One of the things I’ve been doing recently is seeking out older works by well known writers, checking in on roots and seeing where they came from. Latest in the effort is one of Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s early works (her fourth novel).
This short novel (which probably only barely qualifies in the over 40K words category) hits the ground of Space Opera tropes with both feet running. The plot involves humans and their involvement with (and dependence on) an alien race called the Lahr. The Lahr have discovered the secret to warp drive, the ability to zip between stars at faster than light speeds and refuse to share that knowledge with humans. Instead, like good capitalists, they sell their services (relatively inexpensively, but still) and gladly transport people all over the galaxy.
Naturally, there’s a faction of human folk who see this as a challenge and think it’s their duty, privilege and right to infiltrate the Lahr and steal the secret. There’s only problem: Humans die during warp. At least that’s what we’ve always been told but the resistance thinks it’s a lie and want to send someone, disguised as a Lahr (think Kirk becoming a Romulan).
Ultimately, they choose Bart, a 17 year old fresh faced graduate of space academy whose father is involved in the whole scheme through his interplanetary shipping company – The 8th Color. What follows is standard fare – there’s space battles, mistaken identities, crises of conscience, good moral prevailing and the good guys getting what they deserve – and more importantly, what they want.
It’s not a bad book, even if it is a bit simplistic. It’s a fun read with a conceit that plays out in a retrospectively obvious way (the Lahr can’t see colors so naturally, the key to everything is color – hence the title). It fits in with book written in the early 60s, and could easily be seen as successor (or continuation) to Heinlein’s juveniles. As a book for getting a pre-teen interested in space, you could do worse and I can only imagine that in 1963, this would be the kind of book which would get an awkward 13 year old pumped up about whatever was out there beyond the stars.
I do have to make one comment, though in regards to the audio narration by Jim Roberts. Now, I listen to a lot of books, sometimes it feels like I listen more than I actually read and I understand there are a number of different approaches, but Roberts approaches it as if adding inflection would break his vocal cords. He doesn’t differentiate between characters with different voices, which might be forgivable, but when he doesn’t pause between lines of dialogue, we end up listening to a monotone litany like a bad day in church. While his narration wasn’t enough to completely put me off the book, there were times when it came close.