Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: 'The Halcyon Drift' by Brian Stableford
(the Hooded Swan series, vol. 1)

3 / 5 Stars

Brian Stableford published the DAW  six-volume series referred to as the 'Grainger / Hooded Swan' novels from 1972 to 1975. 'The Halcyon Drift' (1972) is the first book in the series, followed by 'Rhapsody in Black' (1973), 'Promised Land' (1974), 'The Paradise Game' (1974), 'The Fenris Device' (1974), and 'Swan Song' (1975).

'Drift' is DAW Book No. 32 and features a cover illustration by Jack Gaughan.

The story opens with Grainger (he goes by only one name), the first-person protagonist and narrator, stranded on a planet in the fringes of the Halcyon Drift, an immense dark nebula. He has landed in a controlled crash that has killed his engineer. After two years of waiting and hoping, another vessel hears his distress beacon and comes to retrieve him. Grainger is eventually dropped off, penniless, on Earth. He owes his rescuers a considerable sum of money. And to make matters worse, he has apparently picked up an alien ghost or spiritual symbiont in his head, which carries on a running conversation with its human host. [Stableford provides some ambiguity about the nature of the 'alien'; it may in fact be a manifestation of schizophrenia on the part of Grainger].

When the family of his deceased engineer offers Grainger a job piloting a starship, things seem to be looking up. But it turns out this is no ordinary starship; the Hooded Swan has been designed to feature the latest advances in spaceflight technology, including a neural network interface which brings its pilot the ultimate sensory alliance with the ship's systems. Learning to fly the Swan won't be easy. 

But where his employers want Grainger to take their remarkable spacecraft is even more challenging. For floating in the depths of the Halcyon Drift is a starship called the Lost Star, and a treasure of great value is rumored to lie within its hold. The problem is, many other ships have been sent to find the Star...and none of them have come back.....

'Drift' is a low-key, literate space opera with an emphasis on the personality of Grainger, who Stableford portrays as a prickly, cynical middle-aged spacer rather than as a fresh-faced hero. The author uses quasi-New Wave prose to describe the space flight sections of the narrative, but he doesn't overindulge in language that is too oblique or overly poetic.The plot moves along at a good clip and the book's short length (175 pp) means it's a quick read, devoid of the labored detail common to many contemporary space opera novels.

Readers looking for an early 70s space adventure with sufficient New Wave flavor to make it an offbeat take on the genre will want to try 'Drift' and the other Hooded Swan books.