Ok, I admit, I bought this book because of the gorgeous red/helium-breathing alien/humans toting spears cover… Sadly, there’s very little behind the cover besides a standard uninventive pulp-ish romp. Aldiss expends little effort and as result the work lacks an interesting society or an involving plot and all the action takes place in the slip-shop last few pages. In short, it was a massive disappointment considering one of my all-time favorites is his earlier novel, Starship (review here). Vague inklings of interesting images do crop up every now and again but the work really isn’t worth reading unless you’re a Aldiss completest or interested in simplistic (mostly competent) incarnations of pulp sci-fi.
Brief Plot Summary
The huge hydrogen-breathing Partussians (Nuls) have controlled Earth (one of millions of worlds in their vast empire — surprising?) for thousands of years. All of Earth’s cities are long abandoned and the standard sort of Partussian city–with a hydrogen atmosphere–is built on each world as its capital (this concept is interesting, sadly, the cities are never really described). The Partussians exploit Earth for its natural resources.
Gary Towler, an Earthman, is a interpreter for the Nuls who refuse to learn the native languages on the planets they conquer. The Partussian central command, following up on rumors of their own extraordinary corrupt rule on Earth, send an investigator to check up on the governor. The Earth rebels contact Towler – because of his important role as interpreter – to expose the corruption of the governor to the investigator. However, most of his fellow humans think he’s working for the Partussians and treat him as a pariah.
The outcome of the “rebel against the overlord” sci-fi novel is never in doubt. However, most authors manage some tension, some drama, some interesting plan or trickery. That’s altogether absent — the final plan is laughable, hokey, and completed in three paragraphs. Towler’s character, the conflicted and somewhat cowardly interpreter, is the only positive aspect of the work. The work lacks descriptions, tension, plot, or interesting images.
(or, buy only for the superb cover art)