Book Review: We All Died at Breakaway Station, Richard C. Meredith (1969)


(John Berkey’s cover for the 1969 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Automated machines rummage through the wreckage of a spaceship—after a battle with the Jillies—gathering the human dead and placing them into cold storage, to be stitched together again for another fight.   Absolom Bracer is one of the casualties of Earth and its colonies’ war with the a vaguely known alien foe (the before mentioned Jillies) doing their “damnedest” to “eat up every crumb” of the “apple pie” (as sophisticated as a Richard C. Meredith gets)  (192).  Captain (eventually Admiral) Bracer of the warship Iwo Jima after his death becomes one the resurrected—“a shiny meter-tall cylinder of metal supporting what was left of the upper torso of a man” (9).  What remains are a “few bones, a little living flesh and muscle” and most importantly, “a collection of tangled nerves that continually throbbed their pain, their loss” (9).

On Earth these resurrected men and women can be transformed into something “that would pass for a human being” (9)—physically at least.  Unfortunately, Absolom Bracer and his crew and the captains of warship Pharsalus and hospital ship Rudoph Cragstone and their crews are not able to return to Earth.  Rather, as the title indicates, they join the ranks of “Leonidas and his Spartans, and Horatius of the bridge, and Barrett Travis and Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett in Texas [et al]” (2)—as in, they die fighting the good fight.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

Insert standard space opera plot.  Too alien to understand aliens are evil and hate humans.  Evil aliens have the upper hand and threaten to break the link, a “tenuous FTL communications chain,” maintained by Breakaway Station from Earth to “the colonial worlds of the Palandine, a link in the chain that defied the Einsteinian universe” (1).  The importance of Breakaway station and its operation is by far the more important elements of the novel.

In this future even the individuals with horrific injuries can be resurrected with extensive prosthetics, artificial organs, artificial skin, etc.  Due to the intensity of the war and Earth’s weak position the dead are “resurrected” in this fashion to fight again. Absolom Bracer and his ships are make the difficult decision to stay in defense of Breakaway station rather than return home for a more complete repair.

Insert standard space opera info dump: Jillies are humanoid, “if by humanoid you mean a creature with a central, upright body, two upper appendages, arms, two lower appendages, legs, and a brain and sense organ housing head above the central body” (66).  What makes them so unusual are their “two-part bodies” (67).  The second body is formed from the gastro-intestinal track and has a rudimentary brain.   Jillie society is characterized by fierce clans,  They have both sexual organs.  They are autocratic and have a penchant for dissecting the human colonists they encounter.  They are alien and evil.

Absolom Bracer’s decision to ask his captains to remain at Breakaway Station revolves around the expedition of Fleet Admiral Albion Mothershed whose scout pilots might have finally uncovered the location of the Jillies’ homeworlds and thus the key to the war.  However, his fleet is heavily damaged from a battle and needs reinforcements which are slowly moving from Earth.  Bracer and his crews must overcome their intense depressions, pains, and confusion about their place in a world which forces its dead to fight again and do what is right!

Final Thoughts

We All Died at Breakaway Station (1969) is an action-packed space opera in the “traditional” mode: evil aliens are evil and hate humans because they are too alien to actually understand.   The novel almost has the feel of an expanded short work—the majority of the added narratives are fragmentary and focus mainly on titillating content that add little or nothing to the rest of the story.  You know, ramblings about the “wildest girl in Nortlan” and her sexual escapades (46) and and Damion Leto and his sex tribe who quickly get a copulation session immediately after seeing the alien bombs fall (85).

On the whole Meredith’s gender politics are egregious.  That said, the work does have a scenario rather uncommon for 60s SF—the war effort has resulted in both men and women drafted en masse into the armed service and not simply support staff but even command officers.  By the end of the novel two of the three captains are women: Captain Zoe Medawar, who was promoted before Absolom Bracer’s defense of Breakaway and  Captain Lena Bugioli, who is promoted to the post by Bracer after her role in the suppression of a mutiny.  Both are of the reconstructed dead variety, possessed by drastic physical disability.  However, none of these women in positions of power based on their manifest and manifold merit are focused on.

Instead, the women characters who receive more than a handful of paragraphs are purely possessed by their sexual desires and play the standard role as cyphers of male fantasy.  For example: Comm Tech Sheila Brandt has sex on duty that results in a court martial and Lieutenant Naha Hengelo spends most of the time naked in a scout ship in the arms of her much more competent lover Lieutenant Commander Kamani Hybeck.  Meredith includes a plethora of women characters (including those of color) but all who act virtuously in the face of great adversary are relegated to the fringes.  Why Lieutenant Hengelo is included on the mission is never entirely clear other than a source of sexual gratification for the Lieutenant Commander cooped up on a long, dangerous, and vitally important expedition

Readers of my site will know that We All Died at Breakaway Station is not my normal fare.  But, I understand completely the allure of space opera the occasional desire for stories with rigorous and simplistic plots and themes.  Unlike a lot of space opera without character depth, We All Died does attempt (although unsuccessfully) to get at the psyche of the decrepit officers and their purpose in a war in which they have already died for their cause.

Vaguely recommended ONLY for fans of 60s space opera of the more military SF variety.  Everyone else with be disappointed.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX


(Eddie Jones’ cover for the 1987 edition)

37 thoughts on “Book Review: We All Died at Breakaway Station, Richard C. Meredith (1969)

  1. Insert standard space opera book review comment: thanks for reading it so I don’t have to.

    Welcome back to the blogosphere! Enjoy Paris!

  2. Yes, brilliant title and the book doesn’t come close to living up to it. Anyone recall a short story that had reconstituted corpses in the military, and a “live” officer who
    couldn’t get them to accept him until he disclosed he couldn’t have children due to – radiation? injury?

  3. Richard Meredith is one of those writers who slipped through the cracks for me–I don’t think I’ve ever even SEEN one of his books in a bookstore. Good review, in that it was interesting enough to keep me reading even though in the end I don’t want to read the book.

    • I read and review “risks” all the time…. Plus, I had heard only good things about this one. And I had a long plane trip to Edinburgh and thus I wanted something rather “easy to read.”

  4. I see.I know you review bad books as is your wont,but usually you’re positive in your opinions if you feel negative about it,but this time you seemed more uncertain.

    I recently read “The Tombs of Atuan”,the second in the “Earthsea Trilogy” by Ursula LeGuin.That’s an easy and enjoyable read.I want to read the final volume,”The Furthest Shore”.

    • I seemed uncertain because I did find it a book I could read in one sitting due to the engaging rudimentary story. Everything else was rather poor…

      I read Earthsea Trilogy as a kid and did not care form them—I’d probably enjoy them now.

        • As I said, I *WAS* a kid when I read them…. Thus, I was part of the “younger audience.” The problem with me and fantasy at the time was I had just read Tolkein and was hooked on crap like The Wheel of Time 😉 haha

            • He was up for a Hugo for the series last year…. he died before he completed the series and thus Brandon Sanderson finished it. I read the first 8 volumes or so.

              The point I’m making is that I was completely hooked on the “epic” nature of fantasy. And I think that Le Guin wasn’t that… Although, as I said I’d probably enjoy it now as my tastes have evolved and refined (or at least, I’d like to imagine that that they have).

    • As hopefully my review made clear, if you enjoy a brainless 60s action SF (with all that era’s flaws) novel with some really unnecessary tangents involving sex religions of various sorts then go for it… And it’s rather grim for space opera.

      • It’s a bit strange for you to say that.There was some dreary stuff around still,but the 1960s was the decade when sf finally moved away from the traditional stuff to tranform it into a new literary art form.

        I suppose this was one of those exceptions.

        • Um, there has always been space opera…. even in the period of serious change in SF. A very conscious attempt to write what had been written—there was a reason this novel was picked up by Vintage books for their series on “the good old days of SF.” Authors like Brian N. Ball, Meredith, et al were consciously attempting to write standard space opera at a time where SF was obviously trying new directions.

          So moving away from the traditional stuff — yes, some authors. But, the traditional stuff has always been there.

          • Well,Sam Delany was writing space opera at the time,but he was of course pushing it in new directions.I suppose you can’t change the traditionalists though.

            Ian Banks wrote space opera later,and was different to what went before,but unfortunitely,I found it to be langurous and tedious in presentation.It would have been better done in a more compact and bristling manner.

        • I think people like Poul Anderson illustrate this perfectly. He might have experimented a bit in the late 60s but he still continued churning out the Flandry series and other barely above pulp SF adventure novels…..

      • I read the 1987 edition with the awesome Eddie Jones cover. Venture Science fiction was a real go to for me back then.I would have been 22 years old and I was serving in the military then. What I took away from it was …broken soldiers. In the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s the plight of Vietnam veterans was real zeitgeist. Full disclosure – I was in the Canadian army but it was something that resonated with us. We couldn’t grasp how the American public could treat their veterans so poorly.

        • Thanks for stopping by!

          I enjoy the Venture Science Fiction publication line — they’re handsome paperbacks.

          This review is from a while back — while I have forgotten many of the story’s details, you are right that “broken soldiers” is what sticks with the reader. And it adds to larger argument of the influence of the Vietnam War on SF. I wonder if there’s a monograph on the subject…. I’d give it a read.

          Have you read any of Meredith’s other SF? For example, the Timeliner sequence that starts with At the Narrow Passage (1973)? He wrote quite a few more. Perhaps I gave up on him too early.

  5. I liked this book because to me it fulfills the core of what science fiction is. A piece of technology (the communications method) drives a story and creates character development.
    It is flawed like many books written before or around the time of Suffrage. I think it is a matter of understanding that that was the culture then and to read the story with-out judging that culture. We can hardly say ours is perfect, after all.

  6. This review is dismissive as are many reviews of sci-fi books. I would encourage people to read this book and form their own opinion, despite the review.
    This book is definitely light reading, however the criticisms of language and character motivation do not reflect what I think is an intentional earthiness/grit relating to the level the human race has fallen at the ends of the war. There are gender and sexism issues as with many books of this era, however the book is well worth reading unless your are offended by the concept of sci-fi as this reviewer appears to be.

    • Aww! My favorite part of your confused comment (you do know what reviews are, right?) is the part where because I didn’t like it as much what you like that I must be “offended by the idea of sci-fi” (you know, what I’ve spent more than 10 years writing religiously about….). I think the saddest part is that you probably take my comments about a book you like as some personal attack on you vs an argument I am making that you obviously can disagree with.

      Also, the review is my own opinion — and I formed it all by myself just like you told me to!

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