The tension in the first section is great—evading patrols, leaving Mars, chased by robot ships—but the second half felt weaker, too noticeable a change in style: things become even more straightforward, without the tension-building techniques and literary flair of the first half. The material that used to be “Teleportress” was a weak second half. It fit into the established plot, sticking with the same characters and setup, and hearkening back to the oppressive robot-ship people, but it was jarring to go from the tension of “We must escape to Alpha C!” to the slow-burn mystery of “There’s something weird out there.” The flaws of using two novellas to make a novel: the novellas themselves have their own dramatic arc, so putting them side-by-side to make one long work feel weird. And though they’re tight, plot wise, they’re still novellas: even expanding them into a 130-page Ace Double half hardly satiates the urge for more.
To be honest, the novel is somewhat basic; Brackett’s strengths were her fantastic imagery, weird creations, and hardboiled trappings, which aren’t showcased here. It’s a straightforward science fiction adventure, without anything to set it apart or break the mold: a workmanlike concept that could use some of the wild and imaginative ideas Brackett came up for her Eric John Stark stories. That said, Alpha Centauri – Or Die! is still good. On a bad day, Brackett could outpace most of her competitors, hence why Haffner Press, Baen Books, and Paizo are reprinting her works. Hell, go read that intro quote again; it’s beautiful, almost poetic, and a solid example of the writing in “Ark.” If the plot and writing was of that consistent quality throughout, the novel would have been a knockout. Instead, it’s merely passing-grade. Worth picking up for the Brackett fan.
(Full review found here.)
eBook Alpha Centauri or Die!