purpose. Jessica looks on them as sentient beings, despite the fact that their lifespan is only five years, after which their bodies are destroyed and the organic residue used to grow the next generation.
When Jessica becomes ill, Jules realises that she has contracted Barea’s disease. Both he and Jessica have been experiencing other people’s memories. When Jules contacts Earth for up-to-date information on the disease he discovers that there is now a cure. In the meantime Jessica is close to discovering a way of growing the delicate spores which produce mutacillin off-planet, which will mean the end of the Eredis mining operation and the end of the Domers.
Shortly afterwards, she is found dead at the bottom of a mine.
Jules turns against all he has ever believed in and – with Jessica’s memories and personality in his head, comes to the conclusion that the virus is a good thing. It allows a form of shared consciousness and, if his theory is correct, will allow the Domers to survive as individual personalities when they are destroyed and reborn.

The Water of Thought – Fred Saberhagen (1965)

The Water Of Thought

‘Drink Earthman, and all will be revealed to you!


One explorer had already disappeared on the primitive planet, Kappa. So the day that a second Terrestrial, Jones, ran away after drinking the sacred Kappan water that he had coerced the natives into giving him, the remaining planetologists meant to find out just what was going on.

Questioning the aliens only deepened the mystery. For they said that what Jones had drunk would enable him to communicate with his animal ancestors. It was their most precious and sacred possession.

But how could it affect a person never born on Kappa, a person without such ‘animal’ ancestors? What had really happened to Jones and the other man – and what would happen if either of them managed to bring this incredible liquid back to Earth?’

Blurb from the 1965 Ace Doubles Edition (M-127)

Boris Brazil is a planeteer. He is currently visiting the planet Kappa with his girlfriend Brenda, en route to somewhere else.
It’s not clear what planeteers actually do, although they seem to have some quasi official status and are issued with power suits which allow them to crush things with their gloved hands and run very fast. Another planeteer, Edmund Jones, is also on Kappa unofficially, on an anthropological project of his own.
Kappa has a small colony of Earth humans and an extant species of humanoids, as well as a race of hominids that the native species employ as slaves.
At the outset Jones decides to try a liquid offered to him by a native Shaman and then runs off. When he does not return Boris sets out after him. Jones has tried the Water of Thought, a local substance that has differing effects on humans. Boris, having drunk some, finds himself completely under Jones’ control and forced to obey his every command.
Jones is determined to find the source of the water which is of interest to others. The Mayor of the human colony is selling the water as a drug while a scientist, Magnuson, is using it in an attempt to raise the local hominids to a sapient level.
It is up to Boris to find a way to escape his own slavery, scupper the plans of the drug dealers and discover the secret of the Water of Thought.
There’s no real science here. Saberhagen is looking at issues of exploitation, slavery and colonialism but doesn’t break any fresh ground.

See also ‘The Golden People’

We The Venusians – John T Phillifent (as John Rackham) – (1965)


“terror quest on the misty planet


Anthony Taylor sat watching the wealthy Borden Harper on his multi-vision screen.

‘Is there any more news about the – the Greenies?’ the interviewer was asking.

‘None at all.’ Harper dropped his voice to a deep sober sincerity. ‘We keep on trying, But I’m afraid we are just going to have to face the unpleasant fact that the Greenies are nothing more than human-looking animals…’

Anthony could contain his detestation no longer. Snatching the cushion, he rammed it violently into the speaker-grill, wishing he could ram it down Harper’s throat. Harper and the other humans on Venus, milking it of its miraculous beans, using the green-skinned natives to cultivate the crop, because that’s all they could be trained to do. They had no language, no human-style intelligence, no cultural potential, nothing.

Anthony grabbed up a dummy piano-keyboard savagely. He struck out a crisp-edged series of chords, double-handed, up the keyboard. The notes were sharp, precise sounds.

‘Not bad..’ he said, aloud. ‘For an animal!’



When he found himself running out of pills, he knew he could no longer pass for human.


She seemed to be a beautiful woman, but how long could she keep up the deception?


A psychiatrist of questionable sanity, he held thousands of Venusians under his sway.


He had the power to wipe out all the human settlements on Venus.


That was the only name she had, for what use did Greenies have for names?


Though he was the richest man on Venus, he really knew very little about the source of his wealth.”

Blurbs from the 1965 M-127 Ace Double Edition.

Anthony Taylor is an accomplished and talented musician, able to reproduce any classical piece from memory on a keyboard, and able to tune any piano. In a future where classical music has become unpopular his work is playing for the customers of a downtown bar.
One evening, Borden Harper, one of the richest men on Venus, turns up at the bar and, amazed at Anthony’s playing, returns with another two ‘chance’ discoveries, a tenor and a soprano, Martha Merrill. Harper offers them the chance to travel to Venus and perform to the humans living under the domes on the misty planet.
The Venusians have become rich due to a miracle bean which seems to cure all ailments. This is gathered and harvested by the green humanoid denizens of Venus, the Greenies, who have been identified as being ‘nothing more than human-looking animals…’
However, Anthony has a secret. All his life he has had to take anti-tan treatment in order to make his skin white, otherwise he would revert to his natural colour of green. He begins to suspect that his new colleague, Martha, is also a secret Greenie and once on Venus, with no supply of anti-tan to preserve their secret, the green begins to show.
Anthony and Martha, fearing that they would be in danger (given the attitude of the human Venusians to Greenies) flee into the wild steaming jungles. There they discover that the Greenies are not the mindless animals that the humans believed them to be, and the secret of how the pair came to be living on Earth.
For 1965, the style is somewhat dated, although the initial scenes on Earth are very interesting, foretelling a world more interested in manufactured music and videoscreens than what might be termed as ‘proper live music’. Phillifent evidently knows his classical music and no doubt at the time, at the age of 49, was wrestling with the concepts of music of the Beatles generation.
There are some obvious points made regarding capitalism and exploitation – this is in a sense a 1960s version of the film ‘Avatar’ – but given the restriction on length of Ace Doubles, doesn’t manage to explore the pros and cons of the respective lives of Venusian Humans and Greenies.

The Lincoln Hunters – Wilson Tucker (1958)

The Lincoln Hunters

‘Ben Steward, man of the 26th Century, was a “Character” for Time Researchers: he was an adventurer, an actor, a student of history… a man trained to blend into any era of man’s long past. In the overpopulated, stultifying world of 2578, his was an exciting job.

He had, for example, been standing on the shore with the Indians when the Pilgrims rowed ashore from the Mayflower. And now he had been sent back 700 years into his past, to the political furore just before the Civil war… and he was facing certain death.

For the engineers who operated the time machine had made a mistake, and Steward was stuck in a time which would overlap the time-segment he had already scouted. No person could twice exist in the same time; it was an impossibility. And so Steward, in a few moments, would simply disappear…’

Blurb from the Ace paperback edition

In 2578 Time Travel is possible but fiendishly expensive. The chrononauts employed to travel the time lanes are known as ‘Characters’ because of their ability to adapt to different ages and assume characters with society. They are employed to retrieve artefacts or recordings (for profit) from the past and the company employs – apart from the chrononauts themselves – a team of research specialists and engineers to ensure that they will pass unnoticed in the relevant period and that they have a precise geographical and temporal target. All does not always go according to plan however.
Amos Peabody, the curator of a future museum has discovered a reference to a lost speech by Abraham Lincoln, made in Bloomington, Illinois in 1856 and wants the Time Researchers to obtain a recording for him.
The leader of the four man chrononaut team, Ben Steward, is sent to reconnoitre the area, but arrives a day too late on the morning after the speech. he explores the town, finds a fragment of the company’s recording wire and is greeted by a man who appears to have met him the day before.
Steward returns to the future and selects three colleagues to accompany him back to 1856; Doc Bonner, Dobbs and Billy Bloch. the latter two are by trade, actors, a profession which lends itself to the business of fitting into the local scene.
Billy has problems though. he is an alcoholic and has learned that his brother – by dint of becoming unemployed – has been sequestered into one of the government’s labour gangs. To all intents and purposes this is government endorsed slavery.
The recording of Lincoln’s speech is made but Billy disappears and Steward is forced to try and find him before his earlier self appears the following morning. This will create a ‘cancellation’ of the individual since no two manifestations of the same person can exist at the same time.
One might consider it to be a cosy little novel but Tucker includes a rather sobering afterword. Within the novel he gives no hint of the text of Lincoln’s speech, although it is common knowledge that Lincoln is an excellent orator and knows how to work a crowd. It has long been supposed that that the speech was a dire condemnation of the slave-owning states of the South and that this was a turning point in US history when other political parties (such as the Whigs) died out, leaving only the Democrats and Lincoln’s Republican party.
Tucker tell us that he was prompted to write the novel by an old booklet published in 1897 for the Republican Club of New York entitled ‘Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Speech’ assembled from notes taken at the time by one HC Whitney:-

HC Whitney quotes Lincoln as follows:
(Speaking of a statement made by Stephen Douglas: “As a matter of fact, the first branch of the proposition is historically true; the government was made by white men, and they were and are the superior race. This I admit.” (A paragraph later:)
“Nor is it any argument that we are superior and the negro inferior – that he has but one talent while we have ten. Let the negro possess the little he has in independence; if he has but one talent, he should be permitted to keep the little he has.” (Speaking on a plank in the Whig Party platform:) “We allow slavery to exist in the slave states – not because slavery is right or good, but from the necessities of our Union… and that is what we propose – not to interfere with slavery where it exists (we have never tried to do it), and to give them a reasonable and efficient fugitive slave law… It was part of the bargain, and I’m for living up to it…”

Tellingly, within the novel Dobbs tells his colleagues a story about Ramses who was at one time at war with the Hittites. He suffered a terrible loss in a decisive battle, but decided – in a masterful ancient Egyptian act of spin, to tell his nation that he had won a glorious victory. This account of Ramses’ victory was recorded and was accepted as historical fact for at least 3000 years. Tucker is telling us in his own way that the Americans, and presumably all other societies, are very adept at rewriting their own history.

The Last Castle – Jack Vance (1966)

The Last Castle

The effete and decadent humans of the castles on a far-future Earth did not see trouble ahead when they became over-reliant on their alien slaves, the Meks, who did everything for them.
One day the slaves rode up and began to slaughter their masters.
Humans are divided between the elite aristocrats of the castles and those who live outside, considered as barbarians by the decadent castle-dwellers.
One of Vance’s archetypes, the maverick male of the community, sets out to find allies to help him fight the Meks, since the aristos it seems, would rather die than change their ingrained ways and fight to save themselves.
Vance is at his best when writing about the restrictions of entrenched social or religious rules and traditions, and this is a prime example.
It’s a woefully brief novel, but full of Vance’s trademark social detail painted with the flourish of his worldbuilding expertise.

Mind of My Mind – Octavia E Butler (1977)

Mind of My Mind (Patternmaster, #2)

‘Throughout centuries the immortal telepath Doro has struggled to build a new race, one with powers to match his own. But down all those generations, there has been no one like Mary.

Only Mary is able to draw others to her side, into a complex network of global psychic energy that unites them and regenerates them until they are more than the sum of their parts – they become The Pattern.

But one man stands in Mary’s way and the prospect of her empire – her father, her lover, her rival – Doro.’

Blurb to the Gollancz 1991 paperback edition.

Here, Butler tells the tale of how the Pattern, first explored in ‘Patternmaster’ was created, and introduces the characters Doro and Emma whose tales are told in the third ‘prequel’, ‘Wild Seed’.
Doro is a disembodied parasitic entity who moves from body to body, devouring the life-force and inhabiting each for a short while before moving on to the next. For four thousand years he has been selectively breeding Humanity to enhance psionic talents – in the main telepathy – but also rare additional talents such as healing, psychometry and psychokinesis.
The novel revolves around Mary, one of Doro’s experiments and – common to all Butler’s central figures – a black female.
The structure is unusual in that Mary’s first person narrative is interspersed with chapters following other characters in third person.
Mary is a pre-transition telepath, in that she is due to experience a harrowing physical and mental metamorphosis which will see her either emerge as a full telepath or remain a disturbed latent – like may of Doro’s failures – driven mad by the random thoughts and emotions of others.
Doro, who holds the power of Life and Death over his people, insists that she marry a white male telepath, Karl, believing that he may be able to help her through her transition.
The transition is successful, but perhaps too successful, as during the process Mary’s mind latches on to Karl and five other full telepaths and holds them in a mental Pattern, subservient to herself.
The telepaths feel compelled to travel and join her are at first angry and afraid at Mary’s inability to release them.
Later, Mary discovers that she can push Doro’s latent telepath failures into transition and bind them into her gestalt Pattern, but at a price.
Butler avoids falling into the trap of turning her characters into a benign ‘Homo Superior’ cliché. Indeed, none of the telepaths – with the possible exception of Seth, whose involvement in the tale is minimal – are very likeable people. Their actions are often selfish brutal and violent, and there is little compassion shown by any of them. They are, however, products of their environment and to a certain extent Butler is attempting to show what happens when one is endowed with power without the limits of accountability.
Mary effectively creates an instant dictatorship, answering only to Doro. Those she has enmeshed in her Pattern answer to her, and in turn they mentally enslave ‘mutes’ – ordinary non-telepathic humans – whose emotions and memories they can adjust as they wish, often relegating them to the status of pets.

‘Karl owned his servants more thoroughly than even Doro usually owned people. Karl owned their minds. They were just ordinary people who had answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times. Karl did no entertaining – was almost a hermit except for the succession of women whom he lured in and kept until they bored him. The servants existed more to look after the house and grounds than to look after Karl himself. Still, he had chosen them less for their professional competence than for the fact they had few if any living relatives. Few people to be pacified if he accidentally got too rough with them. He would not have hurt them deliberately. He had conditioned them, programmed them carefully to do their work and obey him in every way. He had programmed them to be content with their jobs. He even paid them well. But his power made him dangerous to ordinary people – especially those who worked near him every day. In an instant of uncontrolled anger, he could have killed them all.’ (p 37)

Mary’s Patternist regime grows until she has fifteen hundred telepaths under her control. They have control of local government and have taken over a school to educate their own kind.
Doro, now worried by what he has created, orders Mary to call a halt to the expansion of her Pattern, but she cannot, for, like Doro, she is a mental parasite and needs the Pattern to grow in order to feed on the life-energy of her thralls.
It’s a brilliant and immensely readable novel if a little bleak. Butler is not afraid to delve into the dark side of the human psyche and drag its darkest desires into the open air.
The motives of most of the characters are at base, selfish, such as those of Rachel, a powerful psychic healer. Before being enmeshed in The Pattern she used her powers as a travelling Faith healer in Christian Churches, but the price the congregation paid for their healing was Rachel’s leeching of their collective life-energy.
Initially, being bound with the gestalt turns them into better people as more of the psychotic latent telepaths are brought through transition to become ‘sane’ and responsible members of the Pattern community, but the price to be paid for that is the mass-enslavement of non-telepath humans.
Ada, one of the ‘First Family’ of telepaths, in one of the most chilling chapters of the story, talks to a teenage telepath – brought up by mute slaves – who has just realised who and what she is:

‘You’ll be the first of their foster children to grow up. They’ll remember you.’
‘But… They’re not like you. I can tell that much. I can feel a difference.’
‘They’re not telepaths.’
‘They’re slaves!’ Her tone was accusing.
Page was silent for a moment, startled by Ada’s willingness to admit such a thing. ‘Just like that? Yes, you make slaves of people? I’m going to be part of a group that makes slaves of people?’
‘Why do you think I tried to die?’
‘Because you didn’t understand. You still don’t.’
‘I know about being a slave! My parents taught me. My father used to strip me naked, tie me to the bed and beat me, and then—-‘
‘I know about that, Page.’
‘And I know about being a slave.’ The girl’s voice was leaden. ‘I don’t want to be a part of anything that makes people slaves.’
‘You have no choice. Neither do we.’ (p 183)

The Pattern is an instant society without democratically established codes of Justice or morality. Some rogue telepaths for instance are summarily executed, deemed too dangerous to live.
It’s a novel which – something which Butler gets better and better at doing – raises all sorts of questions about the nature of society, of humanity, of relationships and power-structures. It forces us to ask questions of ourselves and perhaps examine our own true motives for what we do and perhaps, more importantly, what we think.

The Red Hawk – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1926)

The Red Hawk

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.

Nebula Alert – A Bertram Chandler (1967)

Nebula Alert

‘The impossible route to a rebel universe.’


The Iralians were humanoid and technically free citizens of the Galactic Empire. But as slaves they were prized above all others, for they had the unique capacity to transmit acquired knowledge by heredity. And so when the space mercenary Wanderer was hired by GLASS (Galactic League for the Abolition and Suppression of Slavery) to take a cargo of Iralians home it was not going to be a simple task.

For one thing, they’d be hunted by interstellar slavers for their priceless passengers.
For another, the Iralians themselves had other ideas which included mutiny and high treason.

And for the third and worst, they were too close to the Horsehead Nebula, whose capacity for warping time, space, and the dimensions was a permanent Red Alert for all spacecraft.’

Blurb from the 1967 Ace Double edition G-632

A short and interesting piece which centres around a ship transporting a party of Iralians to their homeworld. Iralians are humanoid but have the talent of being able to pass knowledge to their children. They are also as procreative as rabbits and mature quickly. Thus, in an unscrupulous galaxy they are sought as slaves, since, a worn-out slave can be replaced by one of his/her children who will have inherited their skills.
It’s a thin premise but I’ve come across far worse. It does, however, prompt some space-born slavers to pursue them and harry them into the Horsehead Nebula, an area where the laws of physics are breaking down.
There, the ships transfer into an alternate universe and encounter Commodore Grimes, Chandler’s eponymous hero of his Rim novels.
Chandler provides an interesting biographical introduction in which he admits that, given his maritime history, his novels can be seen as thinly-disguised seafaring adventures.