Space Viking. H. Beam Piper
Originally serialized in Analog magazine, 1962-1963
Original book publication: 1963
Current Availability: Print and eBook
This is the first of Piper’s books that I’ve read. Having seen his Little Fuzzy in bookstores over the years, I had no desire to check him out. However, I then read the assertion in social media that this book was one of many influences on Traveller. Since I’m a fan of Traveller, and of one series of books that was a major influence on the game (EC Tubb’s Dumarest saga), I thought I’d check out Space Viking.
There is a group of worlds in the Traveller universe called the Sword Worlds. The planets are named after famous swords, such as Excalibur. There is very little else written about them in the original, Classic Traveller game. There are also Sword Worlds in Space Viking. And they, like the overall Traveller universe, have a feudalistic society that also includes future tech such as spaceships. That’s about the only connection I see between the two. So, not so thrilling.
As for the book itself, as a story, it’s rather shallow. I could’ve put it down at any point and never bothered to pick it up again, except for completeness’ sake.
I just didn’t get the idea that these characters, who seemed like well-educated, likable (in a shallow old-SF way) fellows, were also “space Vikings” who raided other worlds by dropping nuclear bombs on them and then looting them of their museum pieces, treasures and small portable manufacturing plants. They were fully capable of making this stuff themselves, but they just decided to take on entire planets with a few ships, to try and steal it. Then they turned around and went to other planets and sold their loot. Uh, why? I couldn’t get my head around it. There was a fundamental difference between the way the characters themselves were portrayed, and the horror of wanton killing that they did as a “career.”
The other thing was the odd political statements the author appeared to be trying to make. He had the characters draw connections between political movements they discovered and the historical Hitler. He set up a race of Gilgameshers, who played the role of the Jews in “Hitler’s” schemes. Rather uncomfortable to read. Then he went on and on about how governments didn’t work, but at the same time should use violence to keep the people in line. Should. I just couldn’t put all this stuff in my head and turn it into a coherent message.
So, yeah. Now I can say I read a book that supposedly influenced Traveller. But didn’t really.
Give it a pass.
OK, I realized I could just ask Marc Miller if Space Viking was indeed one of his influences. He replied that it was. There you go, can’t argue with that. He had this book in mind while creating his game world. So even if the concepts in Space Viking have appeared in other, and to my mind better, books, this was one of Mr Miller’s influences.
But I still think it’s a lousy book.