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The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson

June 9, 2010

The Book: The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson.  Originally published as a serial in 1934, the novel is a revised version first published in 1947.  The edition was published by Pyramid Books in 1969.

The Setting: Mostly on a distant planet, orbiting Barnard’s Runaway Star.

The Story: Young John Ulnar, just out of the Starfleet Legion Academy, is assigned (through family connections) to protect a (beautiful, blonde, young) woman who holds the secret to an ultimate weapon, AKKA.  Turns out his family wants to overturn the current government, but John is having none of it.  He and “a fabulous trio of swashbucklers” (according to the back of the book) set off to rescue the girl from a hideous race of evil black jellyfish who want to take over the Solar System and from his relatives who want to rule the Solar System.  The rescue is hard, many horrible dangers are faced, but John and his team win in the end.  Although, I suspect, a lot of people die in the Solar System before they manage to save it.

The Science:

  • Barnard’s Runaway Star: When I was reading this, I totally thought it was made up.  I mean, Barnard’s Runaway Star?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Except, it’s real!  In the book, the star is a dying red dwarf star which no longer gives off enough heat to sustain the lone planet that orbits it.  Although it was once thought to have a planet or two larger than Jupiter, scientists are now only able to confirm that certain planets do not exist around the star.  The star itself is thought to be one of the oldest in the galaxy, which is kind of a big deal.  And it certainly appears to be running away, if you check out the .gif in the linked wikipedia article.  Great fodder for science fiction.
  • Geodynes: The spaceship the quartet travels in uses “geodynes” to traverse the light years in a speedy manner.  They, somehow (they hum, I guess), manage to bend space time about the ship, getting it there faster.  The author used geodynes in more than one book. They’re certainly convenient.  Sort of little worm hole generators, I guess?  And no nasty fuel to explode and muck everything up.  Honestly, they don’t make any sense to me.

The Reaction: I read this once before and I didn’t like it anymore this time.  I was able to recognize the Burroughsian theme of beautiful girl+kidnapping=fighting and falling in love.  The prose certainly didn’t improve with time.  And I am just annoyed by Giles Habibula, the talkative muskateer.  I don’t see a good reason to read this book.  Except the prologue, which I assume was added for the novel version.  The Prologue has a great idea and it’s interesting and intriguing, and then it all goes downhill.

The Cover: Cover credit to Paul Lehr.  There’s a very nice flying saucer on the cover.  It even has something orbiting it.  But it resembles nothing in the book.  It’s a generic sci-fi cover – not related to the book, but not intrinsically ridiculous.

Etc: If you read the back of this edition, you have NO IDEA what this book is about.  “FORTUNE HUNTERS OF THE STARWAYS!” the back proclaims.  Except they are not seeking fortune.  They are seeking survival.  The back matter tries to tell you it’s about the three muskateers characters, but they’re just there to make any of what happens remotely plausible and bulk out the book with several pages of unnecessary nattering away.  I AM ANNOYED.

Next Up: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis – now there’s a guy who can tell a story.

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2 comments

  1. I actually first read the Wishbone book adaptation (the dog of the TV series) and am now reading the actual book. I agree the prologue is good, and Giles’ constant use of the word ‘mortal’ is getting on my nerves, but I also like the concept of an empire ruling the solar system, despotic and terribly evil though it was. I wonder if the author wrote anything else about this. And as I read I can easily see John Star/Ulnar being replaced by a dog, especially with his over-eagerness.


    • I had to go look up the Wishbone book because I could not even imagine that it would exist. But, wow, it does. I agree – John Ulnar is pretty one dimensional. It’s convenient to have a good guy with zero problems separating good-for-all from good-for-himself.



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