Alpha Centauri or Die!

PDF-file by Leigh Brackett

Alpha Centauri or Die! PDF ebook download In the far future, mankind’s space travel has been overtaken by robots. Mankind itself is too unpredictable and warlike to be left to its own devices, and so the government holds a monopoly on space travel with its robot spaceships. (Other forms of oppression may exist, who knows; this part felt so very ’50s in its “humanity’s manifest destiny unchained” plot.) Former starship pilot Kirby, and his Martian wife Shari, lead a bunch of other people in an uprising: they’re crammed aboard an old tramp freighter, the Lucy B. Davenport, blast off from Mars, and set out to run the robot-ship blockades. Their goal is Alpha Centauri: a robot probe found the planet to be habitable and Earth-like, facts suppressed by the government. Possibly for a reason: after a harrowing pursuit and escape, and a five-year voyage to Alpha Centauri, the ship of refugees finds the planet to be inhabited by a strange species of psi-wielding creatures which can teleport matter…

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.)

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