I’ve recently posted several articles about using a galactic empire as a story setting, and now it’s time to go old-school. Back in the old days, a galactic empire didn’t cut it, a real man’s empire had to be INTERgalactic.
Chalice of Death by Robert Silverberg (1957) Humanity once took over many galaxies, building a mighty empire, but the aliens rebelled, scattering the remaining humans across the universe. The location of Earth is long forgotten, but humans are kept as ceremonial advisors by planetary rulers, due to their reputation as conquerors. The rulers themselves don’t seem to respect their human advisors, so the views of the common alien must not mesh with those who rule them.
A couple of humans go in search of the Holy Grail of the future, the Chalice of Death (or Chalice of Life, depending on the alien translating). It takes the humans almost a full week in a library to locate the long-lost planet Earth, and when they travel there, their landing location randomly happens to be within a mile of the Chalice.
Orphans of the Void by Lloyd Biggle Jr. (1960) Someone has written a song that makes people want to go home. The government tries to stamp out the song, arresting and killing people who spread it, but people everywhere are packing up and heading to their home planets. The main character is one of those people with a problem: he was forcibly taken from his parents on a backwater world as a child, to be given to a childless couple in the capital. He’s all agitated wanting to go home, but doesn’t know where that is. So, he threatens some government officials with a gun, then kidnaps a government minister and accidentally kills him with an overdose of truth serum. I’m not normally into symbolism, but the government guy who dies before telling the truth…. Anyway, I think the main character finally gets home after running around bribing and threatening lower officials in the colonies.
Down to the Worlds of Men by Alexei Panshin (1963) The setting of this story only contains 112 low-tech colony worlds, settled before Sol system was destroyed in a human-on-human war. There are twelve starships that travel around trading, and they are resented by the colonies for not sharing all of their tech. In a Darwinian attempt to keep the starships’ population strong, all 14-year-olds are dropped onto one of the colonies, where they have to survive on their own for one month. The story covers a girl trying to survive this.
Ministry of Disturbance by H. Beam Piper (1958) A bored emperor faces a military coup – with a twist. Some parts of the story are silly, but others might make you think about the life of an emperor.
Blind Alley by Isaac Asimov (1945) A government bureaucrat pulls a fast one. The story contends that bureaucracy is good, as stupid/evil bureaucrats will be stopped by the system, while smart/good bureaucrats will find ways to work around it. My thoughts on bureaucracy are the exact opposite.
A Planet Named Shayol by Cordwainer Smith (1961) I saw neither a connection to the theme of the anthology, nor a point to the story. A criminal is sent to a prison planet, where micro-organisms cause the prisoners to grow extra body parts, which are cut off and shipped out as spare parts or something. Then, some super-powerful woman finds out about it and rescues them all.
Diabologic by Eric Frank Russell (1955) A human scout sets down on an alien planet for first contact. At first, he’s annoying because he’s intentionally arrogant in an attempt to establish superiority. Later, he gets more annoying by spouting grade-school logic puzzles at the aliens. The logic puzzles blow the aliens’ minds, for some reason.
Fighting Philosopher by EB Cole (1954) The story opens with an entire spacefaring civilization being obliterated by a Federation fleet. The fleet’s commander comes up with a new plan: to influence new civilizations before they become warlike and threatening. They do this by kidnapping the civilizations’ leaders and brainwashing them, as well as brainwashing their own citizens who don’t behave. Everything is happy. The End. Seriously, I didn’t get any dystopian vibe from this at all, or any sense that the author has any reservations about brainwashing.
Honorable Enemies by Poul Anderson (1951) An espionage story that mentions galactic empires a few times, but doesn’t do anything with them. This could have been a fantasy story discussing kingdoms on the same continent.
I decided to post this review in January because it’s a nice follow-up to my galactic empire setting series, and because January has been declared Vintage Sci-Fi Month. January is a busy time for me at work (the galactic empire articles were pre-written), so I’m not sure how many more classic sci-fi stories I’ll review this month. I have an Arthur C Clarke novel I’d like to review, but I may not have time for it until March. I hope I’ll at least have time to review volume 1 of the Classic Science Fiction audiobooks.
Leave comments below about the stories in this collection, or any general thoughts about modern galactic empires vs. old-school intergalactic empires.