Where the Best Is Like the Worst
Who Goes Here? (Warren Peace, volume 1)
By Bob Shaw
Bob Shaw’s 1977 Who Goes Here? Is the first of his Warren Peace comedic SF novels. It is also the first Bob Shaw novel I ever read.
Warren Peace is utterly untroubled, perfectly content. This is because he is an amnesiac. Warren remembers nothing because his memories have been artificially removed. His memories were removed by the Space Legion at his request. In return, Warren signed up for a thirty-year1 tour of duty with the Space Legion.
Why Warren did this is a mystery to Warren. Amnesia. His new employers don’t care, not least because they suppose that if Warren wanted to erase all his memories, he must have been a complete monster.
The Space Legion contract is a marvel in one-sidedness, committing Warren to thirty (or forty … or more) years of unrelenting service, in exchange for memory scrubbing and poverty wages. To ensure that enlistees remain diligent, each recruit is conditioned to obey any order from an officer (more specifically, any officer equipped with special sonic implant). Whether the contract would stand up in court is an interesting question … not that any Space Legionnaire would ever be permitted to question it.
After an extraordinarily perfunctory basic training—essentially, being handed a skimpy uniform courtesy of their unit’s corporate sponsor and a radiation rifle—Warren and his fellow recruits of the class of 10 a.m., November 10th, 2386 are sent off to defend righteousness on Ulpha. Specifically, the troops are there to ensure the Ulphans conform to the Federation’s Free Trading Pact, which is to say, importing their allotted quota of Terran goods regardless of whether the Ulphans want or need them. The backward Ulphan are armed with primitive weapons whose only virtue is that they work in the conditions found on Ulpha, which is not true of the Legion’s radiation guns.
This sets the pattern for Warren’s brief career. He and his rapidly dwindling Class of November 10th, 2386 are dispatched to war zone after war zone, each one of which offers exciting new ways to die to no great purpose. Warren soon realizes that the odds that he will survive his full tour are very poor. Survival requires going AWOL.
While Warren has lost his conscious memories, he retains his technical skills. These allow him to build a sonic dampener that frees him from his conditioned response to officers’ augmented voices. Warren’s first R&R affords him escape from the Legion.
Alas, his problems were only beginning.
It seems possible that Shaw lifted his innovative space drive from Larry Niven’s Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation.
To get around teleportation’s limited range, ship teleport themselves to a receiver on the front end of the ship millions of times a second, giving themselves an effective velocity many times that of light. It’s very silly but it gives humans  the galaxy.
Sometimes I get disheartened that I don’t seem to be able to tear through books the way I did decades ago. Then I reread older books like this and rediscover why: this Ace mass market paperback is a lean 214 pages long. These days, the novel might be marketed as a hefty novella. Of course, brevity necessitates eschewing some optional elements, like characters that are more than two dimensional, a setting that is more than quickly painted backdrops, or a plot that’s more than stock situations stitched together.
This is a fairly standard military comedy, at least as long as Warren is in the Legion: his fellow recruits are lazy, and dishonest (but don’t deserve their horrible deaths), whereas the officers are incompetent, corrupt, malevolent, and utterly protected from consequence by rank and that sonic implant. Soldiers die to ensure colonists are forced to purchase unnecessary, expensive goods from Earth, with the consequence that a lot of Federation members are eyeing the exit door. Patriotism and all that jazz are just nonsense with which fools delude themselves.
Once Warren escapes, the novel shifts into madcap comedy, in which the amnesiac stumbles through various confrontations exacerbated by his ignorance. He swiftly accumulates pursuing enemies and in one case, unwanted romantic entanglement. This is complicated by time travel. It’s all wacky fun—or at least it is supposed to be.
This was amusing enough in 1977 to spur me to collect more Bob Shaw books. Apparently, I was a lot easier to please when I was sixteen, probably because the well-used tropes were unfamiliar to me. This time around, the book was a bit tiresome, rather like Harry Harrison’s Bill, the Galactic Hero, albeit with far fewer sequels. At least it was short.
Who Goes Here?is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find it at Book Depository.
1: Or perhaps longer. To quote:
The figure of thirty given here may be taken to read as forty**, depending on the Space Legion’s manpower requirements thirty years from the signing of this contract.
** The figure of forty given here may be taken to read as fifty or sixty years or any other number the Supreme Command of the Space Legion may decide upon if current longevity research proves successful.
2: Well, gives Man the galaxy. The existence of women is largely irrelevant to the events of this novel, save for the unwanted romance.