Edmund Hamilton was a Golden Age science fiction author who happened also to be the husband of Leigh Brackett. Lions mate with lions, I guess.
My personal favorite of his stories is the Starwolf trilogy–space opera starring a human pirate turned mercenary, outlawed from the race of nonhuman aliens, also pirates, who raised him. The books seem like trite trash, but there’s a genuine sense of wonder and excitement about them, along with solid prose and bold, memorable characters. This review also isn’t about them.
The Stars My Brothers is a very, very old novella. It’s so old it’s in the public domain–which is how I stumbled across it on the Librivox app. It’s so old it predicts that we would have a functioning space station in 1981 (well, ok; but it’s a lot less impressive), and that we would be working on interstellar FTL drives.
The hero of the story is Reed Kieran, a technician on Wheel Five of the international space station (see what I mean?). There is an accident, the Wheel is destroyed, but he is merely flash-frozen instead of blown up, dismembered, or disintegrated. Instead of shipping him down to Earth to bury, however, the high command chooses to make a public relations example out of him; he is kept frozen in a dedicated spaceman’s graveyard until the time comes that revivification technology advances sufficiently. (I.e., never: what’s the point? So the bodies pile up in the eerie floating ring of corpses, until…)
He’s our hero, though, so Kieran wakes about a century later, on a starship on the run.
He’s come into the hands of a group of political zealots who have chosen him to make a statement. About what? The state of affairs on Sakai.
It takes him a while to get the details on the state of affairs on Sakai. Of the other characters, psychologist Paula thinks he can’t handle the details, while skeptic Webber thinks it’s a hopeless cause.
Well, first off:
Humanity has gone to the stars, only to find that in many places there were humans already–perhaps lower in technology, but still recognizably the same species.
Earth humans have shouldered the Earthman’s Burden, and begun to uplift those whom they can, teaching them about civilization and technology, and giving each human planet a place on the commonwealth government.
Sakai is the exception. There are humans on Sakai–but they are not the dominant species. A race of intelligent and highly civilized lizardlike aliens are, and they treat the humans rather the same way we treat Highland Gorillas–and for the same reason.
The “human” Sakai are pre-language, non-tool or fire using, and can’t think ahead far enough to counter ambush predators. What the dissident faction wants is for Famous and Respected Space Hero Kieran to join their cause and help sway public opinion. What they have been doing is secretly landing and…well, I’m not sure really. The group Kieran is with doesn’t try to do anything to uplift them, and other groups (Park Ranger Lizard Bregg takes pains to point out) have managed to introduce fatal diseases before.)
In fact, it mostly appears that the environmentalists are motivated by xenophobia rather than anything else–the distaste and disgust of seeing another species promoted over ones’ own. And it’s a feeling that Kieran, naturally–being a human, being a human of his time–shares.
And yet Kieran, in the time-honored pulp hero tradition of never quite doing what or reacting how he’s intended to, has this to say:
“[…] a man of my time was bound to feel just this way you wanted him to feel, and would go away from here crying your party slogans and believing them. But you overlooked something—you overlooked the fact that when you awoke me, I would no longer be a man of my own time—or of any time. I was in darkness for a hundred years—with the stars my brothers, and no man touching me. Maybe that chills a man’s feelings, maybe something deep in his mind lives and has time to think. I’ve told you how I feel, yes. But I haven’t told you what I think.”
This story isn’t the best Edmund Hamilton, or pulp fiction itself, has to offer; but it’s a solid, worthwhile little read that takes the time to think about things rather than throw them down blindly. There’s also a line that made me completely snort:
[Paula says:] “Back in your day women were still taking advantage of the dual standard—demanding complete equality with men but clinging to their special status. We’ve got beyond that.”
Rating: Three and a half anthropoids out of five.