January is, as usual, Vintage Science Fiction month among my fellow bloggers. Also as usual, I’ve waited until almost the end of the month to join in. This year, I decided to do some reading from the Ace Doubles I purchased.
In this novella, there is a galactic empire, but there are also some lower-technology independent planets (some of which are unaware of the existence of the empire). These lower-tech planets were settled by refugees from a supernova, which was such as a big event that the empire lost track of some of the refugee colony ships.
The empire is taking a hands-off, “Prime Directive” approach to these other planets, observing them but not interfering in their development. While Star Trek’s Prime Directive seemed to have altruistic motivations, the empire’s doesn’t. The empire wants to learn lessons to interpret history and understand human nature, and also hopes one of the lower-tech planets will take some sideways branch in its technological development to discover something the empire hasn’t.
Some people from a medium-tech planet have arrived on one of the lower-tech planets to enslave the populace and force them to mine radioactive ores. The galactic empire’s secret agents want to put a stop to that monkey-business. Also, the planet has an indigenous life form basically identical to dragons from European mythology.
The story was published several years before Star Trek came out, so the idea of a high-tech galactic empire interacting with (or choosing not to interact with) lower-tech planets may have been a groundbreaking science-fiction concept at the time. Perhaps when I have some more time, I’ll do some research and see if I can find earlier examples.
The book is well-written, has a decent plot, and makes the characters interesting without long, dull, droning-on backstory flashbacks. I didn’t appreciate all the galactic characters despising and ridiculing religion. I suppose it could just be world-building, but it came across as yet another sci-fi author trying to poke his religious readers in the eye.
If you like this story, there’s more to read. From the book’s blurb at Amazon:
“Secret Agent of Terra” is the first book in Brunner’s “Zarathustra Refugee Planets” series [the other books are “Castaways’ World” (1963) and “The Repairmen of Cyclops” (1965)]. Brunner later reworked the story for his 1969 novel “The Avengers of Carrig.”