Saturday, August 29, 2009

Viking Pirates Attack!

You’ve got to wonder why this book is not called "Space Pirates." I mean, the lead characters are pirates. They raid, they sack, they pillage. Of course Vikings were sackers and looters, too. But “pirates” evokes that certain image that ties in well with Beam’s epic space fantasy.

Space Viking began as a four part serial in Analog from November 1962 to February 1963, and later that year was published as a Dell paperback (our celebrated cover). Dorchester, in collaboration with Wildside Press, reprinted this classic under the Cosmos imprint in 2008.

I love the original Dell wraps – a strong heroic spaceman ready for action, his hot-firing zapgun in hand, and his even cooler cool helmet seated low on his head to show he means business. And even better … the text of the story actually describes the lid!

This is an excellent SF cover. It’s evocative, descriptive, and exciting. The only thing missing from the cover (and the book) are the BEMS. All of the aliens are really descendants of Terra, that cool name for our boring little planet.

But Space Vikings isn’t that kind of story. It doesn’t deal with human-flesh eating creatures. It’s civilized, in that 1950s, early ‘60s double martini lunches way. Pillaging is an accepted way of life throughout the galaxy. In fact, Viking treasures are included in the Royal GNP, and welcome at spaceports that aren’t being invaded.

This creates an odd kind of morality which is considered by the characters quite superior to planets that prefer peace. Almost no pirate atrocity generates an emotional response. Aside from a brief display where the Viking leader has to keep a stiff upper lip upon seeing the carnage their nukes and invading forces wreak, the good guys are all rather blasé about the wholesale destruction of life and social and monetary structures they’ve caused. There’s no thought to whether the murders they commit are immoral. It’s empty of all emotion. Especially for Lucas Trask, whose goal of avenging his wife’s murder leads him to upset an entire galaxy. He literally destroys planets to build himself an empire from which the killer cannot escape.

Had Space Vikings been written today it would be an 1,800-page, three volume super-epic. Each off-camera action (and there are a number of important ones) would be described ad nauseum. That Space Vikings is a less-than-240-page single novel is to the reader’s benefit. The story speeds along. Of course major successes and changes happen far too easily; and all of the simple, casual yet galaxy-sweeping plans of the Vikings are always rousingly successful. But that doesn’t take away from enjoying the story. Much of this facile plot movement, of course, is a writer’s convention, used to squeeze a massive cosmic epic into a squat, rapid-fire paperback.

Very enjoyable, in a cool and detached way.

Beam's other SF offerings from the '60s include:

• Four-Day Planet
• Junkyard Planet (The Cosmic Computer)
• Little Fuzzy (Cosmos 2007)
• The Other Human Race (Fuzzy Sapiens)
• A Planet for Texans (Lone Star Planet)
• Uller Uprising
• Crisis in 2140


  1. I believe Jack Vance wrote a SF novel in 1953 called "The Space Pirate."

  2. True, Jake. But the story has been published more often as Five Gold Bands. Vance preferred the title The Rapparee, which I don't understand. Haven't read the book yet. Still, Space Pirates was published in 1953 so Piper or his publisher may have been aware of it and chose a similar group of marauders to emulate Pirates.

    Thanks for the comment, Jake.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. You're welcome, by the way I loved the Johnny Stevens story in "Club 17." (featured on the right) William Ard created some damn good detectives in the 50s.

  5. Wish I could find a copy of it, Jake. Maybe it was just the cover talking to me, but I had a feeling it might be a good book!