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Lost Voices 18: The Space Eater by David Langford

The Space Eater

By David Langford 

7 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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The Space Eater

David Langford

Pocket Science Fiction [1983]

224 pages

Synopsis: About the turn of our century, one hundred years before TSE is set, the USA discovered a new set of phenomena they labelled anomalous physics, or AP for short. AP lets the user fiddle the basic laws of physics, with numerous benefits. Theywere looking for matter transmitters, which they got, managing to open a large gateway to a habitable planet, Pallas, around Beta Corvi, which they swiftly and secretly colonised as a hidey-hole in case the Cold War went hot. They did notice some negative benefits: roughly 6% of the stars in the universe exploded, some stars not being tolerant of the laws of physics being tweaked. More immediately, they discovereda way to set off a teraton total conversion explosion. The particularexplosion they set off was on the east coast of the USA. Due to some minor misunderstanding as to the cause, the USA retaliated against the USSR. Five days after the start of WWIII, both the USA and the USSR [and one presumes China] were smoking, isolationist shambles and the EEC, which stayed out of the spasm war, began a long slide into civil disorder and authoritarian rule.

Fast forward 100 years. The EEC/UN has noticed that the colony world survived. Worse, they’ve started playing with AP again. This is entirely unacceptable to the Europeans and the Earth in general, since the side-effects could well include our sun blowing up. Their hands are somewhat tied by the fact that they themselves can not use the big gate to open contact with Pallas, for fear of the side effects. They have a smaller version, 1.9 cm across, through which they shove machinery and supplies to build a small space station in the L2 point of the Pallas-moon system. All that remains is to find volunteers who will allow themselves to be sliced up to fit through a 1.9 cm hole and regenerated on the far side. Enter Forceman Ken Jacklin, who benefited many times from the Force’s biotechnology, having been killed and resurrected forty-odd times. He is joined by a special communications officer, Rossa Corman. Corman’s psi-talent is the telepathic transmission of pain to people who have been sensitised to her. Jacklin gets his sensitization shot and they are sent off to Pallas through the hole. The transit is entirely successful, marred only by a deep-seated pain Jacklin suffers after his regeneration and by the fact that to avoid mucking up the resurrection at the far end, no painkillers were used during the vivisection. 

Jacklin and Corman contact the colonists, who are in the midst of a civil war between the Archipelago and New Africa, which is rich in oil. Because of the civil war, neither side is willing to give up AP research. Both Jacklin and Corman are aware it is within the Earth’s ability to destroy Pallas and they suspect that certain glaring holes in their briefing may be there to cover the final solution to the problem of Pallas. To prevent this from being necessary, they suggest to the Archipelago that they leak the designs for the nullbomb, and mislabel it as something else. The New Africans fall for the trick and their orbital research centre suddenly becomes ground zero for a million-megaton explosion. The NA government then surrenders to the Archipelago.

The crisis rekindles when it turns out copies of the nullbomb were dispersed. Extremist factions of New Africa believe that being tricked into blowing themselves up violated the anti-nuclear protocols, and they are refusing to surrender. Indeed, they are threatening to nullbomb the Archipelago back. General Lowenstein of the Archipelago has some thoughts on the matter: a great believer in compelled cooperation, he has the Terrans tortured until Jacklin spills everything he knows. What Lowenstein wants is the minigate the Terrans came through to use a weapon to burn New Africa clean of life. To make absolutely sure he can control Jacklin, he proposes to wire Jacklin’s pleasure center. Jacklin, a highly conditioned killer, then kills the general.

After a brief hearing, in which Jacklin is cleared, yet another problem rears its head: the Earth, tired of having their warnings ignored, drops a small black hole in Pallas. The danger is short-term but not immediate: the people on Pallas have about 500 hours before the several million tonne object hits for the first time, beginning the process of sucking Pallas through a very small hole. Jacklin and Corman come up with a solution: Jacklin is sent up into orbit with the minigate he and Corman were squeezed through. With skill, timing and a lot of concrete for shielding [the hole is radiating brightly in gamma rays], the black hole is gated elsewhere. The Pallasians finally take Earth’s point and cease their research [At least for now]. Corman and Jacklin, who have become lovers, settle down to live on Pallas.

Through out the entire book Jacklin and Corman, who have been badly damaged in their individual ways by the training needed for the Force and the special communications branch, recover.

Not a bad book. Moves along nicely and the many sides are neither mustache twirling villains nor angels. The New Africans get somewhat shortchanged in the character development department, not actually ever being onstage, but Langford has someone suggest that both sides in the civil war had valid reasons for acting as they did. Even Lowenstein and the authorities back home are not entirely bad: the Terrans could well have dropped the black hole too close for countermeasures to be possible.

Actually, on that last: as long as the black hole’s apoapsis was well away from the planet, I think the folks on Pallas had more time than they thought: they do realise the cross section of thehole is tiny when thinking about knocking it aside with energy weapons but don’t afaik consider it when thinking about it eating Pallas. I think what would happen is the intense heat from the extremely hot black hole would tend to blow matter away from the hole. They’d have many passes to work in.

Of course, having something radiating fiercely in gamma rays bobbing through the planet could well reduce property values, even if it couldn’t munch the planet down for a very long time [Note the lack of units in that last].

I really liked and still like The Space Eater. Langford’s SF output has been low, about 5 books I know of, the last in 1988. He is more prolific in sf-related non-fiction and can be seen [among other venues] over on rec.arts.sf.fandom, posting ansible, his fanzine, from time to time. Recommended.

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Lost Voice 17: The End of the Empire by Alexis Gilliland

The End of the Empire

By Alexis A. Gilliland 

5 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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The End of the Empire

Alexis Gilliland

Del Rey Books [1983]

169 pages

Synopsis: The Holy Human Empire, vast and corrupt, is collapsing. Has collapsed, in fact, down to a single planet, Portales, which itself is on the verge of being conquered by the FURDS Fleet, POUM Faction and its sympathisers on Portales. Colonel Saloman Karff is an intelligence officer for the Empire, who we first encounter burning files so the Rebels don’t get their hands on them. Karff has many problems, not the least of which is that his immediate superior, Bloyer, is a double agent working for the Rebels. Karff manages to escape Portales to the last Imperial Fleet, as, sadly for Karff, does Bloyer.

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Lost Voices 16: Silverlock by John Myers Myers

Silverlock

By John Myers Myers 

4 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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Silverlock

John Myers Myers

Ace Books [1979]

516 pages

Synopsis: Clarence Shandon is adrift, both spiritually and literally, his ship, the Naglfar , having sunk suddenly while at sea. He manages to survive the wreck and when he makes his way to a floating spar finds another man already clinging to it. This man is Golias, a bard. Eventually, they manage to reach an island, apparently deserted.

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Lost Voices 15: The Man Responsible by Stephen Robinett

The Man Responsible

By Stephen Robinett 

3 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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The Man Responsible

Stephen Robinett

Ace Books [1978]

245 pages

Synopsis: Harry Penny is a lawyer. He gets involved in two cases simultaneously: One involves a Mrs. Crawley, a wealthy widow who has invested $160.00 in a planned city deal in South America and who has good reason to think that the city is not being built, having visited the site. The other case involves a Mr. Marshall Pierce, who has been accused of assault and battery. As it turns out the two cases are connected: the man Pierce allegedly tried to hit, Vargas is a business associate of Dr. Sterling, the investment genius whose city Mrs. Crowley’s $160.00 is tied up in. A third potential client comes in, who also has money tied up in Sterling’s project but Harry turns him down, because of the potential conflict of interest with Mrs. Crawley, even though this man, Church, has lot more invested and is in dire financial straits.

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Lost Voices 14: Earthwreck! by Thomas N. Scortia

Earthwreck!

By Thomas N. Scortia 

3 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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Earthwreck!

Thomas N. Scortia

Fawcett Gold Medal [1974]

224 pages

Synopsis: It’s 1988 and the US and SU both have impressive manned space stations in orbit. The US is preparing to return to the Moon, to built a second-strike weapons facility, as allowed by various weapons treaties. The Soviets are planning a manned mission to Mars, to follow up on their extremely successful series of unmanned probes. Because of certain terms in the space-militarization treaties, the two stations,while not cooperating as in Bova’s Millennium, do have open and frequently used lines of communication.

Soon after Captain Quintus Longo leaves his family to serve a tour of duty on the American station, a nuclear war breaks out on Earth, triggered by a joint Japanese-Arab terrorist nuclear attack on Tel Aviv using Chinese nuclear weapons.


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Lost Voices 13: Nightwatch by Andrew M. Stephenson

Nightwatch

By Andrew M. Stephenson 

2 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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Nightwatch

Andrew M. Stephenson

Dell Books, 1979

320 pages

Synopsis: Dan Frome finds himself drafted into a tour of duty on the Moon in the early 21st century due to his expertise with Golems, artificial intelligences, which he believes will be used in an upcoming uncrewed Jupiter mission. En route, he discovers that each of his fellow crewmates has a different idea why they are headed for the Moon. 

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Lost Voices 12: And Having Writ… by Donald R. Bensen

And Having Writ…

By Donald R. Bensen 

2 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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And Having Writ…

Donald R. Bensen

Ace [1978]

250 pages

Synopsis: Four interstellar explorers crash land on Earth. In our timeline, their craft exploded over Tunguska, Russia. In AHW, one of the crew members uses a device which creates a universe in which the crew don’t die and they survive with only minor philosophical damage to Valmis, the crewman responsible.

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Lost Voices 11: Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin

Rite of Passage

By Alexei Panshin 

1 May, 2000

Lost Voices

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Rite of Passage

Alexei Panshin

Ace Books [1968]

254 pages

Synopsis: Mia Havero lives on a giant starship [A back of the envelop calculation shows the volume of the ship is on the order of 10,000 cubic kilometers]. Originally built to ferry colonists from an overcrowded Earth to colony worlds, after Earth’s self-destruction, the ship’s crew put it and its seven sister ships to use as living quarters and a base of power over the less advanced colonies, with whom they trade carefully hoarded information for resources. The Ships tolerate no misbehavior from colony worlds: around twenty of the colony worlds have been morally disciplined’, wiped out from space.

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Lost Voices 10: The Shattered Stars by Richard McEnroe

The Shattered Stars

By Richard S. McEnroe 

29 Apr, 2000

Lost Voices

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The Shattered Stars

Richard McEnroe

Bantam Books [1983]

182 pages

Synopsis: Moses Callahan has a debt-laden starship. Desperate for crew and cargo, he accepts a very shady cargo from a businessman and hires Deacon Halloran, a shell-shocked veteran of war to pilot his ship. The businessman turns up very dead but the cargo, a Bethe trigger able of catalysing a wide range of nuclear reactions, arrives anyway. Planning to hand it over to the legal authorities at the far end, Moses accepts it.

Complications ensue. 

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Lost Voices 9: A Hostage for Hinterland by Arsen Darnay

A Hostage for Hinterland

By Arsen Darnay 

28 Apr, 2000

Lost Voices

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A Hostage for Hinterland

Arsen Darnay

Ballantine Books [1976]

248 pages

Synopsis: A thousand years after the last Limited Nuclear War [Number 13, I think], two cultures divide North America between them. The Structures are highly limited in area but stretch many kilometers into the air, held up by antigravity devices, whose cooling is dependent on helium imported from the Hinterlands. The Hinterlands are occupied by numerous tribes, both hostile to technology and dependent on it, especially the high tech which is primarily only available from the Structures. Every five years, both sides hammer out trade agreements and as the book opens, the current set of negotiations are about to begin.

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