I’m writing about another science fiction novel this week, although of somewhat more recent vintage than last week’s THE GIRL IN THE GOLDEN ATOM. As author Robert Silverberg explains in his introduction to the 1979 Ace reprint of CONQUERORS FROM THE DARKNESS, the story first saw life as a novella, “Spawn of the Deadly Sea”, in the April 1957 issue of the SF digest SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES. (I’d be willing to bet that at least one reader of this blog owns a copy of that particular digest magazine.) A few years later he expanded the story into a full-length novel that was published by Holt, reprinted in paperback by Dell, and then finally reprinted again by Ace in a double volume with Silverberg’s 1957 novel MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (which I’ll probably read and comment on eventually). That’s the edition I read. As far as I know, it hasn’t been reprinted since.
CONQUERORS FROM THE DARKNESS is exactly the sort of vivid, galloping action yarn that made me a science fiction fan in the first place. At first it seems like a heroic fantasy novel, set in some totally different universe than ours. The oceans cover the entire planet except for a few floating cities. The only commerce is between those cities, and keeping the seas safe for the merchant vessels is a Viking-like group known as the Sea-Lords. The hero of the novel, a young man named Dovirr, lives in one of the cities but wants to be a Sea-Lord and take to the oceans. He gets his wish and rapidly rises in the ranks, and along the way the reader learns that this is indeed Earth, a thousand years after alien invaders flooded the planet for reasons known only to them, preserving a little of humanity in those floating cities. After a while, the aliens abandoned Earth, also for reasons unknown, leaving it in a vaguely medieval state except for a few remnants of the alien technology that still works.
You’d think that that background, along with Dovirr’s life among the Sea-Lords and his ascent to a position of power among them, might be enough material for a novel, but if you’ve read many books like this, the twist about halfway through won’t come as any surprise: the alien Star Beasts return to take over the planet again, and Dovirr and his comrades have to find some way to stop them with swords and sailing ships.
I really enjoyed this book. In his introduction, Silverberg mentions reading the work of Robert E. Howard, and I can see some Howardian influence in CONQUERORS FROM THE DARKNESS, most notably in the way Dovirr manages to seize command of every situation in which he finds himself, much like Conan, and in a very Howard-like final line. The pace is fast, the writing colorful, and the inner 14-year-old in me just loved it. The adult reader in me thought some parts of the story could have been developed a little more and a little better, but hey, adult readers weren’t the target audience for this yarn in the first place. I really like a lot of Silverberg’s early SF (as well as the sort-core sleaze novels he wrote as Don Elliott), and if you want to settle back and have a fine time, I highly recommend CONQUERORS FROM THE DARKNESS.