Susan K. Putney, Against Arcturus (Ace, 1972)
[originally posted 7Jan2002]
Not being much of a hard sci-fi fan, I’d probably never have picked this up were it not the flip-side of the Ace double containing Dean Koontz’ long out-of-print Time Thieves. It’s the story of an Earth activist who’s tagged for a subversion mission on a small planet off in the galaxy a ways. Seems that when Earth got overpopulated, humans set out for other planets to colonize, and now those planets are rival factions. The Arcturans are humans, too, but an offshoot who’s presently at war with Earth. The small planet in question is resource-rich and quite desirable to both sides. Arcturus in presently in control, and Earth wants to be. Pretty standard sci-fi stuff.
The “pretty standard” designation continues with the terminology used—why is it that sci-fi novelists from Wells all the way up to William Gibson feel the need to create a “sci-fi atmosphere” by using unintelligible terminology for everyday things, and creating artifacts like videophones?—but thankfully there’s at least halfway decent character development happening here, and the reader will (eventually) get involved enough with the characters to care what’s going on. Far more interesting than the main plot is a subplot involving the planet’s native race, who seem to have strong beliefs that simply aren’t true (strong enough to keep repeating the same info under hypnosis and truth drugs); while the end of the book is somewhat predictable (especially given the timeframe in which it was written), the climax of that particular subplot is what leads the book into predictability, and that climax is at least worth the
price of admission– or was when paperbacks cost less than a buck (as this one did).
Not something worth hunting down for the years it’ll take you to find a copy at the proper price point, and not worth buying as much more than an investment (after all, the Dean Koontz side of the double is worth a small mint in your find it in the right condition), but if you happen to stumble upon a copy, flip it over after you’re done with Dean. **