* to steal from Monty Python
The band: Apocalyptica The covers: Metallica
Hang on to your butts, folks! Here comes Headbanging with cellos!
finally, this one’s for you, Charles. I hope you haven’t seen these boys before. You’ll love them!
My selection this week dips back into science fiction’s past again with one from one of the early masters, Edmond Hamilton. THE STAR KINGS was published in 1949, the year I was born.
A young accountant for an insurance firm, John Gordon thought he was going crazy at first, hearing voices inside of his head. Just as he was in the early stages of sleep, a voice would clearly call out his name and ask if he could hear him. Putting it off as dreams, it happens several nights running.
Half asleep, he thinks, “Who are you?”
He gets an answer. Zarth An, scientist and prince of the Mid-Galactic Empire, speaking from two hundred thousand years in the future. Still not convinced it is anything more than a dream, it is explained that Zarth likes to explore the past by temporarily exchanging bodies with a device he and another scientist had invented. 1949 is the farthest back his quests have reached.
Finally convinced, he agrees, switchs bodies and wakes up in the future to meet Vel Quen, a white haired old man who starts teaching him the language and history with thought-spools(rolls of tape with recordings; reel-to-reel?).
That’s when he learns that Zarth An’s father is king of the Mid-Galactic Empire, one of a large group of star systems, human and alien, in the universe. Just a few weeks in, An’s laboratory in the Himalayas is attacked by a ship of Cloud-men, members of The League of Dark Worlds, the Empire’s chief rival in this far flung future.
Old Quen is killed and Gordon taken prisoner. Trying to take him secretly out, the ship is intercepted by an Empire cruiser and Gordon is freed. All of a sudden, he’s light years away from Earth on the planet Canopus, capital of the Empire, and no one in this future knows he’s not really Zarth An, second son of Arn Abbas. Who would believe THAT story anyway?
Here’s where things start to get complicated. Gordon finds that he, Zarth An, is about to be married to the Princess Lianna, a political arrangement to cement an alliance. He also learns he already has a wife, a monastic, who the real Zarth loves.
The League of Dark Worlds is threatening war, the only thing holding them back is The Disruptor, an ancient weapon that was used to defeat an alien race thousands of years ago, a weapon so terrible that it hasn’t been tried since. Only the rulers of the Empire, the king and his two sons, Zarth and Jahl, know the secret that makes it work.
In short order, evidence turns up that makes Zarth look like he’s allied himself to the Dark Worlds. Arrested and thrown in jail by his own father, later that night he’s being broken out by his “political” wife and others that believe in his innocence. It’s all a trick, though, as his father is murdered and traitors make it look he’s the assassin.
Now Gordon and Lianna are prisoners of the Dark Worlds, who want the secret of The Disruptor. What is he to do? He can’t give it to them, even if he wanted. He’s got to escape, find and get back to Earth, switch bodies with Zarth somehow, all the while knowing he’s on the run from everybody. And do all that before the systems destroy each other in a war. He falls in love with Princess Lianna to further complicate matters.
How Gordon manages all that makes for a fun little book. It is easily available in several versions, the nicest a handsome volume, STARK AND THE STAR KINGS, that packages the novel with some of Hamilton’s wife, Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark stories, and the title story by them both. Various used copies of several editions have a range of prices, some quite reasonable.
Worth checking out for lovers of the old pulp fiction.