I have a rather long list of things that I haven’t read, but am always on the lookout for. Recently I ran across a battered collection of the first four Necroscopes. I picked them up for a song, and got ready to cross a few good reads off my list. The Necroscope series, by Brian Lumley has a large “cult” following. Necroscope fans are rabid, almost as bad as Ringworld geeks. For whatever reason, I just never had the chance to read any of the stories, even though they’ve been recommended to me many times. The Necroscope is Harry Keogh, a young Englishman who has a rather peculiar talent. He can speak to the dead. And I don’t mean using a crystal ball and a silly gown. He can carry on a conversation with anyone who has ever died. In fact, that’s one of the major metaphysical conjectures of the novel, that nothing happens after you die, you just sort of go on but without a body. Leaving that aside, Harry is able to learn from the dead, and he uses their expertise to teach himself self defense, languages, mathematics, etc… So, OK, a good concept, enough to draw me in for a good read. The problem is, it just isn’t that good.Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, it just didn’t excite me. One of the biggest failings with Necroscope was that it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. There were lots of attempts at horror, with walking corpses and even some vampire shenanigans, but there was also a lot of science fiction. For instance, Harry contacts August Mobius (creator of the strip that bears his name) and learns a branch of higher math that allows him to manipulate space-time. There’s also the metaphysical aspect in that the dead just lie in their graves and think, frankly they get lonely and they love Harry for the comfort that he brings them.
Aside from all of that, the writing is that typically British, late 70s type of prose. If you’ve ever read any early Frederick Forsythe, then you know what I mean. It’s as if the whole thing is written as a sort of police blotter version of events. The British people that I know don’t actually talk that way, and it’s off-putting. Anyway, for a yard sale find, I could have done much worse. However, I’m not going to waste my time with the rest of the series. I’m actually a bit disappointed, as I’m always ready to latch on to a new series, but it just didn’t happen with Necroscope.
OK, 2 points to anyone who knows where the title quote comes from. Any Sci-Fi commando worth his waldoes should know that one. In any case, I’m right in the middle of a re-read of David Weber & Steve White’s “The Stars at War”, and it’s a rocking good read. An omnibus edition containing two great novels, “Insurrection” and “In Death Ground”, “The Stars at War” follows an ensemble cast through two Interstellar wars. Weber is a master of space combat, as those of you who’ve read the Honor Harrington series know, and Steve White knows what he’s doing as well.
Without going into a complete synopsis of the two stories, suffice it to say that they’re both about virtually unstoppable alien warmonger’s who invade human space. After suffering initial setbacks, mainly caused by self serving politicians and liberal fascists, the honor, courage & commitment of the human armed forces saves the day.
I tend to go through cycles of reading material, moving from hard sci-fi to fantasy, to military fiction, and back. “The Stars at War” falls squarely in the military sci-fi camp, although it tends to have deeper levels of meaning. But that’s the great thing about really good science fiction, even in an old fashioned space opera, with the ray guns blasting and the warp drives singing, there’s something that makes you think about what it means to be human. And I don’t mean in the biological sense. I’m talking about the Terentius, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, sense here. With all of the diversity around us, the major differences in culture, religion, thought, philosophy, we all have the same hopes and dreams. A better life for our children, freedom from pain and suffering, the chance to find love, the pursuit of happiness… And some of us have had to (or are willing to) fight for those things. Creating a universe where we can explore what would happen if we all pulled together against the real enemies out there is the truest function of science fiction. It shows us an idealized mirror where our defining characteristic is not that we’re Jews or Christian or White or African, but that we’re human, that we’re people, and it let’s us imagine what might happen if we could put aside our differences and work together. Maybe that will happen someday when and if we finally do find that we’re not alone in the universe, or maybe it will remain a pipe dream, but I love Weber & White for making me think about it.