(Angus McKie’s cover for the 1976 edition)
2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)
I have not had the best luck with Brian Stableford’s science fiction (albeit, I’m not sure I’ve read a single short story of his). Jesse over at Speculiction… swears (and I believe him!) that Stableford is occasionally capable of intelligent and sustained SF — consult his wonderful review of Man in a Cage (1975). Jesse barely dignifies The Halcyon Drift (1972) with a review. I’m in the same boat (or spaceship?). It took weeks of staring at my battered copy in a pile of other superior “to review” novels to convince myself to put finger to keyboard. How does one approach a bare by the numbers outline of a space opera?
By starting with the plot?
The Prologue forms the most evocative and moody portion the novel. Grainger, stranded after a crash on an alien planet near the edge of the Halcyon Drift (a grimy and dangerous area of space), ruminates near the grave of Michael Lapthorn, his shipmate…. A parasitic alien enters his mind and “serves” as his conscience. Grainger himself is a moody, grumbly, sort of spacer: the perfect sort for interior dialogue. When a vessel picks up his distress signal and descends on his location the following dialogue with his “conscience” demonstrates his bluntness: “And now they have it, and they’re coming down in the plain. I’m free. –I’m going with you. For Life. I don’t care. I’m going home. I’ll just go and stand up the cross that marks Lapthorn’s grave” (19).
And so ends the compelling prologue…. After Grainger’s rescue by the Caradoc Company, he is saddled with a massive salvage fee. To pay off his debt he is forced to agree to a shadowy mission (as a pilot) on an experimental mind-machine interfaced spaceship, The Hooded Swan. His “conscience” convinces him to take up the offer. With the ship’s first pilot, Eve, and the clues left by Grainger’s alien friend Alachakh, the Hooded Swan sets off to find the buried treasure on a pacific island (*cough* — It’s SF not a pirate story! I meant, they set off to find the Lost Star, a mysterious and important spaceship deep in the Halcyon Drift).
The power of the prologue dissipates with hardly a whimper… Other than in the prologue, the alien “conscience” is not used to great effect. The moment the novel devolves into a primarily plot-driven exercise, Stableford effectively removes the potential for revealing dialogue. As we know so little about the other characters, Grainger’s later decisions don’t merit any real reflection. The rest of the novel contains a smattering of fascinating ideas–decadent races that live separated from other societies in domed (and doomed) cities, a lost alien home world, aliens with hyperthymesia…. In each case Stableford operates like a blunderbuss, blasting in a general direction hoping to hit something. Most of the pellets bounced off my breastplate.
Stableford published a flurry of sequels: Rhapsody in Black (1973), Promised Land (1974), The Paradise Game (1974), The Fenris Device (1974), and Swan Song (1975). Am I going to read or acquire them? Probably not.
Unless you’re a fan of Stableford’s space operas or consume with relish any and all 70s space opera, avoid….
My other Brian Stableford Reviews
For addition book reviews consult the INDEX
(Romain Slocombe’s cover for the 1975 French edition)
(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1972 1st edition)