Second in Brian Stableford's sequence of six Hooded Swan novels, Rhapsody in Black (1973) doesn’t quite work for me, though it’s still worth reading for the humorous aspects, the banter between ‘the wind’ and the anti-hero Grainger, and to continue his adventures. Clever titles like this are music to my ears...
Stableford jumps into the action at once, Grainger on the run from miners on the planet Rhapsody. We don’t know why he’s in this predicament, but it will be revealed in flashback. Rhapsody is one of ‘God’s Nine Splinters’, isolated worlds with a religious bent, the others being: Ecstacy, Modesty, Felicity, Fidelity, Sanctity, Harmony, Serenity, and Vitality. Life on Rhapsody is lived underground, the denizens only comfortable in darkness or semi-darkness; hence the title. They’re constrained by their leaders who are strict; as one stated, ‘There’s a lot of life in the old dogma yet.’ As a pun, it’s not bad, I suppose.
Why is Grainger here? As the indentured pilot to the owner of the Hooded Swan, he goes where he’s told. The owner, Charlot has heard there’s something valuable on the planet, and he wants to negotiate for it. To further his aim, he has co-opted some exiled people from the planet to help. Unfortunately, on arrival the religious indigents imprison them all.
They escape and then the chase goes on through the mine shafts.
The characters from Halcyon Drift, Eve, Johnny and Nick hardly enter the story. Grainger’s mind-parasite – which is a symbiote, it insists – does not figure greatly either, though he comes to the fore when needed. The Hooded Swan isn’t in the story much, either.
I don’t know at what point Grainger the pilot became an expert on biological forms, but he spends three pages giving a breakdown on three interlinked types of organism. Of course, Stableford has a degree in biology and lectured in sociology – both treated in the closed society of the book. As the Tribune review stated in a review, ‘Stableford… has one of the best lines around in exobiology.’
He misuses ‘he hissed’, one of my pet hates since it was pointed out to me decades ago by sci-fi author Ken Bulmer, but he’s not alone there among popular authors.
There’s a twist at the end. The series obviously survived through popularity, so I’m sticking with it.
Pan books maintained the cover design for the six books, which must have gladdened the author's heart. At the time, all Pan sci-fi featured the same silver oblong box; this boldly identified the author and the genre, though I'm sure it created visual issues for the artists!