Monday, October 24, 2005

The Stonehenge Gate/Jack Williamson

The first book I ever read by Jack Williamson was GOLDEN BLOOD, a paperback reprint of a fantasy/adventure serial originally published in the pulp WEIRD TALES. (The edition I read, for those interested in such things, was the Lancer “Easy-Eye” Edition, with larger print and that odd, light green paper. I don’t know how many of those “Easy-Eye” volumes there were, but it seemed to be an experiment that came and went fairly quickly.)

But back to Jack Williamson. After reading and enjoying GOLDEN BLOOD some forty years ago, I read all of his novels about the Legion of Space, some of the best space opera ever written. At least, that was my opinion at the time, and I’m not sure there’s a better judge of such things than a wide-eyed junior high kid like I was. In fact, I read just about all of Williamson’s work I could get my hands on and liked most of it. I even met him and enjoyed several conversations with him at a science-fiction convention more than twenty years ago. Over the years I’ve continued to read his books and have gone back to reread some of the old stuff in the
beautiful collections published by Stephen Haffner.

As discussed on this blog a few days ago, Williamson is still writing novels, the latest of which is THE STONEHENGE GATE. The most recent Williamson novel I read before this one was THE SILICON DAGGER, which I didn’t like very much. The storyline of that one just didn’t seem like a very good fit for Williamson’s talents. Not so THE STONEHENGE GATE, which is old-fashioned science fiction in the best sense of the term. Four professors discover a Stonehenge-like monument mostly buried under the sands of the Sahara Desert, but it turns out to be a gateway that sends them on a galaxy-hopping adventure. The story isn’t nearly as rollicking as that description makes it sound, however, because it takes several very dark, thought-provoking turns along the way.

A few things about the book bothered me. The plot is driven by a large coincidence, and the first third, as the heroes travel from planet to planet in the sort of travelogue-SF that was popular in the genre’s early days, moves pretty slowly. Once the characters get involved in a local rebellion on one of the planets they visit, though, the pace picks up considerably. Although it takes a while to get there, the book achieves some of that epic sense of wonder that makes the best science fiction so good and so rewarding to read, and it’s another worthy addition to Jack Williamson’s long career.

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