Review: Star Pilot Grainger 6 Books - Brian Stableford

Author : Brian Stableford
Collection: Star Pilot Grainger
Books and pages: 1. The Halycyon Drift (162) 2. Rhapsody in Black (157) 3. Promise Land (160) 4. The Paradise Game (158) 5. The Fenris Device (156) 6. Swan Song (158)
Year : 1972 to 1976

These books were a surprise. I try to read another book by Stableford and I thought to be quite boring. Then I stopped and start to read this ones and I devoured them. Afterwards I start reading the book I was reading before and this time I thought it was better (far from this six books)

The books and notes I will are:

1. The Halycyon Drift - 30/06/2008 to 03/07/2008 - Note 8/10
2. Rhapsody in Black - 04/07/2008 to 06/07/2008 - Note 8/10
3. Promise Land - 07/07/2008 to 09/07/2008 - Note 9/10
4. The Paradise Game - 10/07/2008 to 15/07/2008 - Note 7/10
5. The Fenris Device - 17/07/2008 to 19/07/2008 - Note 7/10
6. Swan Song - 20/07/2008 to 23/07/2008 - Note 8/10

This series gives us the insight on the life of Pilot Grainger and the Crew of the fable “Hooded Swan” (Another name for the fable Dodo).
Grainger crashed his previous ship on a empty planet. He got rescued but picked up an intelligent mental paradise that he baptized “Wind” with which he has a hard time getting along as he feels his body invaded. The “Wind” plays as his conscience, or another conscience. The rescue turns out to be worse because he ends up a two year slave of a man of power called Titus Charlot. This six books describe missions of the Hooded Swan. All books have also several others plots… The discussions between the Wind and Grainger, whether he is more benefit than a threat, the attrition between Charlot and Grainger and the strange biology on the planets they visit. (Probably due to Stableford being one.)

Some people says that this are not his best novels written by him… I’ve got more than fifteen books written by him, including some with a pen name of Brian Craig. So far I am impressed. The humor, the intense study of the motives that make humans do what they do, the fights between Grainger and Wind and the biological information (even if not overly abused).

These are not SF like most books being published noawadays. That’s what I like in Daw books, like this one.

This first book the the characters are introduced, the unique (or not) ship is described, the politics of the future world is outlined, and then the first mission is pulled through. This makes the book rather condensed, as are most of the later ones, reflecting somewhat the character of Grainger, who is not the guy who loves idle talk. All novels spent a lot of time explaining what are the motives and characters of the people in them. The speed of the novel is changing and one time we are in a middle of the action and another we are contemplating the motives of certain humans beings or the aspects of some fascinating plant or civilization. Almost all fighting are between humans, there are no monsters in the novels.

We can contemplate that this six books have features of Space Opera and Planetary Romance. It’s narrated in the first person (Grainger). He is acerbic, sarcastic and generally disagreeable on principle, attempting to keep himself isolated from others whenever possible. Grainger is sometimes an unreliable narrator with respect of his own feelings and motivations (that’s one difference between this first person book and others I’ve read along the years.) To even this unreliable narrator we have the Wind, the alien symbiote, that knows everything Grainger knows and even his own feelings.Grainger can also know all of the Wind memories but he chooses not to.
Grainger is a pacifist , one of the few lead characters in SF, and making more unique is that he is also considered an anti-hero

The Major characters are
Grainger: Narrator, a well-known independent space pilot and trader, and expert in alien environments.
The Wind: Alien mind symbiote sharing the mind, thoughts, and senses of Grainger.
Titus Charlot: Leader of the team that designed of the Hooded Swan, and a scientist from New Alexandria.
Nick delArco: Shipbuilder and Captain of the Hooded Swan.
Eve Lapthorn: Back-up pilot of the Hooded Swan and pilot of the Sister Swan. Sister of Grainger's dead partner and engineer Michael Lapthorn.
Johnny Socoro: Initially back-up engineer of the Hooded Swan, promoted to primary engineer at the end of Halcyon Drift.
Rothgar: First engineer of the Hooded Swan. He resigns at the end of Halcyon Drift, but later signs on as the engineer of the Sister Swan.
Denton: A police officer on New Alexandria, employed by Charlot on the side. He and Grainger become friends.

The Ship is called the Hooded Swan. The Hooded Swan is a creation of New Alexandria, a fusion of design principles from both human and Khormon sciences. It was built by Nick delArco, who also serves as the captain, under the direction of Titus Charlot and two other New Alexandrians. The Hooded Swan is the fastest known starship in existence, matched perhaps only by the Sister Swan (which has the same design). It can achieve speeds of fifty thousand times the speed of light in clear space, and can turn at twenty thousand, whereas most ships have difficulty turning at all. This is in large part due to the design of the ship, which is flexible and jointed; more like a bird than a traditional rocket or spaceship. Like most ships in this fictional universe, the Swan is piloted with the aid of a mind-machine interface. The Swan's interface, however, is more advanced than that of any other ship (save perhaps the Sister Swan), truly allowing the pilot to fly the ship as though it was an extension of his own body and to use the ship's sensors as though they were his own senses.

Now the plots/reviews in the books… (With the Help of several websites)

Halcyon Drift (1972)
The story begins with Grainger marooned alone on a desolated planet on the fringe of a area called Halcyon Drift. When the ship fell it killed his partner Michael Lapthorn. Grainger managed to survive for two years but during his stay he has been invaded by an alien mind symbiote (although he considers it a parasite) which was similarly stranded on the planet when its previous host died there.
A ship searching for the Lost Star a famous lost vessel hidden somewhere in the Halcyon Drift picks a distress call and rescues him. He then goes to court where they made him pay a heavy salvage fee against him and future earnings. He visits Lapthorn’s family and its sister suggests that she might get him a job. He stays with Johnny and aftewarads he is approached by Nick delArco with a offer. He wants him to fly the fastest ship built on missions for the planet New Alexandria for a period of two years and it’s debt will be pay off. He then learns that the first mission is to fly through Halcyon Drift to recover the Lost Star. Wind helps Grainger to take the job. Johnny goes as part of t he deal.
Grainger learns that the man behind the project is someone he's worked for before, a scientist named Titus Charlot. Charlot has grand goals of uniting the galaxy through the sharing of knowledge. Grainger dismisses him as insane, although the wind appreciates his aims.
On a world just outside of the Drift, Grainger encounters an old friend, an alien (Khormon) trader named Alachakh. He is nearing the end of his life, and for personal reasons wants to find the Lost Star before he dies, but fears that the Hooded Swan will beat him to it. He proposes an arrangement with Grainger. He has acquired the location of the ship, and will lead the Hooded Swan to it. In exchange, Grainger would allow him one day with the ship and its cargo. After that, Grainger can have both the ship and the credit. Grainger agrees, despite that the Hooded Swan should be able to outrun Alachakh's ship.
The Hooded Swan follows the Hymnia (Alachakh’s ship) into the Drift but the trip is extremely dangerous. The Hymnia is damaged and stops moving, and Grainger insists on rendezvousing. On Hymnia he learns that the two on board were dead, and receives a message from Alachakh explaining why he wanted the Lost Star. It seems that the Khor-Monsa originated on another planet, called Myastrid, lost to history. As a matter of pride, the Khor-Monsa do not want anyone to know this, and have kept the secret even from most of their own population. It's believed the Lost Star visited Myastrid just before it crashed, and its cargo would contain evidence of Myastrid. Alachakh wants to destroy the evidence, to keep this one secret.
The Lost Star is located on a world in a particularly dangerous part of the Drift, and landing is too much for Grainger. He blacks out, and wakes to learn that the wind took control and landed the ship. The wind, who had always claimed that it could not force Grainger to do anything against his will, claims that this is still true, but admits that he can take over when Grainger has given up control. He insists he would only do so in an emergency or at Grainger's own request.
Grainger, delArco, and Johnny cross the planet in an armored vehicle, observing the strange biosphere that has evolved on the world, but there comes a point delArco and Grainger must proceed on foot. Grainger contrives to lose delArco and get to the ship first, intending to destroy the cargo, but when that fails, he manages to convince delArco of the righteousness of his goal without revealing the secret. The two destroy the cargo and tamper with the evidence, and claim that the Lost Star had no cargo.
On the way home, Caradoc ships attempt to destroy the Hooded Swan in an effort to prevent them from returning with the credit and glory of reaching the Lost Star, but Grainger's piloting manages to save the ship, and they escape. The Caradoc vessels fall victim to their own attack.

The second "Rhapsody in Black" beings with Grainger shuttles Charlot and some passengers to the planet Rhapsody, an isolated religious community constructed entirely below-ground on a world too close to the parent star, because something valuable has been discovered there, and Charlot wants to negotiate for it. There, the crew is imprisoned upon arrival, but he and a few of the others escape.Grainger learns what's so valuable: there's a naturally occurring organism that just happens to be able to eat through the most common building material in the galaxy, and reproduces extremely rapidly given even moderate light. It could be extremely valuable, and it could also be a scourge to civilization, literally eating cities. Grainger later learns that the cave is worthless after all. The closed ecosystem of the cave was so stable that it couldn't handle the appearance of humans. All samples in the cave will be dead in a matter of days, no matter how many times they divide. The Hooded Swan leaves, ferrying the exiles to a new world.

The next book "Promise Land" starts with Grainger "borrows" a car and accidentally runs into a little girl who's escaped from a colony of alien Anacaona on New Alexandria. He learns things about her and her kind. Aftewards she his kidnapped and the Hooded Swan flies to Chao Phrya, a world settled by a human generation ship, the Zodiac, whose descendants now believe it is their promised land, despite the presence of the Anacaona. The kidnappers manage to land illegally in the jungle before Charlot can get permission from the uncooperative locals, who eventually agree to let the Hooded Swan land. Charlot chooses Grainger and Eve to join the local search party, which consists of two humans, Max and Linda, and three Anacaona, Danel, Michael, and Merce. As they travel, Grainger discovers that the Anacaona have minds adaptable to an almost absurd degree, and create completely human personalities simply to interact with humans. He also learns the rumor that the kidnapped girl is an Idris, a false god of Anacaona mythology, which Grainger suspects means an earlier starfaring race that created the Anacaona. The Anacaona on the search team start to take sick in the jungle, and through a series of mishaps, the group is quickly separated. After some adventures they meet the kidnapper, who reveals that the girl is in fact an Idris, artificially created by Charlot who wanted a bridge to help him understand the Anacaona. The Anacaona felt they needed to expose the Anacaona people to Idris-ness, before she became polluted with human ideas. Now that that has been accomplished, Grainger and Eve are free to take the child back to the colony. The Anacaona remain far from understandable.

The fourth book "The Paradise Game" beings with the Hooded Swan is on the planet Pharos, so that Charlot can mediate a dispute between the Caradoc company and a group called Aegis. The Caradoc company found a planet and began modifying it on a large scale into Paradise, for sale to the ultra-wealthy. Unfortunately, after they had begun, they discovered the planet was already inhabited by an intelligent, though primitive race. Caradoc claims to have signed a treaty with the aliens that promises eternal cooperation with Caradoc's goals. Aegis is a public interest group trying to fight on behalf of the aliens. Grainger saves a female alien from Caradoc employees. Charlot ask for help from Grainger because he want to know how can he rid Caradoc off the planet. As Grainger investigates he learns that death seems to be completely unknown on the local life of Pharos, and that it's in complete balance. He and Charlot hypothesize that the development of a mutational filter now controls evolution there, rather than the traditional natural selection, and it has nudged the environment into complete stability. He learns that there's a secret Caradoc battleship in orbit, just waiting for justification to land, and secondly, Johnny's found a hole which contains an interesting fossil... a large predator with claws and teeth, suggesting that the world was not always so peaceful. Before Grainger can discover what this means, he learns that one of the natives has been murdered, by Varley. While the authorities take him to the Hooded Swan, Aegis, in a frustrated attempt to protest what they see as bias in Charlot's investigation, causes an explosion that destroys some of Caradoc's equipment. Varley escapes in the confusion, and, using the hunt for a fugitive as a pretext, the Caradoc troops are called down. Grainger and Eve are later caught by Varley in the woods, who demands to be turned over to the Hooded Swan, rather than Caradoc. On the way back, he dies from some unknown infection. Later, it's learned there's sickness suddenly reported by many people on the planet, although none as serious as Varley's. It's Grainger who puts it together. The mutational filter has adapted itself to humanity, and it triggers the viruses in the human body to become fatal whenever it detects violent emotion. The entire colony is quarantined and everyone has to try and reign in their emotions, and Grainger, with the help of the wind, comes up with a theory that helps Charlot develop a workable cure, although there are some deaths in the meantime.

The fifth book "The Fenris Device" begins with Grainger is ordered to attempt a difficult landing on the surface of Leucifer V, as part of a rare diplomatic request by the Gallacellans, one of the oldest known starfaring races. The planet's atmosphere is dense and extremely turbulent and even Grainger fails to land, and only barely manages to escape the atmosphere alive. While Grainger is recovering from the first attempt, they receive a distress call and Grainger goes to intercept (taking along those already aboard: Eve, Johnny, Nick, and a Gallacellan intermediary named Ecdyon)... but it turns out the distress call is a ruse by a crazy man named Maslax who is convinced he has the ability to read minds. Maslax sets a bomb on the Hooded Swan and threatens to detonate it if Grainger doesn't land on Leucifer V. Maslax wants the ancient Gallacellan ship that's been parked there, because he believes it contains an awesome weapon known as the Fenris Device. He wants to use it against the population of Pallant, as revenge for what he perceived as constant hatred and mocking for his size. Of course, everybody else knows that the Gallacellans have never used weapons, but Maslax is undeterred, claiming he read it in the mind of his former employer. The wind privately informs Grainger that, over a thousand years ago, the Gallacellans did use weapons, and had huge wars, before they decided to give up violence entirely. He knows this because, before encountering Grainger, his last host was a Gallacellan who crash-landed on Lapthorn's Grave about a thousand years ago. After an failed attempted to remove the detonator he eventually must attempt the landing, and he barely succeeds. Maslax takes Grainger, Eve, and Ecdyon in the Iron Maiden overland across the planet's surface to the location of the Gallacellan ship, only to find it's much bigger than expected, the size of a city. While trying to activate it, Maslax is startled when the artificial gravity shifts on (and shifts direction), and accidentally fires his weapon, seriously wounding Ecdyon. The group manages to activate the ship, but it's pre-programmed for a destination and begins to lift automatically. Grainger suspects it's an emigration ship, designed to take a whole population out of the galaxy. A police ship attempts to stop the vessel, but when it fires on them it's revealed that the ship does indeed have a powerful weapon... an automatic and purely defensive one, that annihilates any ship within range once it's activated... and they don't know how to turn it off. Grainger achieves to demonstrate that Maslax can't read minds and gets the weapon and detonator away from him. Unfortunately, Ecdyon is too injured to communicate with his people, and no human speaks Gallacellan... but by turning control of his body over to the wind, the wind is able to make himself understood. They are able to disable their ship and the weapon and arrange for a rescue, but in the process, Ecdyon dies. Johnny, and Nick are still down on the planet's surface, and neither of them have the ability to bring the Hooded Swan to orbit. Grainger officially quits his job, reincurring his full twenty-thousand debt. Then, he volunteers to make a difficult drop to the surface of the planet without a ship, in order to bring it back up and rescue the crew. However, he won't do it for free. He wants a salvage fee. He wants Charlot to pay off the entirety of his debt.Charlot agrees, and Grainger makes the drop and returns the Swan to the surface, and then leaves Charlot's employ to start a life of his own.

The Last Book "Swan Song" starts with Grainger is working as pilot on a small, undermaintained ship. While on a planet, he goes drinking with the engineer, Sam, and the two are approached by a man named Soulier who wants to hire Grainger. The man works for Caradoc, and wants the secrets Grainger might have learned working for Charlot. Soulier makes a series of attractive offers and veiled threats, but Grainger continues to refuse. Upon leaving the bar they're approached by thugs, hired by Soulier, and though they evade them, Sam and Grainger realize that Caradoc is going to get him one way or the other unless he flees. After being arrested for minor crimes but Denton (a police officer friend of Grainger) and have a way out. A warrant of his own to arrest Grainger for kidnapping (in the Promise Land book). Because extradition is required, Denton takes Grainger back to New Alexandria. Sam, because he's unimportant, unemployable, and Grainger owes him, tags along. At New Alexandria (after his acquittal), Grainger is approached by Johnny who tells him that Eve and Nick (and Rothgar, who was serving as their engineer) are dead. They took the Sister Swan (a second ship of the same design as the Hooded Swan) into the Nightingale Nebula, an unexplained phenomenon that Charlot believed was an interface between our universe and another, and they haven't been seen since. Grainger soon learns that Charlot believes there's a chance the ship and its crew might be alive, and wants Grainger to fly them in. He's willing to come along to prove his theory. Grainger agrees, but he doesn't like the scenario, or all the lives that would be risked. He impulsively decides to take Sam as his engineer and steal the ship and take it through the interface. The trip there is hazardous and, the ship is damaged upon entry to the other universe. Grainger also learns that Charlot's doctor was aboard when the ship was taken. However, they are able to find the Sister Swan. Grainger goes out to the other ship but the journey is complicated by the nature of the universe. The wind informs Grainger that the universe itself is a mind, and that if it manages to understand them, or vice versa, they will cease to exist, and that the danger will be greater when they are out on their own between ships. Aboard the sister ship, Grainger finds that Rothgar is dead, Nick is well and conscious, but Eve is catatonic. The wind also doubts that it will be able to survive the return journey, as it is made to interface with minds and understand them and came close on the journey there. As such, it has a last wish, that Grainger listen to the story of his its life, and remember. The wind dies on the trip back. Back at the Hooded Swan, Sam has become completely blind. With no one else qualified to perform the role of engineer, Grainger takes the job and trusts that Eve will regain herself and be able to serve as pilot once attached to the relatively undamaged, and active, Hooded Swan. When they make it home it is learned that in terms of subjective time outside the nebula, they have been gone for months, and Charlot has died of natural causes after proclaiming them all heroes.

In the end it was a compelling saga and it’s easily read. I must say that the end surprised me. It’s a melancholic end. I miss Wind.

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