Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

1970: In Our Hands, the Stars (Harrison, Harry)

Simple Linear plot with espionage and predictability (3/5)

I admit I haven't read either of Harrison's most popular series of The Stainless Steel Rat or Deathworld and that I desperately need to get a hold of a copy of each sometime. While I wait to stumble upon dog-earred copies of both, I bide my time by fingering through some of his lesser known work. Harrison's plague from space novel, The Jupiter Legacy (1970), was simple but entertaining. One of his short story collections, Prime Number (1970), was equally as short and entertaining (the 1978 and 1987 Sphere editions with some excellent art work). The same description can also label this novel (alternatively titled The Daleth Effect).

Rear cover synopsis:
"The Daleth Effect: It started in a small way when a test bench disintegrated. Within weeks it produced a power that could life man to the stars. And within months it was the centre of a desperate power struggle--with Earth as the prize."

Israeli atmospheric tests reveal to Artie Klein that there are gravimetric anomalies during a chance solar flare. He investigated the phenomena to a greater degree and found a "wholly inexplicable force operating that seemingly reduced the probe's weight, but not its mass." (50) He assigned the Hebrew letter "Daleth" to the force and applied his mathematics in the lab to produce the Daleth Effect. However, his first successful test run also blew a hole in the wall of his laboratory.

Immediately realizing all implications for this technology, Artie finds his consciousness and flees Israel because he suspects the government would apply his invention to wartime activities rather than peacetime activities. Once in his birth country of Denmark, Artie unveils his modulated sort of energy to the Ove Rasmussen, the Nobel Prize winner for physics and local professor, who helps Artie apply his technology with the help of Captain Nils, a jet-setting SAS commercial airline pilot with a wife, but a playboy lifestyle.

Unwilling the share the Daleth Effect with either the American or Soviet embassies, a double agent gets wind of the gravity defying tests and shares the secret with both sides. At first, the rumor of a submarine landing on a moon to rescue stranded cosmonauts seemed ridiculous, but later sightings of levitating ships confirms the truth about the science. Artie struggles to keep his technology for peaceful Dutch commercial interests, but both sides of the Iron Curtain reconnoiter to benefit militarily.

As a science fiction lover, it surprises me that I kind of dislike the wondrous discovery of a easily applicable science which can send man to the stars. The Daleth Effect is easily attached to any metal hull and, instantly, the craft (be it a submarine, barge, or hovercraft) can repel gravity and hurl itself off the earth. This sort of cop-out is done with earlier science fiction like E.E. "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space (1928) and James Blish's Earthman, Come Home (1955). I guess I prefer to experience the research of the technology rather than just having it handed to me in the first chapter.

Like the previous Harrison books I've read, this was light reading with a straight forward linear plot with random burst of humor dotted within the twenty-five chapters. Harrison's skill with dialog outshines his lacking capacity to pen narrative passages with a "sense of wonder", therefore, most of the novel is composed of plot maneuvering dialog and verbal announcements of the character's emotions. Everything is as transparent as it can get, which leads me to believe it might have been aimed for a younger audience.

It's not bad. It's just overly simple with touches of betrayal to one's country and one's spouse, a little bit of second guessing, and a pinch of excitement for the conclusion. Ah, the conclusion! I thought the ending would have been as straight forward as the rest of the book, but the last 15 pages of the 217 page novel threw me for a bit of a loop. Good unexpected conclusion!

Besides Deathworld and Stainless Steel Rat listed above, I plan to procure some of this other works such as Make Room! Make Room! and his collections don't sound too bad either. Harrison doesn't even make the list for my top 20 science fiction authors, but he's still one pursue.

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