Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: 'Earth Lies Sleeping' by Laurence James (Simon Rack No. 1)

3 / 5 Stars

The ‘Simon Rack’ series comprised five short novels released in 1974 – 1975 by the indefatigable British writer Laurence James (1942 – 2000). In the UK the Simon Rack paperbacks were published by Sphere Books, while in the US they were issued by Zebra  Books. ‘Earth Lies Sleeping’ was published in 1974 and this Zebra edition features a cover by Vincent DiFate.
Simon Rack was something of a mix between James Bond and Perry Rhodan. As an operative in the Inter-Galactic Security Service, Rack is routinely dispatched to handle the toughest assignments. Joining Simon for his adventures is his right-hand man, Eugene Bogart.
In this first of the Simon Rack series, we learn that 500 years into the future, Earth is not the hallowed Mother Planet, but rather, a destitute world still recovering from the effects of the Neutronic Wars centuries previously. Society is sputtering along at a medieval level, with feudal lords ruling lands occupied by hapless serfs. Earth remains valuable to the Federation for its ability to supply the precious element ‘Pheronium’, used to power starships. When GalSec gets word that a conspiracy may be afoot on Earth to control the supply of the precious element, Simon and Bogart are sent to investigate.
‘Earth Lies Sleeping’ gets started with an intense flashback sequence, as we witness the graphic execution of a peasant family who are caught poaching on Baron Mescarl’s hunting grounds. Events then move to the present-day, and the arrival on Earth of Simon and Bogart as undercover operatives. In short order our heroes come to the attention of the Baron and his ruthless lieutenant, Henri de Poictiers, and the first of many scrapes that will test their ingenuity, resolve, and ability to withstand pain….
As a straightforward SF adventure, ‘Earth Lies Sleeping’ delivers. Author James knows he has to keep the narrative moving at a rapid clip, while providing just enough exposition keep his characters from becoming too-thin caricatures. The action is violent and brutal, the villains are genuinely villainous, there is torture aplenty, and a rousing finale involving access to a particularly gruesome type of weapon. But there is never too little time for Simon not to go shtupping a comely wench – although the  70s flavor surrounding these activities may not be to the liking of contemporary audiences.....
An interesting interview with Laurence James is available here

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