Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, March 25, 2012

1979: Polaris (Perkins, Sheldon)

Dialogue! Characters! Plot! ALL GENERIC (2/5)

The Belmont Tower edition of Sheldon Perkins' Polaris novel is the only publication of the novel. It's also the only novel written by Perkins. Generically titled Polaris, the name of the starship within the novel, the entire book reads as dryly as this introduction paragraph. If Polaris is taken as a sample of the author's writing style, Perkins made a wise choice in finding a different line of work. Though a 208-page novel, the book reads like a choppy collection of seven sequential short stories. So instead of writing a review for a novel, I'll write one which is more geared to a collection.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Captain Alexander Traynor of the United Space Republic only got the tough assignments. And his current task was the roughest of his entire career. He had to overhaul the ailing starship Polaris. The Polaris, once the pride of the U.S.R., was only now in sorry condition. Her weaponry was sadly in need of repair, and her staff divided by internal strife. But these problems were eclipsed by an even greater danger--a danger that came from outer space and threatened not only Traynor and the Polaris, but the entire United Space Republic!"

Chapter I - 3/5 - Alexander Traynor has recently been promoted to captain of a war-stricken vessel near the star Alpha Barnard. The fleet cruiser Polaris and her crew of 250 are under the orders of the outsourced "Earther" captain with stronger "Outworlder" affiliation. When scanning staff records with the ship's doctor, they outline the possible troublemakers and their political affiliations--Earther or Outworlder. 14 pages

Chapter II - 2/5 - Captain Traynor assigns 220cm Ganymedan Lieutenant Harold Nater as his personal security guard. Tension among the crew rises when executive officer Carl Nelson and his fellow Earther extremists conspire to oust the gentle captain through subversive means. 36 pages

Chapter III - 3/5 - After engaging six enemy battlewagons, the captain becomes aware of false rumors being spread about his trust of the Vendran people, native to a planet with 2.65 earth standard gravity. To address this, the captain puts himself in the boxing ring to prove one thing... and another. 23 pages

Chapter IV - 2/5 - The Polaris is called to the rescue of the disabled ship USR Moscow. With mounting tension between Captain Traynor and the extremist Earthers, the captain has difficulty coping with the casualties suffered during the rescue of the crew within the hull of Moscow. 46 pages

Chapter V - 3/5 - The captain and his crew visit the day of declaration of independence of the planet Larandra. The Vice-premier Dravin Pasteur has a short bur fiery on-record dispute with the captain, but his anti-Interplanetary Council agenda won't allow the obvious feud to hamper his barbaric plans. 36 pages

Chapter VI - 3/5 - Twelve orbital stations in the Barnard system have been destroyed and the Polaris has been assigned to assist in recovery. Only when the Polaris approaches does the crew realize that the enemy is fleeing from the scene towards their unknown home system. Banking on the importance of this impromptu mission, the captain follows the enemy fleet at a distance as the Earther party concocts a grand scheme for mutiny. 37 pages

Chapter VII - 2/5 - The outcome of the mutiny and the stealth approach towards the enemy's home star is announced by Captain Traynor. Who is promoted, who is detained, and which party alliance comes out on top? 12 pages

The Interplanetary Council heads the decisions of the United Space Republic which is composed of planetary bodies orbiting extra-solar suns and the planets and moons in Earth's solar system. The Council has promoted and appointed Traynor to the captaincy of the temporarily disabled ship Polaris. Being an outsider and an Earther with Outworlder sympathies, the predominantly Earther staff aboard the Polaris seek to oust the newly appointed captain from his position. Where prior ship climate was simmering with hierarchical disobedience between Earthers and Outworlders, Traynor's new regiment supports the enfranchisement of the suppressed Outworlders and the return to strict respect for one's superiors.

The annoyingly likable and ne'er-do-wrong Captain Traynor assumes the captaincy but the Earthers have a serious problem with this. Executive officer Carl Nelson rallies his Earther cohorts and endlessly conspires to oust Traynor from his post, utilizing both informal ways and formal paths. Traynor easily sees past these slight-of-hand verbal discrepancies and confronts the affected staff with tact and intelligence. This high emotional intelligence wins the respect of the non-Earther crew.

From the sparse data I could gather from online, Polaris was written as a novel rather than a collection of short stories. However, the entire story was terribly choppy and disconnected and read more like a poorly glued together stitch-up rather than a holistically composed novel. The two chapters where the crew (1) speed off to rescue the crew of Moscow, (2) attend the celebration at Larandra are only included to weakly heighten the already established feud between the crude crew. The conspiracy is repetitious and the allegiance to the captain is predictable, given his charming ways and polite disposition.

There is very little attention given to the detail of the starship Polaris. There's no ambiance, no flare, no dramatic or artistic impressions... most of the novel is saturated, deep-fried, and smothering in cheap dialogue: one line commands and -flopping informal and formal approaches. Not only is it dry and predictable, but it also gather little momentum; the speaking carries on with little mass to drive it forward.

The cast themselves are as generic as the title and dialogue. The staff retain superficially diverse surnames such as McMasters, Trovonski, DeGaulle, Goldman, N'goto, and Antonozzi. The predictably stereotype are in place for the simply for the sake for diversity rather than characterization. Even the women are stereotypical: blushing, ditsy, romantic, abiding, meek, weak, and troublesome. They're always either crying, eagerly submitting to a superior, or flirting with th captain. Only Traynor and Nelson have any personality to put forth and ever than is slim to none.

There is very little actually redeemable to this book other than the fact that I did NOT throw it down... and that is what separates this two-star "novel" from a lowly one-star floor-licking, rug-surfing, tile-tickling mere "book." I don't know what a reader would emotionally or mentally retain from reading Polaris, but perhaps if you're an impressionable juvenile, your eagerness for generic detail and droning dialogue will wow you. To reiterate the first paragraph, Sheldon Perkins never wrote another novel... and for that, thank you Mr. Perkins.

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