Repost: Starmen of Llyrdis

4411400255_d68d1bd758Star Men of Llyrdis is one of Leigh Brackett’s less famous but still characteristic novels, and it’s got all the best ideas: ancient demigods who once were men; strong men who follow in their footsteps; passionate, dangerous women; the endless, vast, perilous, glamor of space.

American Michael Trahearne is in Gascony, trying to trace his family roots. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams–for Trahearne’s blood traces back to the famed and hated star traders: the Vardda of Llyrdis. Famed–because due to mutation–they are the only species physiologically capable of traveling at paralight velocities between stars. Hated–because they are the only species with that mutation, a monopoly on star-trade, and they have no intention of sharing either.

The one scientist who studied the mutation, Orthis, fled Llyrdis a thousand years ago when the High Council decreed that the information would not be shared to any other world. His laboratory-ship was never found, only drifting lifeboat. The search for his ship has kept the outlaw Orthist faction alive over the centuries, battling against the Vardda law that states only Vardda may or ever will fly the Stars.

Enter an Earthman, only part-Vardda, who survives the interstellar journey. A legal battle and a societal fracture will surely occur!

Actually, though, Brackett delays the payoff one by smoothing Trahearne’s entrance to Vardda society via falsified documents (prove he’s not full-Vardda! Hah, thought you couldn’t, and anyway, he’s leaving planet right now.) and basic human decency (are we really going to just kill an innocent man?)

The real revolution starts later, with a more resonant and emotional buildup.

The characters are…actually, I think that they’re kind of weak in this book. Joris, the Port Coordinator, Torin–the non-Vardda who smuggles himself aboard the spaceship and forms the catalyst for Trahearne’s own personal revolution; and Orthis–who has been dead for a thousand years–are more memorable than Shairn (femme fatale/love interest), Kerrel (villain tending to smugness), or Edri (hero’s friend/mentor). All the same, they’re sketched with vivid color, in Brackett’s amazingly visual writing.

Action is brief but suited. There is a nigh-hallucinatory, nightmarish sequence on a fungus-gathering mission when Trahearne subconsciously anticipates the attack before it happens; and a higher-pitched hunt and chase when he confronts his enemy.

There are a number of really good scenes. I have to mention (Grrl powr!) Shairn’s response to being tied up with her own scarf and stuffed in a closet: showing up twenty minutes later with a gun and a cop at her shoulder. “You should have tied it tighter. This silk is awfully flimsy.”

The standout scene for me was [spoiler] when Trahearne and his band are arrested by Kerrel and the Council agents. Kerrel–who has passed from impassivity, to smugness, to anger, to outright hatred over the course of the book–prepares to murder them in cold blood in the name of the law. He is immediately stopped–by force–by his own comrades, men of principles as strong as the Orthists’, who follow the law as well as enforce it, without taking that same law into their own hands.

Additional analysis will have to hurry:
– Worldbuilding is vivid and visual.
– Prose is excellent.
– Rated: ten starships out of ten.

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