James Davis Nicoll on Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space

James Davis Nicoll on Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space

Crashing Suns (Ace, 1965), A Matter of Oaths (Questar, 1990), and The Prefect (Ace Books, 2009).
Covers by Ed Valigursky, Martin Andrews, and Chris Moore

What’s better than thrilling stories of patrolling space?? (No need to email an answer; it’s a rhetorical question. And the answer is “nuthin'”).

Mind you, I’d be hard pressed to cite actual examples. Star Trek books maybe? EC Comics Weird Science, naturally. After that, I got nothing.

Fortunately James Nicoll reads a lot more than I do. Over at Tor.com he’s posted a fun little article titled Five Thrilling SF Stories About Patrolling Space, which includes classics like Edmond Hamilton’s Crashing Suns, but also more modern titles I was totally ignorant of. Here’s his take on Helen S. Wright’s sole SF novel A Matter of Oaths:

There are but three powers of note — the Old Empire and the New Empire, both ruled by their respective immortal emperors, as well as the Guild of Webbers that supplies both sides with starship crews — but the simmering conflict between empires, not to mention basic human cussedness, means an endless need for the services of patrolships like Bhattya to deal with raiders and the like. Being short-staffed, Bhattya’s Commander Rallya grudgingly hires Rafe. Rafe’s service record and qualifications are exemplary… enough so that Rallya is forced to overlook the alarming fact that Rafe was previously mind-wiped for reasons unrecorded. It is only once Rafe is a member of the crew that Rallya belatedly becomes aware of a fact that would have been nice to know before Rafe came on board: someone appears to want Rafe dead and to achieve this goal, they are quite willing to sacrifice everyone in Rafe’s vicinity. Including the crew of the Bhattya.

That definitely sounds like something I shouldn’t have overlooked three decades ago. Here’s the back covers for all three books above.

Back covers for Crashing Suns, A Matter of Oaths, and The Prefect

Well, this gives me a few new titles to track down. It might be a little tough to find a 30-year old Questar paperback (except for those who have access to the underground paperback bootlegger network run by James Nicoll and Rich Horton). Fortunately for the rest of us, Bloomsbury Caravel re-released A Matter of Oaths as a handsome trade paperback in 2017; that edition is a little easier to find.

A Matter of Oaths (Bloomsbury Caravel, 2017). Cover uncredited.

Here’s the complete details on all three books above.

Crashing Suns (Ace Books, 192 pages, 40 cents, 1965) — cover by Ed Valigursky
A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright (Questar, 234 pages, $4.50, July 1990) — cover by Martin Andrews
The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds (Ace Books, 563 pages, $8.99, June 2009) — cover by Chris Moore

Read James’ article at Tor.com, and check out his contributions to Black Gate here.

See all our Book coverage here.

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Thomas Parker

I love Crashing Suns (what a title!) – it’s old-time space opera distilled to its essence. The stories are a little repetitious, it’s true, but space your reading out a bit and it’s not much of a problem.


Note that “The Prefect” was re-issued as “Aurora Rising” to fit in better with Reynolds’ planned Prefect Dreyfus Emergency series. The follow on novel is “Elysium Fire”.

[…] Over at Black Gate Magazine, James Davis Nicoll has fantastic suggestions for Vintage Science Fiction about Patrolling Space […]

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