Fourth in the six-book Hooded Swan sequence by Brian Stableford, The Paradise Game (1974) is another intriguing space opera offering an alien planetary puzzle.
Space-pilot Grainger, still lumbered with the mind-parasite or symbiote ‘the wind’ has landed on Pharos, a planet that appears to be paradise. Unpolluted, with no large predators, no disease, indeed no death, it seems truly ideal. That’s why the Caradoc Company wants to take over the planet, to make money, of course; future wealth is in the service industry. The only indigenous natives are quite obliging about the project. However, conservationists in the guise of the Aegis group object strongly, even resorting to explosive sabotage. Charlot, Grainger’s boss, has been tasked with the job of arbitrating and determining if the Caradoc claim can succeed.
Yet again, Stableford has created interesting aliens and a planetary life-system. The natives ‘were humanoid, curious, gullible and all female… Her skin was covered in light gray fur. Her face reminded me of an owl, with huge large-lidded eyes. The eyelids moved slowly up and down, so that one moment the whole of the eyes were exposed, the next only a half or three-quarters. She had a sort of mane of lighter fur or hair descending down her back from the crown of her head, starting off in between her small pointed ears. Her arms were thin and short, and she walked with her legs permanently crooked. She was naked, but thick hair covered her loins.’ (pp9/10)
The natives have ‘no generic name for themselves, and they have no word for death.’ (p42)
Of course, no paradise can be perfect. Eden had its snake. Grainger wondered what lingered in the verdant vegetation of Pharos. ‘It’s always darkest before it gets even darker.’ (p45)
Stableford likes word-play and one of the lawmen on Pharos is Keith Just. He goes further, ‘Four of them. And Just.’(p113) Four Just Men, no less? Edgar Wallace would smile, I suspect. And his final two words in the story hit the right note, too!
As in earlier adventures, ‘the wind’ is instrumental in resolving the puzzle for Grainger. There’s also a good assessment of his relationship with the symbiote: ‘my relationship with the wind became a matter of vital necessity…’ (p133) ‘In a way, he was more me than I was.’ (p134).
Inventive, as usual, and worth reading for that reason.
Editor’s hat on:
On more than one occasion, characters speak without interruption for over two pages. This is unrealistic (pp 151-153, for instance).
Repetitive use of some words. ‘Back’, for instance, written seven times in 10 lines (p77) And ‘lot’, another one of those echo words: 5 times in 10 lines (p153).
There’s a great visual description of a mother spaceship launching an invasion fleet of smaller craft: ‘the battleship was beginning to shrink as she accelerated and climbed, while the infant fleet grew as it descended, changing appearance momentarily as our prospective adjusted, so that it was first a swarm of bees, then locusts, and then black butterflies. (p94) Pity ‘prospective’ was used instead of ‘perspective’.