The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Berserkers And Other Stories

Posted on | January 22, 2015 | 25 Comments

— compiled by Wombat-socho

In his foreword to Keith Laumer’s Future Imperfect, Joel Rosenberg* praised Laumer and the other authors who may not have won any awards, but nonetheless did a good job of delivering entertaining stories of great adventure starring determined heroes. They often created characters and concepts that long outlived them – in Laumer’s case, the two-fisted diplomat Jame Retief and the solidly loyal cybertanks known as the Bolo Combat Units.

Fred Saberhagen was one of those authors. Long before James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise faced down The Doomsday Machine, Fred began the saga of the Berserkers, self-replicating space fortresses designed to eradicate all life in the galaxy, with the stories “Without A Thought” and “Goodlife” in 1963. As the series expanded to nine novels and five anthologies (not counting six omnibuses of previously collected stories) covering the centuries-long war of humanity and its alien allies against the implacable death machines, there’s not as much plot continuity as there is in most other series, but that’s okay – this is a series that can be picked up and enjoyed pretty much anywhere along the line. I personally recommend the first collection, Berserker, which includes all of the early stories from the 1960s, and the collaborative novel Berserker Base, which is essentially a fix-up novel combining stories by Connie Willis, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Roger Zelazny and others with interstitial material by Saberhagen that pulls it all together.

Saberhagen’s other great contribution to the field is Empire of the East, a tale of a future earth where technology is forgotten, magic rules, and the peasant Duncan’s quest for the legendary Elephant may determine whether or not the West’s ember of resistance to the evil Empire will flicker out or explode into an all-consuming flame. Despite the plot summary, this isn’t actually a fantasy, as you’ll see. Originally published in three parts as The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains, and Changeling Earth (also known as Ardneh’s World), the book gave rise to a later series set in the same world, the Books of the Swords. These are available on Kindle (see The First Book of Swords) but apparently have severe typos and punctuation errors; you might be better off with the hardback omnibus The Complete Book of Swords.

In addition to these, Saberhagen also had a series of vampire novels told from Dracula’s point of view, and about a dozen other novels that didn’t fit into any of these series; one of them, Love Conquers All, describes an America in which social mores have become inverted, mere romance and affection outlawed, and sex made mandatory. I remember being rather shocked by it when it originally saw print in the late lamented Galaxy back in 1974, but it seems almost prescient now.

On my “must buy and read” list is Roy Griffis’ The Big Bang, which has been described elsewhere as “Red Dawn with Chinese and Jihadis”. There’s a prequel, “The Fire This Time”, at Liberty Island, and an excerpt at National Review Online, of all places. Looks very promising.

Finally, on the off chance that you don’t read The International Lord of Hate’s blog but enjoy giving wedgies to the SJW crowd, Sad Puppies 3 is underway, spearheaded this year by new inductee to the Evil League of Evil Brad Torgerson. Want to cut right to the chase and see how the wedgies are administered? Look no further. However, you should read all of Brad’s Sad Puppies posts anyway, just like you should be reading Milo Yiannopoulos on #GamerGate. It’s all part of the culture war, and we’re all soldiers. Fortunately, we can win this one from the comfort of our computer desks and La-Z-Boys. 🙂

*No mean wordsmith in his own right, mind you.

Shop Amazon – Kindle Paperwhite – For Reading, Tablets Can’t Compete


25 Responses to “Berserkers And Other Stories”

  1. John Rose
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

    I’d love to see what a decent director could do with Empire of The East. Som the Dead, Draffut the Beastlord… Man o man…

  2. CrustyB
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

    I read the middle(?) book “Berserker’s Planet” but not the other ones.

    I remember my dad telling me about Saberhagen’s “The Dracula Tape”. When “Interview With The Vampire” came out I thought that’s what it was based on.

  3. Shawn Smith
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 9:11 pm

    I enjoyed Sabarhagen’s books quite a bit, and the worlds and magic he creates in The Empire of the East through The Books of Lost Swords are fascinating. Unfortunately, he was never very good at creating memorable characters. I would really love to see what a writer like Orson Scott Card or Brandon Sanderson would do with the Twelve Swords.

  4. Wombat_socho
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 10:42 pm

    Johann Karlsen and Admiral Hemphill would like a word with you.

  5. Wombat_socho
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 10:43 pm

    It would be an epic movie in every sense of the word.

  6. Wombat_socho
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 10:44 pm

    It’s actually one of the earlier books, chronologically and in published sequence. Me, I actually prefer the short stories – they’re uneven, but the early ones that set the stage for the grand sweep of the series are quite something.

  7. Jim R
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 10:48 pm

    Ah, the Retief stories, Laumer’s delightfully amusing middle finger to the pencil-pushers at the State Dept! And how prescient Laumer was with the short story “Native Intelligence”, where the entire white / gray collar class of a planet, tired of working for the benefit of a pack of welfare deadbeats, goes Galt.

    Good times, good times.

  8. Gospace
    January 22nd, 2015 @ 11:36 pm

    There are two universal explanations of the Fermi Paradox. First is, God (Or the Great Ghu or random chance) created us, and only us, and the universe is our playground. The second is- Berserkers are real. Which would make Saberhagen a Prophet, not just a writer.

  9. Wombat_socho
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 12:04 am

    Hope they don’t show up before we have the c-plus cannons ready.

  10. Shawn Smith
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 12:21 am

    I suspect our best bet would be to try to create a computer virus, actually. Of course, this would first require capturing enough of their computers to have some of our best IT people reverse engineer their programming & create malicious code, but I think it would have a real chance of working, especially if we could make it contagious.

  11. jdb1972
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 1:22 am

    The Book of Swords series was ruined by the worst ending to a series I’ve ever seen. I have to think Saberhagen either suddenly decided to quit writing the series mid-book or had some personal/health issues that caused them to bring in the world’s worst ghost-writer mid-book.

  12. Julie Pascal
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 1:25 am

    I think that the most obvious explanation of the Fermi Paradox is… math doesn’t mean sh*t until it becomes engineering. (Excuse the language.)

  13. Fail Burton
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 4:46 am

    Laumer and Saberhagen is not where I’d stand and fight. I like many of the Berserker stories well enough but they don’t really rise to that level of really good SF, although one can argue the earlier ones looked better in their day. One of those novels is a recreation of the Battle of Midway down to using the same fighter plane designations in one of SF’s all-time greatest acts of senseless stupidity.

    After years of seeing the name I finally gave Retief a shot and found it almost unreadable. On an off-note the same thing happened when I tried to read The Rowan by Anne McCaffery. That surprised me given the existence of a groundbreaking bit of great artistry like “Weyr Search.” I don’t know there are actually any SF authors unfairly stuck in a second-tier reputation. I think there are some individual novels that have been unfairly glided over and died without a trace. In my opinion The War for Eternity and The Black Ship (one novel actually) by Christopher Rowley are better SF than anything I’ve read by Saberhagen, and it’s fairly military SF. I usually don’t like W. Michael Gear but he hit his stride in the Forbidden Borders space opera trilogy. Again, a lot of military stuff.

  14. SPQR9
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 7:46 am

    I miss Joel Rosenberg, a lot.

  15. Wombat_socho
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 11:50 am

    I made no claim that either writer was unfairly stuck with a second-tier reputation. I merely said that they won no awards but still turned out quite a bit of decent SF. YMMV, obviously.

  16. Fail Burton
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

    I’m trying to think of someone who at least occasionally wrote something that had that extra something but was ignored and I can’t off the top of my head. There’s a lot of “almost there”-type authors. Harry Harrison is one who seemed to have near-brushes with crossing that barrier and presenting some true poignancy. That’s so of the first couple of Benford’s big SF series. Generally speaking I think the hierarchy has shook out pretty fairly. SF used to be kinda like a museum with a lot of curators constantly overseeing our education. I think that’s all gone now, most prominently with editors. Most important SF novels had already been edited by a magazine editor before hardcover. Frankly the magazine editors were more on top of the genre game.

  17. Wombat_socho
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

    Agree that editors like Campbell, Bova, Baen (in his short tenure at Galaxy and If before they went under), Horace Gold and others were certainly more in touch with what fans wanted than editors today, and they are badly missed.
    Also agree that Harrison was a good solid second-tier writer in the genre; I’m particularly fond of the Deathworld trilogy.

  18. Wombat_socho
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 3:28 pm

    I should also point out that Laumer’s writing suffered badly after his 1971 stroke, and if you picked up something he finished after that (the regrettable Zone Yellow, for example) you weren’t getting the real deal, much like Heinlein’s “seniles” were a fun-house mirror distortion of his greater, earlier works.

  19. Ruy Diaz
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 5:08 pm

    If it reads like fantasy it is fantasy. Empire of the East is fantasy, despite the background story.

  20. Ruy Diaz
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

    Well, there is also the ‘speed of light is really absolute’, and ‘fusion is hard’, in which case the Universe could be teeming with intelligent life, all unable to travel between the stars.

  21. Ruy Diaz
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

    The two heroes of ‘Empire of the East’–Rolf and Chup–may disagree. Hell, Charmione is a pretty memorable bad girl too.

  22. Shawn Smith
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 5:38 pm

    I’m glad that apparently other people find these characters memorable, but I’ve never emotionally invested in any of them. I enjoy his stories and world creation, don’t get me wrong, but the characters have always seemed flat.

  23. Fail Burton
    January 23rd, 2015 @ 7:41 pm

    I honestly don’t remember what it was, but I’m the type to start at the beginning so it was probably the first of the Retief series.

  24. FMJRA 2.0: Rip & Tear : The Other McCain
    January 24th, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

    […] Berserkers And Other Stories Batshit Crazy News […]

  25. SDN
    January 24th, 2015 @ 10:01 pm

    Saberhagen’s Dracula books were arguably the opening entries in the “romantic vampire” genre, the other contender being Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count St Germain. Incidentally, Ms Yarbro has taken the Count into full Lefty moonbat mode; the latest installment had him helping people escape Joe McCarthy and HUAC.

    The whole “romantic vampire” genre reached its’ nadir with the Twilight books / movies, best summed up by Larry Correia: “The only time a vampire should sparkle is when he’s on fire.”