I bought this in the summer of 1977 and while I don’t remember buying it I do remember reading it next to Columbia Lake at the University of Waterloo. I think the lake had been closed to swimmers 1 by then but maybe we dropped by to hang out next to it on the bank.
What impressed me at the time about this book was the sweep of history, as the immortal protagonist witnesses a thousand years of history. Why it was this book that struck me that way and not, say, the Foundation series I am not sure but it could have been that Foundation changes points of view as it changes eras.
I don’t know for a fact this was overlooked when it came out a decade ago but I remember that Bantam Spectra didn’t seem to be doing a stellar job of promoting their authors at the time and Williams move to Night Shade is at least suggestive.
What I actually set out to read what Williams’ Banner of Souls but whatever place I thought was an intuitively obvious place to file it wasn’t the W section of my paperback/trade/ARC F&SF library. I hope to stumble over Banner of Souls at some point but until then have a review of an entirely different book. As it turns out I have apparently been confusing by copy of this with my copy of Banner for over a decade and had never actually read it so this really worked out in my favour. Although I still want to reread Banner of Souls.
Although Laumer is probably best known for his Retief and his Bolo stories or perhaps the medical calamity that overshadowed the majority of his career, this particular book is significant to me because it happens to be the very first Laumer I ever encountered, spotted during of my covert forays up into the adult section of Waterloo Public Library.
Right after the superfluous prologue we get a hint Things Have Changed from the date: Sarday, Ma 35, 2190. Ban Tarleton is a loyal, excessively loyal, officer in the United Planetary Navy, taking the claims of his superiors at face value and interpreting what he sees in light of the lies he has been raised on.
This is the book that made me ask on Facebook if it makes sense to talk about an Andre Norton lineage of SF writers. In many ways it’s what you might get if Norton had been a better writer. In others, it’s what you might get if the X‑Men used a draft to gain recruits.
Well, this didn’t play out the way I expected. This was for many years my go-to book for how not to write hard SF but on rereading after a lapse of 20 years I find a book that while flawed definitely has strengths.
We can learn many things from older works of SF and what I learned from this one is that rereading it made me sad.
This will be comparatively short, I think.
As so often is true, I reread an old book to discover what I remembered about it is not necessarily what it is about. I remembered this as a romance set against a plot about overthrowing an oppressive order but that’s not exactly correct.
Near the beginning with a fairly contrived history lesson framed as a good-bye from a beloved teacher to his two priviledged students; this allows the author to drop a fairly weighty infodump about the next twelve centuries. Short version: a combination of resource shortages, ecological crises, plagues and the odd nuclear war bring our civilization down and what replaces it is the Concord, a star spanning feudal society divided into three castes: Elite, Fesh and Bond. This culture is able to provide a high standard of living for the hundred thousand or so Elite and a fair one for the somewhat larger class of Fesh, the trained class who keep the wheels of civilization turning in two different stellar systems but the cost is the brutal exploitation of the Bonds who make up the vast majority of the population.
Reading this, the conclusion I come to is that either I never actually read it – which is sad because I do have a copy – or I managed to completely forget the plot. The books tend to jump back and forth between the civilized Inner Lands and the more wild regions; this is a return to an Inner Land-focused plot. The author also likes to shift between sub-genres from volume to volume; this would be a caper novel.
This picks up a thread mentioned in passing in the first book; Janus, one of the few male Steersmen, has resigned from the order and because he will not say why, has been placed under the Ban. Until he explains himself, no Steerswoman will answer his questions.