It came from the Shlock Pile, also known as the to-be-read shelves.
I picked Battle for the Stars up because I didn't have another book handy. I didn't entirely expect to finish it, much less review it. Come on, it's a derivative title on a cheap paperback from a not-much-remembered author published in 1961.
But then I got to pondering about it. (If that surprises you, or sounds like massive overthinking, reread the blog description.)
Battle for the Stars wasn't state-of-the-art even for 1961. (For context, that same year saw the publication of Stranger in a Strange Land.) It takes for granted that:
- Strong-jawed men are starship commanders, secret agents, and world leaders.
- Women do things like stamp their feet and look decorative.
- The galaxy is full of "aliens" who look like mildly exotic humans (and interbreed freely).
- Small-town folk in upstate New York in the future are exactly like small-town folk in upstate New York c. 1961, with robotic tractors.
Exercise for the reader: Star Trek made its debut in 1964. In what ways is it beholden to this "consensus future," and in what ways does it deliberately react against it? Discuss.
The thing is, though, the story's not bad. Not great, not groundbreaking, not deeply moving, but also not repellent, not incoherent, not without plot. The writing is somewhat cliched in the space scenes, but in the planetary scenes it achieves an unexpected level of near-poetry (in a fashion strongly reminiscent of Clifford Simak's wonderful Way Station--published in 1963, by the way). There's a reasonably satisfying resolution which depends, not on what the protagonist can do, but on what he will do.
Battle for the Stars wouldn't be publishable today; it's naive, and science fiction has gone along way from that naivete. Unfortunately, that often means jettisoning those old hoary standbys such as "plot" and "conflict" and "protagonist". I'm not going to uphold Battle for the Stars as a neglected classic, but I will say that I've read a good deal of recent stuff that was slickly put-together, sophisticated, and basically crap.