Book Review: The Halcyon Drift, Brian Stableford (1972)

(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).

Final Thoughts

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

The Florians (1976)
Journey to the Center (1982)

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)

18 thoughts on “Book Review: The Halcyon Drift, Brian Stableford (1972)

  1. Hi

    Having read the novel a few weeks ago I was interested in hearing your review. While I do not disagree with your comments I think I liked it a bit more than your did and will at least start the next book in the series. I do agree that some of the more interesting elements, the alien Khormon, and the Crocolid in the domed cities could have been fleshed out more. Also as you say the other human characters, were not developed very much. Instead we get a lot of focus on Grainger and how unpleasant he is, although we or at least I suspect he may be concealing a heart of gold, as well as an alien (symbiont) . Having read some other Stableford novels, The Werewolves of London springs to mind, and I am currently reading Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity (I could not resist a novel featuring William Hope Hodgson), I do think he may be better at generating ideas than bringing them to fruition.

    Happy Reading

    • Hello Guy,

      Thanks for your comment! I found it a functional space opera with a few fun ideas that are not developed in a compelling way. And I enjoy a grumpy spacer main character… of course he’s not as passive and melancholic (and drugged up!) as John Tuck in M. John Harrison’s far superior The Centauri Device (1974) –>

      I am intrigued by some of Stableford’s non-fiction –> for example, The Third Millenium (written with David Langford). Although, not sure what to make of the blurb…. “Two scientists forecast, on the basis of present scientific knowledge as well as an understanding of historical, social, and political trends, the “history” of the next millenium, written as if looking back from the year 3000.”


  2. I did not make this clear in my review –> Stableford attempts (and I would say half-heartedly) to make Grainger an antihero. The prologue manages to convey his character however, as his interior dialogue tails off, we lose more and more of this characterization.

  3. I read all his books as they came out for years, including all the Hooded Swan series. I enjoyed them a lot at the time, reading them all at least twice, and thought that Rhapsody in Black was the best in the series. Ultimately, though, I disposed of almost all my Stableford books. I’ve kept To Challenge Chaos and the Realms of Tartarus trilogy single volume DAW edition. It’s probably not that great but I like the idea.

    Jump to about 4 years ago and I came across the Big Engine omnibus of the series going cheap and picked it up. As you’ll see from my comments here I quite enjoyed The Halcyon Drift but haven’t yet finished any of the others… Not even Rhapsody in Black.

    • Maybe I’ll pick up the second in the series…. I have the second in the Daedalus sequence on my shelf. The Halcyon Drift was fast, relatively painless space opera… Gets an average rating in my book!

  4. I’ve got “Architects of Immortality” and “Days of Glory” on my shelf. Haven’t read ’em. Don’t know when I’ll read ’em. Your tepid review of “Halcyon Drift” has not exactly put Stableford on the fast-track to my current reading list (working my way through Niven’s Ringworld series right now, and Mieville’s winking at me, so he could very well be next, or maybe Ballard?). But now I know that he’s there… in a little corner of my SFF section. Waiting, hoping to be read. Maybe, Brian; maybe someday, kid…

  5. Days of Glory was a very early book and, iirc, very loosely based on the Iliad, with the sequel using the Odyssey. May have misremembered though! Architects of Emortality was #2 in a series I never got round to as I had stopped reading his by then, and for some reason this series (of 6) was marketed/distributed poorly.

    • As I might have suggested in the past, I suspect I would have found Stableford’s work much more appealing as a teen or YA. I haven’t heard of “Architects of Immortality” or “Days of Glory.” The only Stableford I plan on reading now is Man in the Cage (1975) — I desperately want to see if it’s as good as Jesse makes it out to be!

  6. I used to stock the odd copy as I was keen on Dedalus, the publisher, and stocked many of their earlier titles. Not had any in for ages now although I see that a lot of his obscure anthologies and critical works are available again from Wildside Press.
    And as a very minor point, it’s ‘Emortality’, not Immortality… I think that series was pretty much his last mainstream science fiction so ought to be a bit more polished than his earlier output…

    • I do wonder how much money his Black Coat translated editions even make…. or any….. he might be playing a long game, as in, hoping, through his editions that eventually people will focus on lost authors — as in a hobby of retirement rather than a business venture.

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