Her Brother’s Keeper – Mike Kupari (repost review)

51f83jc4-flHer Brother’s Keeper by Mike Kupari of Correia-and-Kupari mil-thrillers is a 2016 Baen SF novel, and that’s about the aptest way to describe it that I know.

Where it’s good, it’s…well, it’s Baen. There’s a tough, Honor Harrington / Heris Serrano-esque ship captain, a weaselly but ultimately honorable aristocrat, an extremely intelligent and extremely socially inept xenoarchaeologist who might be about to stumble over the discovery of the millennia–if it doesn’t get sold on the black market first–there’s a spooky ghost ship interlude that hits every AARGH GUYS GET OUT OF THERE button there is, there’s ground and space action, some perfunctory romance, a couple of heartwarming reunions, and a happy part-1 ending.

On the other hand, where it’s bad, it’s eyerollingly bad. Look, we get it, you love the great state of Texas, good for you. Now shut up. And take that hat off, you look STOOPID with it over your space helmet.

What really knocks any chance this book might have of moving past its flaws is the fact that a) its tone isn’t SF, and b) its overall writing style isn’t SF. What do I mean by this? That this book could have had the word “-space” excised from all scenes and been set on present-day Earth with no change in tone or format. There’s no sense of vaster scope. There’s no iota of widened imagination.

There’s no sense of wonder.

So, starting at the beginning:

Captain Catherine Blackwood returns to her ancestral home at her estranged father’s request. Her feckless younger brother, the heir and the child actually valued by their family, is being held for ransom on the furthest human world, Zanzibar. Her father will spare no expense–even though it would be more cost-effective just to have another son (lol)–to get him back. Captain Blackwood’s light patrol ship is highly trained and professional, but understaffed for what might turn out to be a military operation instead of just a straight prisoner exchange, so a stopover at the Lone Star System AKA Planet Texas (sheesh) collects some hired muscle: hero named Marcus, who also is blandly muscular enough to be played by Mark Wahlberg; sidekick with a sexbot, sniper girl, some other people, and Marcus Wahlberg’s teenage daughter, who needs to get off planet after punching a drugged-up rodeo queen who poisoned her barrel-racing horse Sparkles. I’m not making that up.

OK, well, whatever.

So they set off. Meanwhile, in captivity, feckless brother Cecil and his two sidekicks are being forced to excavate space-archaeological sites for the ruthless but not very interesting warlord Aristotle Lang. Aristotle Lang plans to Take Over The World with the money he will earn selling them on the black market. We are told that this is a bad thing, but he’s such a nonentity in this book it’s open to interpretation. I mean, really, who cares if a place like Zanzibar gets taken over by a warlord? Can he at least make the space shuttles run on time?

Despite the lack of a solid antagonist, this book is actually at its strongest when dealing with the Zanzibar-archaeology plot. There’s some kind of mysterioust secret about the planet Zanzibar which our heroes are on the cusp of discovering. Who were the humanoids who inhabited it millions of years before? How were they able to produce sophisticated technology despite their Bronze Age cultural level? Why did the obligatory-bug alien war go to such lengths to keep the planet intact when they happily used mass drivers on all other human settlements?

Why was was Zanzibar once sterilized down to the molecules of the planetary crust–and how?

Replace “aliens” with “unknown civilization, possibly Atlantis,” and “sterilized” with “volcano,” etc, etc–and you get a perfectly decent current thriller that would entertain on an airplane flight and probably be useful afterwards, if you’re traveling somewhere with no free toilet paper.

Unfortunately, Mike Kupari chose to make this book Science Fiction with a capital SF, but he doesn’t have the imagination or the writing ability to answer the questions he raises, make his heroes interesting, make his antagonists threatening, make his worlds alien, or his spaceships memorable.

Even more unfortunately, this particular plot made me compare this book to another with a very similar plot: Edmund Hamilton’s The Closed Worlds (Starwolf #2). Feckless younger sibling + treasure hunt on an unwelcoming and deadly alien planet + mercenaries…except that Hamilton added: Way Cool Stuff, Big Ideas, Big Scenes, Big Reveals, Scary Villains, Memorable Characters. Morgan Chane would kick the snot out of Marky Mark, laugh while doing so, and have pointed words about Planet Texas vis-a-vis Varna.

In Hamilton’s book, the unwelcoming nature of the alien planet is shown by clear, forceful action on the part of characters with a motivation to act in the way they do: Helmer, who dies as he lives–trying to protect his people from something that destroys the strong and makes the weak vile. Its dangers are even more vividly drawn out with the flitting, white-bodied, laughing, mouthless nanes (brrrrr).

In Kupari’s…Zanzibar is just kinda there. There’s no way of distinguishing the planet from any other by any kind of scene or scenery. Aristotle Lang is just kind of there, devoid of any personality save a vague, theatrical, villainous menace. He doesn’t actually twirl a moustache while threatening the helpless academics. That would be absurd. But it would probably have helped.

In Hamilton’s book, there’s a reveal of the great mystery of the Closed Worlds–and it’s a reveal that’s worth the wait.

In Kupari’s….it’s Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, but, eh, it’s okay, they’re gone now.

I could go on in this vein for a while, but I think that that’s sufficient.

Rated: I think I’m going to go read Starwolf over again.

The Stars, My Brothers – Edmund Hamilton – (Repost Review)

librivoxthestarsmybrothers500Edmund 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.

Huh?

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.”

Yeahhhh….about that….

Rating: Three and a half anthropoids out of five.

Book Haul

Due to a very generous tip from some people who really oughtn’t’ve, I was able to hit up a bookstore that has been on my list for a long time. So we’re looking at:

  • Agent of Chaos – Norman Spinrad (never heard of it, looks interesting)
  • The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (Needed an extra copy since I’m giving my illustrated edition to my niece. Have offered it to one of the other interns who inexplicably likes the movie.)
  • The Star Kings – Edmund Hamilton (Don’t have)
  • Great Science Fiction Adventures – Edmund Hamilton anthology (Don’t have)
  • The Star of Life – Edmund Hamilton (Don’t have)
  • The Ginger Star – Leigh Brackett (Never, um, finished)
  • Roadmarks – Roger Zelazny (Didn’t have)
  • Warriors of Blood and Dream – Zelazny-edited anthology (It’s got Zelazny’s name on it, it ought to be good, right?)
  • A Wizard in Bedlam – Christopher Stasheff (Sometimes you just want to spend time with your old friends.)

At least some SF book reviews to appear shortly!

Review – The Valley of Creation – Edmund Hamilton

You who shall come after us, take warning!

563-1So…it’s rare that you find a work that aligns exactly to your tastes, interests, current obsessions, and feelings. This novella, for me, ranks closely with the Leigh Brackett-written movie, Hatari, starring John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli. That had animals, comradeship, outdoor work, truck driving, shooting, a smattering of romance, humor, adventure, and baby elephants. It’s one of the movies I watch all the way through with complete attention whenever I happen to start it up.

This one? This one has tigers, wolves, horses, eagles–wolves with the intelligence of men and the ferocious loyalty of warriors, tigers with the cunning and strength of, well, intelligent talking tigers, and horses who get two of the most badass and most emotionally-resonant scenes in the story. (Lets just say–remember the Charge of the Talking Horses in The Last Battle? In this one, they actually win.)

And, slowest to speak their piece and holding the final say in many decisions, there are the wise, far-sighted, clear-thinking Eagles. There are secret valleys, forbidden caverns, ancient treasure, lost technology and stolen artifacts.

It’s also set in China, which is *cough* relevant to my current obsessions, at least.
It’s written with effortless, vivid, swift-moving prose, a bravura style and epic tone. The plot is straight out of the Talbot Mundy school of pulp adventure, but the writing is not. It’s hard to pin down the exact genre of this story, but I finally did: it’s a planetary romance…set on Earth.

– Plot: ….It would kind of ruin things if I described the plot, and it’s not very important anyway.

– Characters: in proper sf style, the best-developed characters aren’t the humans. I will say though: pulp adventure heroes tend not to get a lot of character development, though this one does–starting out as a jaded mercenary, and learning the error of his ways, until he is accepted into the Brotherhood–and worthily so.

In short: I loved this one and it kind of rocked.

Read/watchlist microreviews

Edmund Hamilton – The Star Hunters
Secret agents–disguises–star kings–femme fatales–prison escapes–outlaws–the dread discovery of things man might have learned to know but cannot be trusted with–dogfights in the choked wreckage of the Devil’s Canyon of space…
Rated: old-school space opera sensawunda and action. It doesn’t get better than this.

The Sun Smasher
Starmen, star-kings, and star-queens–godlike fallen masters of Space–empires Old and New–forgotten and forbidden weapons–forgotten memories and long-lost heirs–spiderlings–old retainers–undying loyalty and unrequited love–
Even if it was somewhat predictable….it don’t get better than this.

The Three Planeteers
This one was less space opera and more pulp….ehh.

 

Watchlist:

– Pillars of the Sky – Oddly enough, keeping the focus on the white men is a plus; it makes the drama more bearable, and also the dialogue less stilted. A movie that focuses on the Injun Dilemma tends to be heavyhanded and maudlin when done poorly, and overwhelmingly depressing and heavyhanded when done well. A movie which has enough space to examine the Injuns’ problems from a more dispassionate distance is a movie that has the ability to show nuance, intelligence, moderation, and compassion.
And while this movie doesn’t ever rise to greatness, there are one or two scenes that are quite good–one of the army-aligned chiefs takes the bow from one of the antagonists, and, with only a little effort, breaks it in half. “My father’s bow would have ripped the arm from my shoulder before it broke. We have forgotten the ways of our people!”

Secondhand Lions – courtesy of my fellow interns and our new movie night tradition. This is a genuinely top-tier movie, despite the fact that the actor playing the young Robert Duvall looks nothing like him. (“It’s fine. He is younger and he is not the one with glasses, and he has a moustache.” “But he doesn’t LOOK like him at all!” “He has a moustache!” “….”) We also couldn’t decide which ending was better, so we settled on saying that they are BOTH better.

Ford v. Ferrari – It’s, uh, really boring except for the vroom vroom parts.
But I did love “7000+ GO LIKE HELL.”

The Haunted Stars – Edmund Hamilton

thhntdstrs2008Instead of a square-jawed space hero–such as the impetuous ex-military second in command DeWitt–or a square-jawed, reluctant yet capable science hero–such as the commander, Christiansen–this one stars (geddit? Stars? Sleep deprived me slays me) a nerdy academic without even the past background of baseball or football scholarships. He’s not even a physicist or a mathematician or an engineer–he’s a linguist: Robert Fairlie.

Why has a linguist been lured out to Washington under the pretense of headlining a conference at the Smithsonian, greeted by military security, and then slapped on a supersonic jet to New Mexico, at a time when it appears the greatest problem of the age is diplomatic?

The Other Side has been complaining about the American moonbase in Gassendi Crater–complaining that no neutral inspections have been allowed and it is obviously therefore a military installation.

It is a military installation.

It was not built by the Americans.

Thirty thousand years have passed since Gassendi Base fell, in the midst of a doomed evacuation; and after it was broken, it was stripped, the machines destroyed, the weapons confiscated, the dead–removed. Only words remain, spoken–or sung–and written. And, naturally enough, it turns out that at least one of the written texts contains, presumably, the entire instructions to build a functioning starship. Well, progress was fast during the 1950s. And, as youngest and most successful of the linguists, Fairlie is on board when it ion-beam propels off for Altair.

He’s not a space hero; he’s not a soldier or an adventurer or even just lacking in imagination. He’s scared stiff. But he’s going to have to find it in himself to stand up, not only for the sake of Earth and the crew, but for the (SPOILER, yeah right, as if) all too human Vanryn of Altair. You see, the commander, Christiansen, is a level-headed and thoughtful man, who has considered the impacts of their recent discovieries to men–to America–to Earth. He also has a weak heart (literally, not metaphorically.) Meanwhile, the second in command, DeWitt, is a fanatic, single-mindedly obsessed with the fact of this new technology and the thought of the stars. But DeWitt is also a strong man–strong enough at every stage of the plot to push through objections, to decipher, uncover, build, to aim for the stars, and–at almost every stage–to hit them. Is he, however, strong enough to throw his weight around against the Vanryn? When the weight of thirty thousand years’ traditions, an ancient fear, and the merciless prohibitions of the ancient enemy are against him, will DeWitt conquer? Or can he be stopped–in time?

The Vanryn were once a proud people, whose dream and aim and thought were the stars. But the battle with the Llorn broke their ambition and their will. They are a peaceful–an aimless, and passive–people now, without technology, or weapons, electricity–or spaceships. Over the millenia, they have even convinced themselves that this is what they always have and must desire. For the fear of the Llorn still resides among them. And now the Earthmen have come through the stars and broken the commandment of the Llorn!
So, not even the nubile star girl is particularly friendly, this time.
Will DeWitt succeed? Or–will the Llorn come again to Ryn, cloaked in their cold shadows and fear? And when they come–what will they do?

Authors usually have a stable of character types that they rely on for their stories. The barbarian warrior. The laughing, dangerous minx. The tall, laconic, green-eyed man with an unspoken past and enormous strength and hidden powers. The Competent Introvert. The superman whose powers place him apart from humanity, who loves and values people but cannot join them.The despicable SOB who exists to be despicable and provide catharsis by being disposed of horribly, either by chance if the heroes can’t get their hands dirty, or more satisfyingly by them if they can. (This one in particular is a pet peeve of mine.) Note that none of these are actually bad, if your skill level is high enough to make the plots interesting and the characterization flow naturally within the structure of that plot. I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a Zelazny hero being really tall, really strong, and extremely sarcastic.

But to continue: some authors can create many, complex, varied characters with each new book. Some, on the other hand, are bound to stick strictly and only to their little repertoire of archetypes, which can sometimes work just fine but sometimes also be wearying and predictable; it just depends on the skill level. Some authors, however, have or develop the ability to use their repertoire in a different way–to tell stories from non-standard points of view (such as the love interest narrating in The Grey Prince), or to make a putative hero into the villain, or something of that nature.

Something of that nature is done here–in fact, it’s a twofer. The book is not only narrated,as mentioned before, by the quiet, peaceful academic Fairlie rather than the starseeking DeWitt–[SPOILERS AHEAD] but the ultimate villainy is that same starseeking, glorious ambition that both DeWitt and the ancient Vanryn held–to conquer the stars at any cost, to place the imprint of the hand (boot?) of Man on every world in every system. The Llorn have no problem with other species’ space flights or colonizing other worlds; it’s the fact that men came on as though they had a right to those worlds that disturbed them.

Hamilton is critiquing the basis of his own genre and own work, and it’s an interesting thought. Can we trust the secrets of the universe to the impetuous heroes? Are immediate results all that matter? Is one man’s vision all that matters? What good is the will and the determination to crush opposition if there is no foresight or humanity beside it? Most of these questions are left open-ended in Fairlie’s mind, as the book ends with the party regrouping and preparing to attempt the return to ship and home.
The Llorn, meanwhile, are able to state their position in very straight terms: expand all you like, but mess with us or any other species, and we end you.
Humanity semper excelcior (or, in this cruder age: Humanity F*ck Yeah!) it is not–not really.

….and….

…they’ve got a point.

Highlights: Fairlie packing for the trip….what does one pack for a trip to Altair? Well, to start with, a shaving kit, toothbrush and aspirin. Better make it a big bottle….
– There’s a nice nod towards verisimilitude–the effects of unknown bacteria on a distant planet are considered and antibiotics are being administered. (Although really, pro-biotics would be a better choice, you’d think. Less chance of having a deleterious effect on the taker, not to mention how incredibly broad-spectrum these antibiotics would have to be to be useful.)
– Aral being the one to stab DeWitt, after he has forced her and her boyfriend into a number of dangerous situations and is trying to make them stay and face what for all she knows are the devils themselves–is appropriate but also a bit sad, given that at this point everyone realizes DeWitt is slightly crazy.
– Kipling is always appreciated.
Rated: These are the four that are never content,
that have never been filled since the Dews began–
Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite,
And the hands of the Ape
And the Eyes of Man.

Fugitives of the Stars – Edmund Hamilton

Like all really good epics, this one starts off small, with the concerns of ship navigator Jim Horne. He has to listen to their Federation agent passenger complain about the absurdity and danger of his mission–tracing and stopping the enslavement of nonFederation humanoids on unallied Fringe worlds–wonder vaguely about the politics of the passengers they are picking up on the also non-allied world Skereth, and try to find a replacement for their second nav/pilot after the kid gets beaten up in an alley.

Fortunately, a replacement is directly at hand: Ardric, who is Skereth-ian but has some piloting experience, and….what, you guys didn’t do any background checks at all? Not even checking references? Not even checking on his prior listed voyages? Hmmm.

And it turns out that they very much should have done this, because Ardric proceds to steer the Yoga Queen (yes, that’s the ship’s actual name) directly into an asteroid field, laying the blame on the drugged and unable to defend himself Horne. You see, Skereth is bitterly divided between the party of Morivenn, who wished to join the Federation, and the Vellae, who don’t. Ardric happens to be the son of a Vellae leader. And Morivenn was one of the ninety-eight casualties on board the Yoga Queen.

But with the frameup being as perfect as it is (and trust me, it’s not all that great. The only evidence against him is circumstantial, two empty bottles of brandy in his cabin and him in a stupor. Does Horne have a history of drinking, on or off duty? Does he have any record of negligence or habitual mistakes? What was the exact timeline of the incident and how does everybody’s actions match up? Horne blames the replacement navigator–who is someone hired at the last planet, who admits he has a political grudge against the very politically important passengers, and who, I repeat, did not have any kind of background check before he was hired. Are you not allowed a lawyer in Ship Kangaroo Court?) Horne has no choice but to go on the run to clear his name.

And what are the Vellae doing with the slaves torn from the many worlds of the Fringe–worlds which the Federation cannot protect–slaves who, when they come to Skereth–disappear forever? (There is indeed a satisfying answer to this question, rest assured.)

There is also the statesman’s beautiful daughter (who is in the planetary equivalent of the Coast Guard and can handle an airship’s guns as coolly and competently as any hero or heroine should.) She also ends up helping lead the slave rebellion while dressed in an off-world priestess’s bikini-top-and-skirt combo, which is really masterful writing on Hamilton’s part, when you think about it.

I think my overall favorite character is Fife, the humanoid escaped slave who leads the other escapees: his cool calculations laid over a deep and ferocious hatred of any aligned with the Vellae–but who maintains his reason and fairness through it all. I liked the young kid navigator who got his arm broken, even though he’s only there for two chapters: he shows some good spirit and I was hoping that he’d come back.

The villains are a bit flat: Ardric is mainly the spiteful type who sneers and spits at his lower class (in this case nonhuman) inferiors and would twirl his moustache if he had one. (If he’d manage to capture Yso and there were railroad tracks in the Great Project, then you know what would have happened.–that sort of villain. Slightly more human, but mostly just a straight antagonist, is Horne’s ex-captain and bitter accuser, Wesek (?). But that gets wrapped up well, too.

Rated: Top-notch.

Edmund Hamilton – World Wrecker Readlist

Presented in roughly the order I read them in.

Birthplace of Creation
This is a short story/novella starring the cast of the Captain Future cycle, but it’s got more of a serious tone, more space-opera sensibility, and less comic-bookish wackiness than the next example reviewed below.
Only four men make their homes on the lifeless and motionless surface of Earth’s Moon–Curtis Newton (née Captain Future), Grag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the brain in a jar. They have just returned from repairing the great machines–which they also designed and built–that replenish the waning Venusian atmosphere when Grag notices that a chair has been moved three full inches from where he had left it.
Further investigations of this alarming happenstance then reveal that the tape record of the Birthplace has been disturbed. Moved, handled–copied–which all four know means risks utter disaster.
What is the Birthplace of Creation? What is the still center to the hideous power of the galaxy-spanning storm, shrouded by cosmic dust that veils the light of the whirling suns? And what was the warning left by the long-gone Watchers–the creatures whose powers to resist temptation was beyond that of men?
Rated: Sensawunda and square-jawed space heroes never go out of style.

Calling Captain Future
….this one, on the other hand, is right up there with Doc Savage and The Spider–pure pulp. It’s okay in its time and place, but at the moment, slightly too much for me.

Earthmen No More
ENM is a Captain Future story, but fortunately it’s one told in the space-opera genre, rather than the pulp-fiction. John Carey was lost in space–in 1931, pioneering flight towards Jupiter–but has been rescued and revived by Curtis Newton and the Futuremen, at a time so far ahead that dates aren’t really relevant and the frontiers of space have expanded to the stars themselves.
It’s a bit of a shock to him.
Meanwhile, the one called Captain Future is angry, and it is no mere passing rage: the low-down stock trader Lowther has established a monopoly on fuel production–and raised prices to the point where spacers on Pluto are irrevocably stranded. There is nothing to be done on Earth about it–legally–so what is the trick that Curtis Newton has up his sleeve for the trip he and Lowther are both taking to Pluto….?
– This is a solid adventure story of the type Talbot Mundy would write, with spaceships taking the place of camels or horses, and the voyage to Pluto in place of a caravan or convoy to Samarkand–or Shangri-la.
– Having a pretty-okay-himself protagonist describing the totally-awesome pulp hero from the outside is a time-honored and useful tradition.
– As mentioned, the genre and style are space-opera: laconic and evocative, with a sense of wonder and plenty of adventure, and the subdued but still deep emotional sensibilty of Tall Spacemen Heroes(TM).
– The fish out of water protagonist is interesting in and of himself, and his dissociation from Earth echoes the dissatisfaction of the readers, the people who may not be in Curtis Newton’s league, but who still long for other skies and far horizons.
– Rated: Calling Captain Future!

Devolution
How exactly did multicellular life evolve from the original protoplasmic blobs that first appeared on Earth? How did the awesome changes that brought us, men, the pinnacle of the long march throughout time, spiraling ever higher and higher from one evolutionary branch to another, occur? And where did the original blobs come from, anyway? And what is the fate of the men to whom the awful truths are revealed…?
It’s all a great and awe-inspiring mystery, really. One for the ages. Science can only explain so much. The truth may never be known.
Rated: 6797e3257bc99ba399af8c08baf0db6964328d733f726ed2acead5f849138cb1

Exile
This is a short and clever little story which begins when the narrator, observing his SF-writing friends a-socializing, remarks: “How hard we work at the business of acting like ordinary good guys!”–which is a remark that could be uttered to any group of SFfians ever, really.
Rated: Well….I kind of resemble resent that remark.

Moon of the Unforgotten
I’m going to have to study up on Captain Future, aren’t I? This is another CF story, and despite my not hugely loving Captain Future or the Futuremen cycle, it’s a darned good story. This is a short story, and it’s fast moving, sketched out in stark black and white–yet a simplistic plot and fairly simplistic characters still can’t detract from sheer sober skill of Hamilton at drawing the lines.
We get throwaway descriptors such as:
They walked swiftly toward the slope of the low ridge beyond which lay the city. The thin dust blew beneath their feet and the old wind sang of danger out of its long, long memories of blood and death.
-And in just a few words, we know of the world Europa, which has stolen the aged of Earthsystem, stolen the friend of the Futuremen, knows now of the Futuremen’s presence and is prepared for their coming!
Rated: Youth is wasted on the dumb.

The Godmen
– foreshadows or repeats the device used in his Starwolf second book: what need of spaceships when your mind can range the stars–the galaxy–the universe–freely? What need of bodies?
– The titular godlike men are the Vorn, and they are, as seen in their brief appearance, quite something.
– The villains are again quite weak.
– The hero is the Competent Everyman, but nothing special, and after he’s bamboozled by the villains, he’s overshadowed by the Vorn without being able to really redeem himself against a worthy foe. That’s a tad disappointing.
– Pulp romances are usually kind of flat, but this one takes the underwhelming cake.
Rated: Starwolf did it better.

Monster-God of Mamurth
– Below-average camelpunk.
– It’s a giant spider in an invisible temple.
– And it ends with the narrators deciding that they are not going to investigate themselves, not them, no way, no sir. Which kind of undermines the whole point of the genre.
Rated: Ehh.

The Monsters of Jotunheim / A Yank in Valhalla
This story is so cheesy it’s probably banned in California as a health hazard.
Rated: I’m a Loki fan myself…

Battle for the Stars – Edmund Hamilton

138729This one starts off running as Jay Birrel, Commander of the Fifth Lyran fleet, narrowly escapes intact from a trap placed for him on a primitive world by the chief of the Orionid secret police himself. Orion wants to know what Lyran plans are for Earth.–yes, Earth; old Earth, forgotten and abandoned backwater planet Earth, the birthplace of starflight and the home of the nigh-powerless but still proud United Worlds government. Technically the UW claims sovreignty over the Sectors; in actual fact, it exercises about as much control as a kid with a broken kite string.
Anyhow, it wouldn’t really have netted the Orionids anything, because to Birrel’s knowledge, Lyra has no intentions for Earth, save for protecting it from Orion. The Fifth Fleet, at full battle strength, is therefore dispatched to Earth to participate in the x-hundredth anniversary of spaceflight (the space exploration timeline on the first page is adorable, since it gives 1971-2011 as Interplanetary Exploration and 2011 as the beginning of the Interstellar Exploration). To defer suspicion by both the Earthmen and Orionids, the Fifth takes not only its men but also their wives and dependents along….leading to some marital friction for Birrel, as his wife, the Vegan-born Lyllin, is even less happy than he is with the idea of Earth. She fears Earth, its unwelcoming hostility to her alien nature, etc…

On top of this, once he arrives, Birrel also has to deal with the diplomatic side of things, something our plain-spoken, straight-shooting Commander isn’t particularly good at to begin with. The presence of a full-on colonial fleet, led by professional soldiers and crewed by veterans, isn’t making either the politicians or the naval commanders of Earth happy.

And then the Orionid spies turn up again….

This is a really good, solid novel, and it would be a good, solid novel no matter what genre it is, because all the trappings of the story–parasonic stunners, porto-communicators, blasters, spaceships–are just set dressing on a very simple, universal, understandable mileu in which simple, universal, understandable characters move and act. The setting is that of nations fencing to increase their power and prestige, or to retain their freedom and national pride, or to conquer and subdue. The characters are simple and clear-cut, but far from one-dimensional.

Also: one very quick and easy way to increase emotional investment in your story is to put an animal in, especially if the animal is plot-relevant and/or friendly. Depending on the genre of the story this can be easier or harder to do. Fantasy novels are prone to using horses–think of Bill the pony, or Binky, or Peachblossom. Fantasy is also fairly notorious for using cats, too; but you are more likely to see dogs in a historical or YA novel Old Yeller…..aaaand, uh, Hank the Cowdog. Oh, and Gaspode. It’s rare to see a cat in SF, which is more of a space-pup sort of genre. But there’s one here and it’s a thematically-relevant and simple way to increase emotional investment in the story.

In other words: aww, they took the kitty with them when they left!