Warbound – Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles – by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction-Fantasy Book Review

Warbound is the third and the (currently) final volume of Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series.  And as such it ties together the threads from the earlier volumes, Hard Magic and Spellbound and provides the resolution of the story lines for the main characters Jake Sullivan and Faye Vierra.  These two are powerful “actives,” possessors of magic abilities in one or several categories working for the Grimnoir Society.  Jake is a Gravity Spiker with the ability to alter gravity at will while Faye is a Traveler, someone who can teleport from one location to another.  Both have been tested during the crises in the earlier books when they faced off first against the Iron Guard actives of the Japanese Imperium and afterward against rogue actives in the US intelligence agencies that were attempting to blame the Grimnoir Society for magical attacks by other forces.

But now the whole planet is threatened by an alien creature that preys on the entity that produces the magic.  The knowledge of what is at stake produces some strange alliances that alter the dynamic that the earlier books portrayed.  And despite the war footing that the book details Correia is able to mix just enough humor and other character driven interest to allow the pleasant juggling of a large number of characters.  One of the features of this historical fantasy world is the introduction of historical figures often possessing magic themselves.  Blackjack Pershing, J. Edgar Hoover, Buckminster Fuller, even FDR make longer or shorter appearances in the books.

I won’t go into a detailed plot summary because I don’t want to spoil the story.  Suffice it to say I’m giving it a very good rating.  And I’ll finish off by saying a few things about Correia’s story writing.  Without a doubt Correia is one of the best sf&f authors around today.  Going beyond that I’ll say he compares well with the older authors back in the heyday of the genres.  He writes good heroes and good villains.  He has a good ear for dialog and he can even inject humor into the story in a natural way.  One of his favorite types is a variant of the competent man but instead of Heinlein’s omnicompetent type Correia’s hero is usually a working- or middle-class guy who is good with his fists and guns and adheres to a code of conventional morality.  And as an added bonus his heroes are actually likable.  Even his villains are interesting.

And there’s one final bonus with Correia that is refreshing to see in today’s social justice infused entertainment industry.  There won’t be a single character thrown in just to earn intersectional social justice brownie points from the pink science fiction crowd.  Just regular people with super powers fighting super villains without having to worry if any of them is being oppressed by the really evil cis-het white man.

So far, I’ve read all Correia’s Monster Hunter books and now the Grimmoir books.  I’ve also enjoyed his comical Tom Stranger audiobooks and I follow his website for his take on the latest outrages by the pink science fiction scolds.  Next, I’ll start his epic fantasy series “Saga of the Forgotten Warrior” without bothering to check reviews because I’m already sure it’ll be excellent.  And in today’s science fiction and fantasy environment that’s pretty rare.

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem – A Science Fiction Book Review

Many years ago, I read some short stories by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem.  I remember they had futuristic elements like interstellar travel but they also included a certain amount of communist doublespeak about socialist this and soviet that.  And that seemed really odd.

But recently War Dog mentioned favorably the “The Cyberiad” collection of stories and its mathematical love poem so I decided to give Lem another whirl.

The stories in this book are the adventures of two robot inventors, or as they are called in their world Constructors, named Trurl and Klapaucius.  And when I say robot inventors I mean to say that they are inventors who are themselves robots.  They are friends and rivals and from time to time enemies.  They go on assignments together or separately taking on contracts to build just about anything imaginable.  And sometimes they build things for themselves that don’t always seem to be very sensible.  For instance, one- time Trurl constructed a machine that could create anything starting with the letter n.  It could make needles, negligees, nepenthe, narcotics, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naphtha, noses, nymphs, naiads but not natrium.  And why not?  Because natrium is Latin for sodium and in English sodium starts with s!  Later on, being told to make nothing almost puts an end to the universe but luckily Trurl stops the machine just in time.

So as you can see this is comic science fiction. It’s something sort of in the same vein as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” but what it also reminds me of is Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland stories.  There is an enormous amount of wordplay and punning going on in the stories.  The interesting thing is that a lot of the word play is specific to English and these stories were written in Polish which makes me wonder if the translator had to find English equivalents for Polish puns.

The Constructors become involved in adventures that take them all through the cosmos fulfilling contracts for kings and emperors and pirates and sometimes for common people who just really need help.  They build monsters and demons and story telling machines and even machines that know everything about the whole universe.  Interestingly it seems most of the universe is populated by robots and other cybernetic beings.  Organic beings exist and seem to be pretty generally looked down upon by the robots.  But the robots are very human in their foibles and behavior and none more so than our heroes Trurl and Klapaucius.

Mixed in with the zaniness of each of their adventures is a good dose of irony about the human condition.  The selfishness and cruelty of many of their employers and the vanity and greed of the Constructors themselves is often the point of the stories and the fantasy setting is there to add humor and interest to the tale.  And also Lem is enjoying the poetic aspect of the words.  Sure, we can’t hear the Polish words to know it’s poetical but based on the English words you can see that Stanislaw Lem is like a “drunken lord of language” always using twenty words for effect where one is needed for meaning.  Here’s an example:

“Multitudinous are you?”

“We are!”  they shouted, bursting with pride.  “We are innumerable.”

And others cried:

“We are like fish in the sea.”

“Like pebbles on the beach.”

“Like stars in the sky.  Like atoms!”

You get the idea.  Lem is a poet.  And his stories are parables.  And because of this I find that it needs to be broken up and digested in small chunks.  Each of the chapters is a separate story and should be approached as such.  With all of the word play and digressions you can lose track of the nub of the story if you’re tired and not paying attention so I wouldn’t suggest reading them at night before going to bed.  This happened to me once or twice and I realized this wasn’t the kind of material that can be enjoyed at high speed like an adventure novel.  But if you give each story some time and attention it will reward you with a smile and a chuckle.  I’m glad now I was made aware of The Cyberiad.  I will enjoy returning to the adventures of the two intrepid Constructors Trurl and Klapaucius on some cold night in January when my world needs something lighthearted and clever to get me through the short days and long nights of winter.  But if you don’t like an airy, poetical style of writing this might not be for you.

Spellbound – Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles – by Larry Correia – A Science Fiction-Fantasy Book Review

“Spellbound” is the second book in this series.  Obviously since I am reviewing this second volume, I enjoyed the first installment “Hard Magic” (see my review of it here).

In this story the main characters Jake Sullivan and Faye Vierra are once again swept along in the cataclysmic ricochets of real magic altering the world of the early 20th century.  It’s 1933 and FDR is coming into office and one of his priorities is dealing with the ‘Actives.”  This is the term for humans that have major magical powers.  This includes “Brutes” who are inhumanly strong, “Travelers” who can teleport, “Healers” who can cure almost any disease or injury and numerous other special types.  In the first book we learned how the Japanese had harnessed Actives as a spearpoint for their war machine in Asia.  And we met Jake and Faye.  Now they are veteran “knights” in the Grimnoir Society, sworn to use their powers to protect the innocent and destroy those using magic for evil.

But forces within the United States government are conspiring to discredit the Grimnoir and turn the American public against the Actives through a series of false flag operations.  This book is the story of the Grimnoir fighting against that operation.  But it also builds on the conflict with the Japanese Iron Guard, (enhanced military Actives) from the first book and then clarifies the nature of the forces that had originally unleashed magic into the world and how that will threaten the whole world in the very near future.

Okay, so that’s the setup.  Larry Correia is a very good story teller.  He paints a very rich picture with his characters and the action of the plot.  Even the villains are well written and the story is peppered with historical personages like J Edgar Hoover and Buckminster Fuller who are adapted to fill their roles in this alternate universe.  Each chapter begins with a quote from some person, mostly historical, saying something that illustrates how real magic has impacted the alternate universe of the story.

I find this alternate world very entertaining.  The Jake Sullivan character is one of Correia’s competent man heroes.  He is a brawler who has been treated badly by the world but refuses to abandon the good.  Even his enemies have learned to respect his abilities and this allows him to form alliances that otherwise would be impossible.  Faye is a powerfully gifted “Traveler” who possess abilities that far exceed what other Actives can do.  She is also a very young woman from a sheltered small-town environment who is still trying to figure out how she fits into this strange world she finds herself in.

These two characters are the twin focuses around which the other characters and the plot revolve.  The whole story is a straight forward action adventure.  There are plenty of good guys, bad guys and even some good bad guys and bad good guys.  It’s a combination of Buck Rodgers, The Untouchables and H. P. Lovecraft with some film noir thrown in for good measure.  If that sounds like something you might like then pick up the first book Hard Magic and start at the beginning.  If you’ve already read it then know that the series is still getting better in book two, Spellbound.

Hard Magic – by Larry Correia – A Fantasy Book Review

Larry Correia is the author of the Monster Hunter urban fantasy book series.  I’ve enjoyed these books for years and also enjoy his comical Tom Stranger audiobook series.  So recently I looked around and decided I should check out some of his other writing.

Back in 2011 Correia wrote an urban fantasy, alternate history book called Hard Magic – Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles.  In this alternate reality magic starts appearing on Earth in the 19th century and by the time of the story, the 1930s, there are various magical powers that have become part of everyday life and corporate policy.  For instance, dirigibles and blimps do not disappear from the airs because magical practitioners called “Torches” have the ability to prevent fires from destroying the explosive hydrogen filled balloons with their powers.

There are humans called “Healers” with the power to heal disease and injury by a laying on of hands.  And alternatively, there can be an individual called a “Pale Horse” who has the power to cause disease and even horribly painful death with just a touch of his hand.  And there are dozens of other powers out there.  “Brutes” are able to increase their strength tremendously and toughen themselves to withstand enormous punishment.  Some can walk through walls, some teleport from place to place and some can control gravity and density and even the weather.

The outlines of history are similar to the actual history.  World War One occurred and the rise of the Japanese Empire is happening but each of these things included large-scale use of magical power.  Historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Black Jack Pershing exist but they are involved in the magical events.  Nikola Tesla is a “Cog” which is an individual whose intellect has a magical quality to it and in this world, he invents magical doomsday devices such as the Geo-Tel which can destroy everything within a thousand-mile radius at the push of a button.

The book has a couple of main characters.  Faye Vierra is a teenager living on her adoptive grandfather’s dairy ranch.  She is a “Traveller.”  Grandpa was able to teach her how to safely use her power because he also is a “Traveller.”  What she doesn’t know is that he is a retired member of the Grimnoir Society, an order of magically gifted individuals who pledge to use their power to protect society from the misuse of magic.  When evil men show up Grandpa sends Faye off with a dangerous device that he tells her to give to Black Jack Pershing.

The other main character is Jake Sullivan.  Jake is a Gravity Spiker.  He can change the force of gravity.  He can make it stronger of weaker and even change its direction.  Jake is getting out of prison for a justifiable homicide that was declared murder.  Jake has agreed to a parole condition under which he will assist the FBI and local law enforcement with super strong magical individuals like brutes in exchange for a shortened sentence.  But during one of these operations he finds out that there are magical agents working outside the law but not against it.  And it leads back to Pershing.

The story knits together a cast of characters inside the Grimnoir Society that are working to prevent the capture by the Japanese Imperium of a Geo-Tel device.  A shadowy leader, the Chairman, is a powerful, almost godlike leader whose forces are bent on world domination and the destruction of the United States.

Correia crafts an enjoyable narrative with a full range of engaging characters moving across the country and the world pursuing their varying interests and racing against time to retrieve the pieces of the Geo-Tel before the Imperium can unleash Armageddon.  I highly recommend the book and am looking forward to the arrival of the sequel Spellbound.

Galaxy’s Edge – Takeover – A Science Fiction Book Review

Takeover is listed as the first book of “Galaxy’s Edge Season Two.”  This signifies the end of the first story arc that pitted the corrupt House of Reason against the imperial designs of Goth Sullus with the Legion trapped in the middle.  With the end of that chapter we begin this season in the aftermath of that struggle with the Legion reorganizing the Galactic Republic after the defeat of the Goth Sullus and the dissolution of the House of Reason.

All of this change has left almost everything and everyone throughout the galaxy in flux.  This is the story of one of those places, Kublar, a world with its own indigenous race now heavily controlled by a government installed from outside by the now defunct House of Reason and also heavily colonized by an aggressive and hostile outside race called the zhee.

An outside force arrives in the form of a private army of mercenaries hired by a man called Arkaddy Nilo.  Nilo has a plan to alter the imperial methods of the Galactic Republic and restore freedom to the many worlds that chafe under the rule of the Republic.  Takeover is the story of how that plan is implemented by Nilo and of the two primary weapons that Nilo uses.  One is a former legionnaire named Carter who leads a platoon of combat soldiers that provide the skills needed to aid the koobs (nickname given to the natives of Kublar) in their fight to take back their planet.  The second is a former Republic Navy spy named Bowie who performs clandestine operations for Nilo meant to destabilize the coalition of the House of Reason government, the zhee and a local group of koobs who benefit from selling out the interests of the rest of their people in return for special treatment.

Anyone who has read any of my earlier reviews of the Galaxy’s Edge books knows I’m an enthusiastic fan of the series.  The authors Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have created an exciting and inventive universe full of military science fiction fun.  Takeover continues this legacy with a new cast and fresh storylines that provide a different direction from last season.  The opportunities for expanding the scope of the story are very apparent in Takeover and back story about the nature of the invaders from the “Savage Wars” era is sprinkled in the story line that Bowie inhabits.

The battle scenes are exciting and well-drawn.  The characters are interesting and include good guys to cheer and plenty of bad guys to snuff out.  And as opposed to season one there are plenty of opportunities for the good guys to actually win the day without sacrificing the whole cast.

Okay, so this is a no-brainer.  I highly recommend Anspach and Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series and I am happy to announce that the first book of Season Two, Takeover, continues the proud tradition of Season One in providing quality military science fiction that you can enjoy.  And you can even applaud as the social justice losers in the government imposed by the House of Reason are thwarted and routed by the good guys.  What could be better than that?

Lectures in Quantum History for the Advanced Undergraduate – Volume I – First Contact – Part 3

So, on Thursdays I usually headed downtown for dinner at the Club.  The food was okay.  The service was slow.  The drink selection was limited.  The dues were outrageous.  But the company was never bad.  Not that it was always exceptional, but it was never annoying.  There was a rule against annoying.  You could be boring or quiet but if management saw you annoying one of the other guests you would be gone very soon, and you wouldn’t be back.  Or rather you might be back but the Club would be gone.  It was a by-invitation-only organization that could and did change venue seemingly at random.  If you didn’t show up for a week (or a month or a decade) no one would bat an eye when you showed up next.  But if you didn’t get a change of venue notice then your presence was no longer desired.  So, who was invited?  Well any member could recommend a new member.  But only the Owner sent out invites.  And if someone was brought along by any member uninvited then both men would not be returning.  Oh, and all members were men.  Also, a rule.  The first few times a new member attended he might mention the lack of women as an oddity (or even a relief) but soon it just became the norm.  Now you might think that such an arrangement would dissolve sooner or later due to the friction that such arbitrary rules would create.  Or that the desire to continue in such a seemingly mediocre establishment would not be strong enough to maintain a decent showing.  You’d be wrong.  On any given night twenty patrons would be in attendance.  Some nights there might be forty.  This popularity must be attributed to the ability of the Owner to pick men.  He had a profile that provided almost fool-proof selection.  His vetting process was scrupulous and thorough.  The selection failures were few and so far, the fallout from these had always been repairable.  Apparently, his damage control methods were effective and discrete.

So, what was the profile?  Married with children, wife raised the kids and made a home for the family, husband supported the family (employed or a businessman), over thirty-five years of age and intolerant of the presence of idiots.  Who decided what idiocy was limited to?  In this case the Owner.  He looked for signs and circumstances.  Negative evidence was probably more important than positive.  A lack of bumper stickers with slogans like Coexist and Tolerance was a given.  The absence of financial support for any organization that explicitly or implicitly supported involuntary redistribution of wealth was a bare minimum requirement.  Mostly he used second hand accounts followed up by field work.  He was very thorough.  There were no idiots.  Finally, the smoking prohibition.  You were prohibited from bothering anybody who wanted to smoke.  There was a no-smoking section but that was pretty empty most nights.

Oh, and once a year you had to be able to tell a truly interesting story.  So, either you were someone who had interesting things happening in your life or you had to be a great story teller.  Either would do.  Of course, how would you know if the story were true?  Well, you couldn’t ask (another rule).

So, it was a Thursday.  It was a warm night for early October.  Barely jacket weather.  No clouds and a bright moon.  When I arrived, I was greeted at the front desk by Dave and buzzed in to the main hall.  I could see it was a slow night, maybe twenty-five patrons were milling around and waiting for seating.  I noticed the Owner (Dan) standing in a corner talking to a new face.  I headed over to say hi and find out what was on the menu.

“Hey Dan, what’s good tonight?”

“If you ask me, nothing.  I’d stick with the chicken fried steak.  Unless you’re well insured, then go with the fish.”

“Wow.  That’s grim.  Maybe you should lie until the new members have ordered the special.”

“I’m not worried.  Have you met Jim?”

“Nice to meet you Jim.”

“Jim, this is John.  He’s a regular.  Guess his wife is sick of looking at him.”

“On the contrary, I’m adored and pampered by the missus.  I only come here to allow her a night to visit her family.  When she gets home from seeing her sisters, suddenly I seem like more of a catch compared with her brothers in law.  They’re quite a group.”

“Hi John.  Nice to meet you.  Yeah, I know what you mean.  My wife’s got three sisters and from how they describe their husbands I’m guessing someone’s going to be on a most wanted show sooner or later.”

Dan broke in:

“So, Jim here is new, can you introduce him around and find a spot for him?”

“Sure.  Jim, you interested in some penny ante poker before dinner?”

“I like poker, but I’m a pretty lousy player.  I tend to bet over enthusiastically.”

“Great, you’ll be the most popular guy here tonight.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.  Seriously I’ve only got a few bucks in my pocket.  Will that get me through?”

“Sure, it really is penny ante.  We only use money to keep it from getting too boring.  Mostly we play to slow us down while we’re scarfing down cold cuts.  Come on.  I’ll introduce you to the boys.”

We headed over to a table of regulars that had a few empty seats.  I introduced Jim and we all got to talking about the latest travesty in D.C.  This proved very popular with everyone.  Within five minutes Jim was right in the thick of the grumbling and indistinguishable from the veterans.  A few minutes later the waiter came by and took our orders.  As I mentioned earlier the food was so-so.  But tonight, rib-eye was on the menu and the steak was usually very good.  I think it was something Dan liked so we benefited from his choice in that respect.  I ordered it along with a couple of baked potatoes and got back to the conversation.  Consensus had built to the effect that if Obama was not actually Satan then at the very least, he was a close relation.  The usual fifty-seven states and “corpseman” jokes were worked over again and everyone settled in for the dinner.  Someone asked Jim where he was from.  “I’m originally from Brooklyn but I’ve been living in various places in New England for the last twenty plus years”.  This elicited the obligatory “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd” responses and a few heartfelt shots at the Sox and Pats from the mostly New York City group.  He laughed it off and said he was a die-hard Yankees fan but that he didn’t pay any mind to the rabid New England fans.  “Mostly I just wait for the bad years and feign sympathy while they wallow in misery.  It really is fun to watch.”  Then I asked Jim if he had given his first annual story yet.  He looked troubled and confessed that he was dreading it.  “I’m not much of a public speaker.  It’s gonna be like getting a root canal without Novocain.”  “Hey, it’s a piece of cake.  First of all, have a couple of belts before you get started and we don’t get started until we move into the sitting room.  The chairs are very comfortable in there and really reduce the stress levels.  Concentrate on someone sitting next to you and it won’t seem like public speaking.  More like just a bull-session.”  After that we got caught up in an argument over whether “The Maltese Falcon” was a better Bogey movie than “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”  This lasted about half an hour and introduced all kinds of heretical views and produced much heat but almost no light.  Luckily at that point the food arrived.  Sure enough, the rib eye was just about perfect.  By the time I was done with the second spud and was sopping up a little juice with a hunk of  French bread I had reached what I imagined Gautama must have been hoping for when he started sitting cross-legged under that tree.

The beer and wine were flowing pretty freely at our table and the dishes had been removed and someone asked if we should start the card game up again but there were no takers so we wandered into the sitting room and the group continued with a discussion on the latest movie.  It was a science fiction adventure yarn with Earth being invaded by super-intelligent lobsters from the Andromeda Galaxy.  Many rude comments were expressed over the lack of actual proof that shellfish had what it takes to invent a really convincing warp drive.  Interestingly, Jim was extremely quiet when disparagement of the idea that extraterrestrials might visit the Earth was being discussed.

Dan showed up and instructed the wait staff and the members to drag the chairs into the traditional half circle around the speaker’s seat by the fire place.  By this point I could see that the crowd was about thirty men.  And surprisingly Dan was leading Jim over to the speaker’s chair.  As he settled himself in, I could tell that he was pretty nervous.  Dan introduced Jim as a new member and applauded him for the courage to tell his story on his first night in the club.  Jim thanked him, looked around the circle nervously and cleared his throat.  Everyone expected him to proceed so a very noticeable silence built up for about two minutes while Jim seemed to be staring at his feet.  Finally I could see several men fidgeting in their chairs and scratching their faces in a sort of impatient way.  Then Jim cleared his throat again and began.

“As the subject of my story I’d like to tell you how I saved the Earth almost single-handedly from interstellar invasion.”

I could tell it was going to be a really good Thursday.

Lectures in Quantum History for the Advanced Undergraduate – Volume I – First Contact – Part 2

Professor Gordrow arranged his thoughts and began his lecture again.  “Now before I was interrupted, I was touching on the general topic of First Contact and I mentioned the classic Earth example.  But to provide the background for that remarkable event I will remind you neophytes of the underlying mathematics.  As anyone who has the intelligence to understand it knows Gordrow’s First Theorem of Quantum Chrono-Cosmo-Moiro-Dynamics states that when the probability of historical change uniformly approaches zero in a volume of space that continues to increase toward infinity then the quantum time-space probability reversal will be centered on the asymptotic fault line.  This theory in fact was proven following the First Contact we are considering.  At that time Earth was at the periphery of a rapidly expanding galactic civilization that had spread from the galactic core over the course of a billion years and was now so rapidly expanding that the odds of any possible combination of events halting its engulfment of the entire Milky Way galaxy was essentially zero.  What a perfect test of the theory!  Now if you inspect the terms in the denominator of the third term you’ll see …”

“But Professor Gordrow!” exclaimed Dorson Tendandren.  Gordrow radiated annoyance and shot back, “Why are you interrupting me now you idiot?”  Dorson continued, “Professor none of this is clear to me.  How could such a regression occur?  What possible sequence of events could reverse such an unstoppable force and in such a short time?  It seems inconceivable.  Can you show us the historical record?”  Gordrow was disgusted and his aura reflected it.  “Show you?  What is this kindergarten?  Would you like me to sing you a lullaby too?  Would you like me to count from one to a googolplex just to prove that there are numbers in between?  Wasting my time in this way is a sin against intelligence and a victory for entropy and just one more fatal step toward the heat death of the universe.  Neophyte Tendandren, I intend to see that you suffer exquisitely during my final exam.  I will recommend to the professional board that your truest vocational assignment would be as gravitational ballast.”

Professor Gordrow summoned his composure for a moment and continued.  “For the intellectually challenged who are very temporarily among us I will now play the historical record of the singularity event.  Those with normal intelligence are free to take a nap.  Dolts, attend!”

Lectures in Quantum History for the Advanced Undergraduate – Volume I – First Contact – Part 1

[I’m working on an outline for a series of stories.  Here’s a starting point for the framework.

photog]

 

Dorn had been daydreaming through the first period of his Quant class and now he realized he had lost the thread of Professor Gordrow’s lecture just as the professor called on him.  “Well, neophyte Dorn, I notice that your cortical penumbra hasn’t changed potential since the lecture began, so you must already know everything I’ve transmitted.”  “Yes, your sagacity, I mean no, your sagacity.”  “Well which is it?  Are you now conversant in the primary examples of the seven first order patterns of First Contact, or aren’t you?  Answer me, you vacuous waste of neutrinos.”

Hearing the question, Dorn relaxed, for he had spent last semester studying First Contact under the foremost Quantum Historian in the Multiverse, Banstat Fabobble.  For this reason, Dorn confidently answered, “Yes your sagacity I am.”  “Well then tell the class what you think is the most unlikely quantum outcome for any First Contact scenario.”  Dorn raised his transmission to the highest polite output level and declared, “As proven by Fabobble’s first theorem of interspecial dynamics, no species below the level of independent interstellar travel can ever compete successfully against a species above that level.  In fact, it’s axiomatic.”  Feeling very proud of himself Dorn allowed his cortical penumbra to pulse through the electrogravitic spectrum for a noticeable time.

Professor Gordrow replied, “Very glibly stated Dorn, and also utterly wrong!  Banstat Fabobble is a hack and a fraud who has made his reputation kowtowing to administrative nincompoops who wouldn’t recognize a quantum paradox if it swallowed up their own boring corner of the multiverse.”  Dorn’s penumbra shriveled up and he retreated to the periphery of the academic cloud and Professor Gordrow continued.

“Now attend to what I say.  Every First Contact is unique and the seven first order patterns account for barely 99.999999999% of all known cases.  This leaves an infinity of less probable cases, of which some subset, which itself includes an infinity of examples is composed of just the type that that fathead Fabobble claims is impossible.”

“If it please your sagacity, can you give us an example?” asked a nervous thought from the front of the class.  Gordrow was silent for a moment and then continued.  “Of course, I can.  In fact, I’ll use the most famous First Contact of all.  I’ll use Earth.”  “But Earth’s First Contact was a case of two advanced races meeting in neutral space” corrected the nervous interlocuter.  “Hah!” exclaimed Gordrow, “that is what we teach the dust clouds before they coalesce.  But you are ready for the messy truth.  Record this data.  Attend!”

The Voyage of the Space Beagle – A Science Fiction Book Review

This is the story of a research space vessel travelling through the universe in a great scientific endeavor obviously named after Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle.  The ship is filled up with scientists of various disciplines; chemists, physicists, biologists, etc.    But one of the scientists is a generalist, or to be precise a Nexialist.  This man, Elliot Grosvenor is the story’s protagonist and the book is just as much about his struggle to proselytize his fellow scientists about the wonders of Nexialism as it is fighting various interstellar monsters.

This Nexialism is akin to the synthesists that Heinlein sometimes mentions in his writing.  They are able to rise above the narrow expertise of the subject matter experts in each of the sciences and see the big picture.  Gregory Kent, the head of the Chemistry Department is Grosvenor’s nemesis.  He uses all methods normal or criminal to prevent Grosvenor from spreading the gospel of Nexialism but, inexorably, Grosvenor’s string of victories in figuring out the nature of the threats that each of the alien monsters presents bring more and more of the scientists on his side until by the end of the story Grosvenor is able to take control of the mission and bend it to his purpose.

Interestingly one of the monsters, the Ixtl, is the source for the creature in Alien.  The creature takes its victims alive and implants an egg in each to reproduce its kind.  The other threats are less frightening; a cat-like predator, a hive mind that sends out its thought telepathically and finally a giant gas cloud that feeds off the life of a whole galaxy at a time.

Re-reading this book so many decades later it’s plain to see that as a kid I never noticed how badly A. E. van Vogt’s writes people.  In some ways it reminds me of the phenomenon I sense in Lovecraft’s writing.  There is a fertile mind that can create images that are striking but the dialog and the characters are flat and lifeless.  His human characters are not very interesting.  But a ten-year-old boy isn’t really interested in reading deathless prose.  Surprisingly, his monsters are livelier.  Perhaps he wrote from the point of view of the aliens.  And the science fiction in the stories can be quite entertaining.  The scientists have to jury rig all sorts of science projects to outwit their enemies in each chapter and the technical mumbo jumbo is a lot of fun.

So, do I recommend this book.  Let’s do it this way.  If you are from the literary camp of science fiction then forget it.  The Space Beagle won’t work for you.  If you like space opera of the old school then by all means give it a shot.  Just don’t get mad if you find out A. E. van Vogt isn’t Bill Shakespeare.