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Rough And Tough And Strong And Mean

Spartan Planet  (John Grimes, volume 5)

By A. Bertram Chandler 

10 Jun, 2018

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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1968’s Spartan Planet is the fifth book in A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes series. 

Policeman Brasidus and his fellow Spartans are quite familiar with human history. Men originated on Sparta. Like all the other animals on Sparta, men reproduce by budding, although medical technology has freed men from this unpleasant method of reproduction. Sparta’s society has been strictly regimented since the earliest days, because that’s the best way of doing things. 

Although Sparta has very little use for advanced technology (which would only take jobs from the helots), there is a single extra-Spartan colony, Latterhaven. It was settled by rebels who maintain a monopoly on starflight. Not that it really matters, since the entirety of Sparta’s annual trade fits into two cargo ships, Latterhaven Hera and Latterhaven Venus. Aside from Sparta and Latterhaven, there are no other inhabited worlds and no races aside from Man. 

A lot of what Brasidus and his fellow Spartans know is untrue. 

Summoned to the spaceport to meet an unscheduled spacecraft, Brasidus is astounded to learn that the craft is neither Latterhaven Hera nor Latterhaven Venus, but a ship calling itself Seeker III. Even more astounding is the revelation that the ship does not hail from Latterhaven at all, but from something calling itself the Federation. Precisely what interest the Federation has in Sparta is unclear, although Seekers Captain Grimes claims to be conducting a census. 

Once Grimes and his crew are able to disembark, the Spartans are presented with another surprise. Man is not alone in the universe. Accompanying Grimes is an oddly shaped humanoid named Peggy Lazenby. Investigation reveals that Lazenby is no horrifying deformed freak, but a typical example of Lazenby’s kind. Lazenby hails from a world called Arcadia. There are others like Lazenby on the ship. 

At the same time as all this is happening, Brasidus is approached by an ambitious Spartan, Captain Diomedes. Diomedes is convinced that Sparta’s rulers are up to something untoward. What exactly this plot might be is unclear, but Diomedes’ suspicions seem to have been triggered by Seekers arrival. While he is no natural conspirator, Brasidus is a competent policeman. It does not take much digging to discover something very odd indeed is going on at Sparta’s reproduction facilities. 

There are more beings like Lazenby on Sparta and they did not arrive with Seeker. Instead, they appear to have been living on Sparta all along, hidden from the men of that world in the medical facilities used to produce more men. Why the Arcadians are sequestered in the crèches is mystery only top-level administrators like Doctor Heraklion can answer. What is plain is that Diomedes was correct to be suspicious. 

Whether Diomedes is right to view the Arcadians as a threat is unclear. Whether the activities of the doctors and the Arcadians are malevolent or beneficial is also a mystery. What is obvious is that Arcadians like Lazenby have a mysterious power over men, some arcane ability to compel attraction despite their deformities. It is a power to which Brasidus is quite vulnerable. 


Spoiler alert: the Arcadians are women! 

There are enough parallels between this and Ethan of Athos [1] that I wonder if Bujold had read Spartan Planet. Both are series books in which the series lead is not the book’s viewpoint protagonist (although unlike Miles in Ethan, John Grimes is at least on stage.). Both involve worlds settled by misogynists; both embrace historical models little supported by the evidence (Sparta more so than Athos, because Athos for all its faults is nowhere near as isolated as Sparta). Both involve naïve true believers bombarded with unwanted revelations. 

Of the two worlds, Sparta is by far more unpleasant. This is not due to changes in acceptable cultural values between 1968 and 2018. Sparta was clearly designed to appear unpleasant. It incorporates the worst features of Classical Athens and Sparta, features that would have been viewed with a grimace even in 1968

I often complain about rape being used as plot parsley in the new books I review. It can also be found in some of the older books as well (if perhaps with fewer salacious details). 

  • It is strongly implied that one of the perks of on Spartan hoplites is the right to rape without legal consequences. 

  • Not only does one of Grimes’ crew get raped, but Grimes (while annoyed) appears to see the rape was the woman’s fault for venturing into a Spartan bar with only one companion for protection. 

  • There’s an entire subplot about sub-light starship crew members unfreezing women passengers for what the perps called a party, a party that cannot have been in any way consensual. Grimes is pretty casual about that and the women’s ultimate fates, although I suppose he can be excused, in part, because by the time Grimes learns about it, everyone involved has been dead for centuries. 

Spartan Planet was serialized as False Fatherland a year before the Stonewall Riots. One might expect the various homosexuals who show up to be portrayed negatively. Brasidus’ close friend Achron certainly fits a lot of the 1960s stereotypes about gay men. In an embrace of a different trope (a member of a despised minority can prove their worth by dying heroically) Achron sacrifices himself to protect his patients. I expect that in 1968 that would have been seen as a rather daring choice on Chandler’s part. 

It’s men in general who are shown in an unflattering light. It seems that without the civilizing influence of women, men think entertainment consists of getting drunk and engaging in fisticuffs. Moreover, while the villains of the book are extreme misogynists, there are few men in the book (of those who know the truth about Arcadians) who are entirely free of misogyny. 

This is not exactly a fun book. Even if we disregard the gender relations depicted, other elements of setting and plot have not aged well. Not that this is the worst book published in 1968; it was fair for its time. That time was in the distant past. If you had nothing else to read, this might be of antiquarian interest. 

Spartan Planet is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: There are also parallels with Virgin Planet, in that a shipwreck is involved. Oddly for a John Grimes novel, the Lost Colony was not settled thanks to a mishap with a gaussjammer drive, but a rather less plausible run-in with a meteor storm in deep space. 

For those unfamiliar with the Grimes books, there are three basic ways of getting around in the galaxy: 

  • Slower than light, which is dang slow. 

  • Ehrenhaft gaussjammers, effectively faster than light [2] but which can potentially maroon a ship halfway across the galaxy from its destination. 

  • Mannschen timejammers, also effectively faster than light, whose failure modes are even more dire. Like turning the crew inside out without killing them (immediately) … and worse. 

2: As I recall, characters would sometimes explain to the passengers that despite routinely arriving at their destinations long before light would get there, technically no starship ever travelled faster than light. Ehrenhaft drives exploited a loophole in spacial coordinates; Mannschen drives exploited a loophole in temporal coordinates.