RogerBW's Blog

The Space Barbarians, Tom Godwin 20 June 2016

1964 science fiction, sequel to The Survivors/Space Prison. The survivors of the hell-world Ragnarok have handily won the war against the Gern, but they don't seem to be able to talk sensibly with either Earth or the former Gern-slave colony of Athena. And there's a new threat approaching…

Earth and Athena are soon forgotten, as the Ragnarokans charge off into a new fight for survival. They soon come upon a battle between two alien races, and they'll clearly need to jump in; but on which side?

This is a book with one core gimmick, and that's it: should the fighters of Ragnarok throw in with the proud high-tech humanoid Shomarians or with the sneaky telepathic felinoid Kilvarl? As presented, it's so utterly obvious a choice that the reader immediately suspects that there must be more going on, and sure enough there is. Even so, I suspect this was written in reaction to books like the Skylark series, where humans can blunder into alien conflicts and pick the right side instantly and without any risk of being wrong. By the time these humans have made up their minds, they're in a pretty poor position… though of course they come back from it and win the day.

There's also surprisingly little of, well, Ragnarok here. Yes, the telepathic "mockers" are still used to communicate over distance, but only briefly. The doglike "prowlers", while mentioned a few times, are also absent for most of the story and play no significant role when they do appear. But even the Ragnarokans' high acceleration tolerance, which gives them an overpowering advantage in space battles, rarely comes into play here; I found myself wondering whether this book was outlined as a separate story, and then got planted into the Ragnarok setting before publication.

Godwin didn't write another sequel. I wonder whether he realised that the inevitable conclusion to the series would be the people of Ragnarok taking over (weak, effete) Earth.

See also:
The Survivors, Tom Godwin

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