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Sunday, 18 December 2016

Book review - The Fenris Device

The Fenris Device is fifth in the Hooded Swan series (1974) by Brian Stableford.   
Spaceman Grainger is still shackled to the Swan and employ of its owner Charlot. He has been talked into taking the Swan into the hell of planet Leucifer V, the world the Gallacellans called Mormyr. It’s tricky, treacherous and his attempt fails. Plenty of fascinating convincing techno-gobbledegook as Grainger makes the attempt, his body and mind merged with the Swan’s controls. ‘I was really pounding the flux, because I needed all the shields up. Leucifer was a matter-dense system and you can’t go making tachyonic transfers in bad vacuum without a full complement of shields. As it was, we were bound to lose power when I went transcee…’ Transcee means going through the light barrier.

Why venture there?  Some Gallacellans want to recover a spaceship that was abandoned over a thousand years ago.

Stableford gives us another extra-terrestrial race: ‘the average Gallecellan is about seven feet tall, but he looks taller because he has big ears which stick upward from his head. At least rumour has it they are ears. After several hundred years, we still don’t know for sure. He has a face which might be yellow or brown, sometimes striped or blotched, the texture of wax. He has eyes in the back of his head as well as the front, he also has a mouth in the back of his head, but somewhat modified… One is for eating, the other is for talking. A Gallacellan usually turns his back on you to talk to you, but if you are another Gallecellan you have your back turned as well, so it doesn’t seem rude…’ (p19)

The current antipathy towards ‘globalisation’ has its pre-echoes here. ‘Worlds like Pallant were the only places where they could make a safe living now that the companies were steadily absorbing everything exploitable.’ (p21)

And: ‘The expansion of the companies was devouring the galaxy… War was coming. War between the companies and the law, war between the companies and each other. War between human and alien…’ (p139)

Fenris stems from the Old Norse/Icelandic – wolf, eater of the moon in the twilight of the gods. There’s a villain, a dwarf with a massive chip on his shoulder, who also happens to be deranged.

Yet again Grainger is aided by ‘the wave’ ensconced in his head, a symbiotic creature who has been around for a long time, and still has a few surprises for the host. 

Grainger tells us – and all and sundry – that he is no hero. Yet he tends to do heroic things. His endeavours to rescue friends stranded on the inhospitable planet vouch for that in some tense imaginative writing. Why put himself at risk? Maybe he can negotiate his freedom from his debt to Charlot, finally...

The final book in the series is Swan Song.

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