Two Adventures from the 1960s

27 Sep

Here’s a couple of old fashioned science fiction novels from the heyday of Poul Anderson – spaceships and interesting aliens.  Be warned, I’m an engineer and that shows in my choice of extracts. There’s also plenty of lively dialog in these stories, and interesting characters.

The Star Fox (1965)

One of my all time favourites, the story concerns an industrialist (Gunnar Heim) financing and then commanding an armed privateer to harass an alien species which has conquered a human populated world. The Earth government is dead set on appeasement and refuses to accept that there are any human survivors on the world so it’s somewhat of  a ‘man of honour doing what he must’ story. There’s actually relatively little combat but plenty of action, especially during a trek across the ruined landscape of a hydrogen atmosphere world, fighting off a walking forest and ancient sentinel robots. The alien Aleriona, exemplified by Cynbe ru Taren (‘Intellect master of the garden of war‘)  are also nicely drawn, an ancient race who distrust humans because we’ve developed so fast.

A ship raised from the planet. Forces pulsed in her gravitrons, meshed with the interwoven fields of the cosmos, drove her out at ever-mounting speed. As Aurore fell behind, space grew less distorted by the star’s mass. She would soon reach a point where the metric approximated a straight line so nearly that it was safe to draw the forces entirely around her, cut off that induction effect known as inertia, and outpace light.

A million kilometers away. Fox II observed her:  saw by visible light and infrared, felt with a ghostly quickly-brushing whisker of radar, heard faint ripples of her drive in space, snuffed the neutrinos from her engines, and came to carnivore alertness.

“If races less powerful than we change, that makes nothing more than a pullulation among insects. But you, you come in ten or twenty thousand years, one flick of time, come from the caves, bear weapons to shake planets as is borne a stone war-axe, you beswarm these stars and your dreams reach at the whole galaxy, at the whole cosmos. That can we not endure! … Would you, could you trust a race grown strong that feeds on living brains? No more is Alerion able to trust a race without bounds to its hope. Back to your own planets must you be cast, maychance back to your caves or your dust.”

Satan’s World (1969)

An interesting story of interstellar conflict. The protagonists are Nicholas van Rijn, some of his employees, and an interesting alien species who, though rather primitive in some ways,  had built a civilisation around massively automated technology. I particularly liked the alien taskforce of  twenty three warships which turns out to have only one live alien in the entire fleet (which is part of his personal possessions). The prize is interesting; a frozen planet, not bound to any star, which is going to be heated up by a near miss with a star and can then be used for massive industrialisation.

He did find that the nineteen destroyers or escort pursuers, or whatever you wanted to call them, were streamlined for descent into atmosphere:  but radically streamlined, thrice the length of his vessel without having appreciably more beam. They looked like stiffened conger eels.  The cruisers bore more resemblance to sharks, with gaunt finlike structures that must be instrument or control turrets. The battleship was basically a huge spheroid, but this was obscured by the steel towers, pill-boxes, derricks, and emplacements that covered her hull.

You might as well use naval words for yonder craft, even though none corresponded exactly to such classes in the League.  They bristled with guns, missile launchers, energy projectors. Literally, they bristled, Falkayn had never before encountered vessels so heavily armed.  With the machinery and magazines that that entailed …  where the devil was room left for a crew?

They were meant for aerodynamic work.  They had orders to catch and kill a certain vessel.  They were robots.

They did not have sophontic judgment, nor any data to let them estimate how appalling these totally unprecedented conditions were, nor any mandate to wait for further instructions if matters looked doubtful.  Besides, they observed a smaller and less powerful craft maneuvering in the air.

They entered at their top atmospheric speed.

Muddlehead had identified a hurricane and plotted its extent and course.  It was merely a hurricane — winds of two or three hundred kilometers per hour — a kind of back eddy or dead spot in the storm that drove across this continent with such might that half an ocean was carried before it.  No matter how thoroughly self-programmed, on the basis of how much patiently collected data, no vessel could hope to stay in the comparatively safe region long.

The destroyers blundered into the main blast.  It caught them as a November gale catches dead leaves in the northlands of Earth. Some it bounced playfully between cloud-floor and wind-roof, for whole minutes, before it cast them aside.  Some it peeled open, or broke apart with the meteoroidal chunks of solid matter it bore along, or drowned in the spume-filled air farther down. Most it tossed at once against mountainsides.  The pieces were strewn, blown away, buried, reduced in a few weeks to dust, mud, atoms locked into newly forming rock strata.  No trace of the nineteen warships would ever be found.


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