Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Review: 'Space Viking' by H. Beam Piper

 1 / 5 Stars

‘Space Viking’ (243 pp.) was originally published in 1962 as a serial in the digest magazine ‘Analog’; this Ace paperback apparently was released in January 1977, and features a cover illustration by Michael Whelan.

In the far future, the Federation has collapsed, and the human-colonized worlds each stand and survive on their own. Some have loosely organized themselves into ‘Sword Worlds’, which send forth armed ships manned by ‘Space Vikings’ to raid and plunder other planets.

On the Sword World of Gram, Lucas Trask, an affable young man, looks forward to marrying his fiancée and living a comfortable life as a mid-level aristocrat. However, Andray Dunnan, a deranged former suitor of his wife-to-be, the Lady Elaine, crashes the wedding ceremony. Dunnan kills Elaine and seriously wounds Trask before escaping off-planet in a commandeered raiding ship.

Recovered from his wounds, Lucas Trask has thoughts only for revenge. He joins with Admiral Harkaman, an experienced Space Viking, on a quest to find Dunnan wherever he is hiding in the vastness of explored space. If that quest requires the plundering and destruction of hapless planets, so be it, for Lucas Trask is a man on a mission of vengeance. 

However, Andray Dunnan is not one to sit and wait for doom to come upon him…..and inevitably the fleets of pursuer and pursued will clash in battle.

Even by the rather forgiving standards of early 1960s SF, ‘Viking’ is a pedestrian effort at a space opera. The novel’s pacing starts to slow after the opening chapters as author Piper increasingly uses the standard-issue 'revenge' trope to fuel his labored musings on political theory and the decline and fall of civilization. 

The novel’s dialogue has the rather juvenile character of SF writing at the time. Damaged ships are ‘….leaking air and water vapor like crazy’, and more than a few passages can politely be called Wooden:

“I know, Prince Trask; you have no reason to think kindly of King Angus – the former King Angus, or maybe even the late King Angus, I suppose he is now- but a bloody-handed murderer like Omfray of Glaspyth….” 

‘Space Viking’ is best left forgotten as one of a large number of formulaic stories and fix-ups published by Analog during the late 50s and early 60s. 

Don't be fooled by the snazzy Star-Wars era packaging Ace books used to market this obsolete clunker as a masterpiece of modern SF.

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