Interstellar Empires, Alien Warrior-Priests, and a Rebel Runner: R.M. Meluch’s Jerusalem Fire

Interstellar Empires, Alien Warrior-Priests, and a Rebel Runner: R.M. Meluch’s Jerusalem Fire

Jerusalem Fire-small Jerusalem Fire-back-small

I’ve been trying to pay attention to mass market paperbacks lately (since it’s easy for new releases to slip past you if you’re not paying attention.) In my last trip to the bookstore I found R.M. Meluch’s Jerusalem Fire tucked between Jack McDevitt and China Miéville on the shelves, and it had me at “A planet out of myth.” Religion, space empires, and rebel captains — always a good mix in my book.

Meluch is the author of the ongoing Tour of the Merrimack military space opera series, and this seemed like a promising new direction for her. Except it’s not a new direction at all… turns out Jerusalem Fire is her second novel, originally published in paperback by Signet in 1985. It’s been reprinted several times since.

[Click the images to embiggen.]

You know what that means…. time for a patented Black Gate vintage paperback cover survey!

Jerusalem Fire Signet 1985-small Jerusalem Fire Orbit 1986-small Jerusalem Fire Signet 1989-big

You’re welcome.

Jerusalem Fire was a 1985 paperback original from Signet, with a cover by Paul Alexander (left). It was reprinted in the UK nine months later (middle, cover artist unknown), and again in the US by Signet in 1989 (right, cover artist unknown).

The novel is still fondly remembered and discussed today. Here’s a snip from Liz Bourke’s Sleeps With Monsters column at Tor.com, from December 2012.

Jerusalem Fire. It’s odd and imperfect… But as an examination of character, of the price exacted by war on two different men, it is an excellent novel, and interesting science fiction. (I also think it falls under the heading of planetary opera, because it has some very interesting, culturally speaking, aliens…)

The Na’id, a human empire, rule the stars, or most of them. A section of humanity who’ve decided that in order to eradicate bias based on race or religion, they will force everyone to assimilate to the Na’id creed, and to interbreed in order to diffuse differences in phenotype… This has worked out just about as peacefully as you’d expect.

The novel opens with Alihahd, whose nom-de-guerre means “He left,” running from the Na’id. A pacifist, he opposes the Na’id by helping people flee from them…. The “Jerusalem Fire” of the title refers to the city of Jerusalem on Earth, symbol of resistance to the Na’id. The city whose fall broke Alihahd, although not in precisely the ways one might expect. The city whose role as a symbol of the enduring nature of human perseverance and of the futility of killing other humans in order to end strife forms the central image of this novel…

For a science fiction novel, Jerusalem Fire is very low-key, quiet and concerned with interiority, with the examination of character. Unusual in its quietude, it is, I think, also unusually successful at it, rarely ranging into the moralistic or the downright peculiar.

This has also made me curious about Tour of the Merrimack, a six volume series still in print from DAW. The first four volumes are available in omnibus paperback editions, and the last two, The Ninth Circle and The Twice and Future Caesar, are recent arrivals.

Tour of the Merrimack by R.M. Meluch-small

Jerusalem Fire was published by DAW Books on December 6, 2016. It is 375 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions. The cover is by Paul Young.

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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