Showing posts with label Harry Harrison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Harrison. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

To the Stars #03 - Starworld

Along with series titles like Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, the Galactic Hero, Harry Harrison wrote a number of science-fiction and fantasy novels during his long and respected career. I've concentrated on reading the author's trilogy To the Stars, Homeworld (1980), Wheelworld (1981), and today's topic, Starworld (1981). 

The story so far is that Earth is completely ruled by the rich that have established a two-class one-world government administered by the United Nations. You have the rich controlling everything, including Earth's far-reaching “territory”, a series of slave planets that serve as manufacturing and service for the lower-class Proles. A whiz engineer named Jan figures out that Earth is hiding human history and is seized by the authorities and sentenced to death on a farming planet. All of this is captured in the first book, Homeworld.

In Wheelworld, Jan orchestrates an uprising on the farming planet to usurp an old woman's rigid authority. Her concept of being complacent and living to serve Earth with harvests of corn is overthrown by Jan's forward-thinking, liberal approach to do things in a more democratic way. Jan later discovers that his short uprising on Earth led a series of events that have forced Earth into a war with the only country not participating in the one-world government, Israel, as well as rebels from all of the slave labor planets. On the last page of Wheelworld, Jan joins the rebellion to take down Earth's power-hungry leaders.

Starworld is a buzzsaw filled with non-stop action as Jan and other patriots form a strategic plan to organize the rebellion into a fighting force. This fertile story-line incorporates a lot of different elements ranging from espionage to military combat. At the root of Harrison's riveting narrative is a dilemma facing Jan – he must learn to trust the man who murdered his sister (events that occurred in Homeworld). Enhancing the plot development is preparation for a spacecraft battle and overtaking a military base in the Mojave Desert. Jan also has a romantic relationship with a woman that plays a key part in the rebel's success.

Once you've read Homeworld and Wheelworld, you get the idea where this novel is heading. It's much more epic than the two prior installments and often places Jan in a minor role for some of the developing plot. While the military campaign and ultimate war seems like a grand spectacle, the novel is still less than 200 pages, so an org chart or notes isn't a requirement. This is lightweight science-fiction for casual genre fans. Recommended! 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, October 2, 2023

To the Stars #02 - Wheelworld

Harry Harrison was a popular science-fiction author that created a number of memorable series titles and characters. His most popular works are those involving the Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, the Galactic Hero. While I haven't explored those titles yet, I did enjoy my first foray into the author's To the Stars trilogy, Homeworld, originally published in 1980. Needless to say, I continued my space-travels with the second installment, Wheelworld, published one year later.

This trilogy, which has nothing to do with another of Harrison's works called Deathworld, is fairly easy to understand and enjoy, so those of you loosely reading science-fiction should be tall enough for this ride. In Homeworld, readers learn that in the 23rd century, Earth is ran by a one-world government administered by the United Nations. The rich make up a conglomerate of authority that rules the proles, the other class of humans that simply exist as slaves in manufacturing and service. Earth's rich and powerful controls the outlying planets and moons, creating slave planets that simply manufacture goods to ship to Earth. The people on these planets live a life of labor, void of any knowledge of human history.

Jan (male), the series hero, is a microchip whiz that lives a life of luxury on Earth. He figures out the whole conspiracy that forces the proles into servitude and tries to stop it. By teaming with the Israelis, the only country that isn't part of the one-world government, Jan learns about the hushed human history, the plight of mankind, and the big lie fed to the world by “big brother”. By the end of Homeworld, Jan is captured, his sister is murdered, and he is sentenced to life as a slave on a farming planet. 

As Wheelworld begins, readers learn that four years have passed since Homeworld's final page. Jan is living on the agriculture planet Halvmork. Here's the deal on this planet, because it is an integral part of the story. The planet, which is much smaller than Earth, is off-tilt by a few degrees which creates one massive season every four years. On this planet, there is twilight on one side of the planet and temperatures hovering around 80s degrees for four consecutive years. Jan, and the other harvesters, grow corn during this time. After four years, the weather shifts on that part of the planet to 150 degrees and nonstop sunlight. So, after four years, Jan and the others await ships to arrive to take the corn back to Earth. Then, via mobilized transports (like large tanks), the entire population travels thousands of miles to the other side of the planet to take advantage of the four year period that is twilight and 80 degrees there. Cool, right?

This population of slavers has its own governing body, an old woman who is antiquated in her ways and butts heads with the forward-thinking hero. Jan is in a romantic relationship with the old woman's daughter Alzbetta, and the two want to become married but it is forbidden. This is a splendid side-story that propels the book's central plot. As the book begins, it is harvest time and the four years is coming to an end. The sun is beginning to shine and the forecast is heating up. But, the ships don't arrive, which is a major problem. 

Jan makes the decision to take all of the corn on the motorized trek across the planet. His reasoning is that the ships may arrive on the other side of the planet and the corn will be needed there. But, the old woman refuses to do this so Jan has to strong-arm her family to do the right thing. This creates a physical fight between Jan and a family enforcer, which leads to a riveting trial and execution thing at the book's end. But, the real pleasure of Wheelworld is the “wheeling” across the planet as the team fights through volcanic ash, huge crevices in the Earth, swarms of insects, and the human turmoil and factions that develop on the road trip. 

Honestly, Wheelworld can work perfectly as a stand-alone novel. It is a road trip adventure as Jan and the team work their way from Point A to Point B to avoid natural disasters. In some ways, the book reminded me of Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny as a futuristic obstacle course pressed for time. In the trilogy, this is really the hinge that gets from the Earth action in Homeworld to the Earth War story in Starworld. But, regardless of your approach, Wheelworld is a fantastic novel and a great reading experience. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 10, 2022

To the Stars #01 - Homeworld

Science-fiction author Harry Harrison gained fans with his character Stainless Steel Rat in 1957. The character appeared in 12 total books. Additionally, Harrison wrote the novel Make Room! Make Room!, the basis for the 1973 film Soylent Green. My first exposure to Harrison's writing was Planet of the Damned, the first of two novels starring an Olympic-styled athlete that works for a peacekeeping interstellar agency. Anxious to read more of Harrison's novels, I selected the first in a three part trilogy titled To to the Stars. The novels were Homeworld (1980), Wheelworld (1981), and Starworld (1981). 

Homeworld is set in the 23rd century and explains to readers that tremendous gains were made in the areas of development and space travel. Earth's one-world government was able to journey out beyond the stars to other planets for cultivating, scavenging, and manufacturing. With the 20th century's economy a distant past, Earth now lives in two classes – the elites and the proles. 

The residents, like main character Jan Kulozik, exist on Earth in a privileged manner. They have the very best life has to offer with higher educations and a posh existence. Jan works as an engineer with an experienced background in computer networks, chips, and communications. He's a rich nerd from a generation of rich nerds. 

The proles are Earth's slaves, working around the clock in manufacturing, mining, serving, etc. But, people like Jan don't realize that in essence, they are slaves to their privileged existence. They aren't aware that this system is dominated by a deceitful government that firmly establishes the two levels of civilization. It's a class-based existence with no hope for anyone born as a prole. 

When Jan runs into an Israeli woman named Sara, he realizes that the government has lied. For decades the government has told its citizens that Israel doesn't exist. However, Sara is Israeli, and she educates Jan that in her country they are completely independent and free. Soon, Jan finds himself joining this resistance despite the fact that his brother-in-law is a prominent member of the government. Will Jan break the ties that bind and bring education to the people?

Homeworld is a fun book and mirrors many of the Dystopian-styled concepts that we've all read or watched. Jan's relationship with Sara is similar to Guy meeting Clarisse in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I imagine that this series debut is setting up a more action-oriented sequel as the story goes completely off-world. While it is science-fiction, Homeworld plays like a cat-and-mouse spy game as Jan works small assignments for Sara's government. There's a cross-country skiing adventure through the snow to free a prisoner and a space mission to disable a satellite. These things help to distract from the tight, cumbersome narrative of Jan just dodging government surveillance. 

Both Homeworld and the other two installments were packaged in one omnibus under the title To the Stars. I'm on board to read the next installment to determine how Jan's adventures continue (considering the ending of this book). An off-world prison colony seems to be the next destination, but Harrison may throw something else in the mix. While I can't speak for the whole trilogy, Homeworld is definitely recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Brion Brandd #01 - Planet of the Damned

Harry Harrison (1925-2012) was a critically-acclaimed science-fiction author who is best known for his 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, the basis for the 1973 film Soylent Green. In addition, he also gained fans and admirers when he debuted his Stainless Steel Rat character in a 1957 issue of Astounding. The character would appear in 12 total books through 2010. My first experience with Harrison is his 1962 novel Planet of the Damned. I discovered it when I located a 1975 Tor paperback reprint of the book complete with artwork that suggested this might be Nick Carter: Killmaster in Space. Is it?

Brion Brandd is the champion of his home planet Anvhar. To be considered his planet's champion, Brandd had to compete in a global competition called The Twenties. It's here that men compete in grueling matches of chess, poetry recitals, fencing, skiing, fighting, shooting and a whole lot of other exercises that test the mind and body. This is where readers first meet Brandd, locked into a final struggle with the last competitor. After winning, Brandd is taken to the local hospital to rest and rehabilitate. It's there that he meets an off-world stranger named Ihjel.

Ihjel explains to Brandd that the two of them share a unique psychic gift. Ihjel has developed this unique mental prowess as a way to gain the feelings or desires of anyone he meets. Brandd can utilize this to an extent, but will need to “Jedi up” to really learn how to harness its true power. This gift that Brandd has is exceptional when combined with his overall athleticism and intelligence. Who better to stop a nuclear holocaust other than a planetary gold medalist that can read minds?

In a one-sided conversation, Ihjel illustrates that the planet of Dis is populated by a race of very primitive people that behave in neanderthal ways. Their planet is a scorching firebed of hot sands with temperatures rarely below 100. It's an undesirable planet that is barely inhabitable beyond the race of people that have adapted to its harsh conditions.

Dis's neighbor is the civilized planet of Nyjord, a typically nice place filled with people who behave properly and know exactly which fork to use at formal dinners. Unfortunately, Dis hates Nyjord. In an early war, a small assortment of deadly weapons were left on Dis and now, after all of these years, the neanderthals have found them. Demanding Nyjord's unconditional surrender, the Dis people are set to annihilate their neighbors. What they don't know is that Nyjord has provided a 3-day deadline for peacekeepers, like Ihjel, to visit the Dis people and convince them that the idea of attacking their neighbor is a poor one. If they refuse to peacefully disarm, Nyjord will unleash a wrath of nuclear devastation and Death Star their whole planet.

Harrison's short narrative features Ihjel and Brandd teaming with a female scientist from Earth as they visit Dis in hopes of a peaceful resolution. But, as you can imagine, things don't go as planned. The Dis people immediately send assassins after the trio, forcing them on the run in search for allies and answers. While Nyjord presses a sense of urgency, Brandd begins to suspect that the Dis people want to live in peace and that their leaders may actually be hostile alien forces in disguise. Through investigations, Brandd searches for the weapons, gets laid and joins a team of Nyjord commandos as they battle enemy forces.

There's no doubt that Harrison is placing this interstellar war between neighboring planets as a representation of Earth's own Middle-East power struggle. In addition, the author utilizes the same formula as James Bond, a series of novels and movies that were already blockbuster hits at the time of the book's publication. The early 1960s hosted a spy-fiction sensation, and I can't help but think this is the science-fiction version of that. It possesses all of the same familiar tropes – international romance, a cache of nuclear weapons, trained killers and guns galore.

Whether you like science-fiction or not, Planet of the Damned moves at a brisk pace with an engaging story and capable hero. While it isn't mandatory reading, it's a solid, fun read that never left me bored. The character of Brion Brandd appears again in one additional novel, 1982's Planet of No Return.

Buy a copy of this book HERE