Salvage and Destroy
Synopsis: In the 1680s, an exploratory mission crewed by Ara, a race whose strong regard for the well-being of others is slowly exterminating them, discovered and surveyed Earth. During the survey, they discovered a group of humans trapped on a sand spit, cut off by high tide and about to be drowned. Rather than let intelligent beings die, the Ara rescued the humans and took them back with them to the Cluster, their home civilization. 300 odd years later, Earth is on the brink of self destruction and the Cluster humans, who have come to dominate the space trades, want to send a second mission to salvage what they can.
Enter L’cien [or Luc’n two pages later. Obviously his people have the same carefree attitude about spelling English had three centuries ago], an member of the Ult species, who rule the Cluster. The Cluster is old and decadent, run by the eternally adolescent ruling class of the Ult. Until recently, the Human Question was not one most Ult worried about, mainly because until recently aside from Lucian, as he is called in most of the book, most Ult had not even heard of humans, who form a microminority of hundreds of thousands in a Cluster population of trillions. There is some danger that Earth will develop inertial drive before destroying itself and the Ult fear that a war-like Earth armed with the ability to reach the Cluster might usurp the Ult’s position much as the Ult usurped the rule of the Cluster from the Drinn, tens of thousands of years ago. Lucian mission includes the responsibility of destroy the monitoring station in our system, lest we discover it and from deduce the inertial drive.
The Ult are limited shapeshifters so Lucian changes to match the form of a human male. He meets two humans, Mark and Sharon, on his way to join up with the Hyperion mission to Earth. He notices some disturbing attributes the humans have, especially their immunity to mentorsion, an Ult psionic attack which all the other subject races have been selected to be particulary vulnerable to.
The Hyperion sets off. Lucian has been supplied with an ‘imagon’, a software emulation of a biological intelligence, of his boss, which is supposed to supply him with advice. Lucian discovers that aside from the ship, which is run by an Ult level AI, another imagon exists, of Mary Knox, the young girl who dominated the early years of the human colony in the Cluster. He forms a bond with Mary and the ship but the imagon of his boss proves less useful and eventually goes catatonic with fear when it is discovered that some faction has placed Drinn Boarding Machines onboard. Only luck prevents the crew from a mass attack which would have wiped them out.
Lucian learns along the way that the humans have established a back-up colony on a world the Cluster cut out of their interstellar teleport net.
There is a scene slightly reminiscent of Galaxy Quest when Lucian realizes that Earth humans represent a barbarian race whose art is therefore likely realistic and one whose technology is high enough that their realistic art looks very authentic, unlike the Cluster whose art spurned realism a long time ago. As a result, the Cluster has misinterpreted much of the information coming from Earth. Earth has much longer than the Cluster thinks, at least 20-odd years, rather than the minimum of 5 previously thought.
The Hyperion arrives at Earth. What year it is is vague, but it might be any year after 1980. Lucian is not the most observant character in SF, so the clues to the date are pretty non-existant. The human crew use forged currency and precious metals to build up a trading presence on Earth, starting in Singapore [a city Lucian thinks rather a lot of] and spreading out from there. Lucian is upset to notice Drinn symbols on some Terran ships. He is further alarmed to note strong parallels between Cluster religions and Terran ones, leading him to speculate that either the religions are drawing from the same source or Earth was contacted long ago, back when Drinn were still a viable force in the Cluster.
Further investigation brings him into contact with a large company run by Drinn implantees [The Drinn can impress their psyches on other species]. There are no living Drinn left on Earth, nor in the Cluster. This particular group of Drinn/humans only dates back to the early 20th century, having discovered Earth from hearing about the contact in the 1600s. They are trapped on Earth and as aware of the impending doom as the Cluster is. Lucian’s duty compels him to warn the Cluster that their old enemy is on Earth, which would cause the Cluster to de-mothball its navy and fry Earth. Lucian is reluctant, having developed a fondness for Earth and for one Earthling in particular [Mental contact gone horribly wrong or right, depending on one’s views of Twue Wuv].
A further complication arises when the vortex buoy marking the Solar System self destructs. Someone back home does not want the Hyperion to return.
Lucian decides that he will remain on Earth to try to delay or prevent Earth’s autodestruction. Mary and her brother will covertly return to Cluster space with the Hyperion. Lucian’s return to Earth is seen by a community of amiable religious folks he had met earlier: his shuttle is mistaken for a fiery chariot, leading the Terrans to think he has a religious significance he does not feel he has. Although agnostic himself, he decides to stay with the religious people, taking the name ‘Teacher’. Here the book ends.
I own all of Llewellyn’s books [There were only six I know of, only three of which are related to SaD] so I know that Teacher is an important although offstage religious figure and I laughed out loud at the conclusion.
Series spoilers: Humanity does not wipe itself out with nuclear weapons but develops a family of chemicals whose applications in cancer treatment, pesticides and contraception are so successful the trivial side effect that they sterilise the daughters of those who use them is overlooked, causing a massive population implosion in the 21st century. In the long run, Cluster will probably be overrun by humans, either from the human colony world or from a renewed Earth.
Llewellyn was not the greatest writer SF ever produced but he was, I think, a reliable midlist writer of a sort we don’t seem to get much of these days. His universe is cheerfully pulpy: the scene were the Drinn Boarding Machine tries to take the ship is to my eyes reminiscent of a scene in James Schmitz’s Witches of Karres except, of course, that Llewellyn’s machine isn’t inflatable.
We don’t get much sense of his late 20th century: Lucian is not the most observant person around or the sharpest one, although his ability to draw on the personalities of several forefathers partly compensates for this.
I still enjoy SaD despite the occasional awkward phrase, odd biology [the Drinn, it is said, find each other repulsive, which can’t have helped their population levels any. All old races go decadent in this universe, I expect] and Lucian’s overuse of exclamation marks. That last might be because Lucian is the sort of fellow who is often surprised by life.
The common origin of Drinn, Ult and some human religions isn’t dealt with. Perhaps this Earth was contacted by another group of Drinn 20,000 years ago. Perhaps there _is_ a God. Lucian doesn’t know, although I expect he thought about the question in the centuries that followed.
Not a deep book but a fun one. It is a pity Llewellyn died before producing more books.