Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, June 14, 2012

1969: Secrets of Stardeep (Jakes, John)

Quest for father's honor lacks imagination (2/5)

John is an author of fantasy (1960s and 70s), historical fiction (1950s to 80s), and science fiction novels and short stories (1950s to 70s). Besides the author's historical series about America's bicentennial (The Kent Family Chronicles) and the civil war series North and South, John Jakes isn't very well known outside these historical circles. Focusing on his science fiction, which is often described as "simple yet gripping", his more popular works include The Asylum World (1969), Six-gun Planet (1970), Time Gate (1972), and the only one familiar to me, On Wheels (1973).

Rear cover synopsis:
FLTS Majestica, with Lightcommander Duncan Edison in charge and 2,000 crewmen aboard, had vanished without a trace only moments after leaving the planet Stardeep. Seven years later, no one had yet been able to discover what happened to Majestica, and to most people it was a long-forgotten tragedy. But not to Rob Edison. Rob knew his father wasn't responsible for the disappearance of the FTLS, and he would go clear across the galaxy to Stardeep to prove it.

But Rob wasn't the only one looking for something on Stardeep. And what started as a private search for the truth became a dangerous encounter with invaders out to steal Stardeep's greatest treasure..."

Rob Edison is simply trying to get through his studies, ace his examinations, and enter higher education for an ultimate position in space. One day, Tal Alroon comes to the same school and stares Rob down. As their fates collide, Rob is reminded of the painful memory of his father's disappearance and probable death aboard the FTL ship Majestica, which never materialized when it entered hyperspace off the planet Stardeep. Tal Aroon's father was on the same ship and suffered the same fate, so Tal projects the accountability for the disaster on Rob.

With excellent grades (in classes like Principles of Hyperdrive III and Survey of Cryogenics 414) and a sympathetic robotic counselor, Rob decides to test his faith in his father against the facts of the matter of the ship's disappearance. Rob books a costly trip to Stardeep during his four-week long holiday in order to peruse the data regarding the ship, its crews, and its fateful journey. Even though a committee had already established that his father was guilty of a Command Decision Error, Rob feels that his involvement in the facts will ease his doubts.

Once on the planet of Stardeep, Rob quickly becomes ensconced with Conservancy Patrol Commander Ling and his daughter Lyndesy. Rob obtains permission to visit the Phylex Monitoring Station in the restricted area of private reserve, home to the planet's indigenous life form which is capable of clearing away ill thoughts when in close proximity to the animal. Barton Lummas, a fellow passenger to the planet of Stardeep, maintains a keen knowledge of these animals and is always seen wherever Rob goes. When Barton and his android shang-hai Rob on the way to his permissible-entry ship, Rob's quest for truth becomes a quest for survival.


A cursory glance at the novel tells of a rather mundane tale: boy loves father, devotes time to defend his honor, becomes embroiled in something larger, struggles for his life, falls in love through the turmoil, and comes out a man who's faith is renewed in his deceased father. The overall banality of the story is worthy of two stars--the crests and troughs of the plot are mild and predictable. Not even the limited telepathic abilities of the Empt critters garner much interest.

The details of the novel could have pulled the novel up from its two-star level, but like the generic plot, the details, too are fairly mundane and cursorily added. Nutrition in the future is as it is in many other novels: condensed nutrition bars, nutrition drinks, and synthetic eggs. Star transportation is interesting but plays no part in the plot: when the FTLS ship enters hyperspace, it is "demolecularized into a near infinity of micro-particles" (34) where powerful fields keep the ship and passengers in a coherent state through the hyperspace traversing. The first 20% of the novel is about Rob's education, but this too isn't too inventive. The school maintain the tradition didactic teacher-student relationship, where the teacher is replaced with a screen and the counselor is replaced with a robot. The aseptically humanistic environment has only a tinge of emotion when closely involved with the sometimes sympathetic counselor.

The tag of "simple yet gripping" does not apply to this novel. There's no satire, no social significance... but it does have a pretty spaceship on the cover, which is why I picked up this novel. After two Jakes novels, I'm not really interesting in procuring any more of his long work, but The Best of John Jakes (1977) may be more entertaining than this cursory paperback.

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