"Johnny," she whispered. "Johnny, you shouldn't have come back!"
Our story begins in a nightclub in the Manhattan of the distant future where our hero, Johnny Kettrick, is watching alien dancing girls and ignoring his Earthling date! (His heart isn't on boring old Earth, but out among the stars of the Hyades Cluster!) Unexpectedly, government agents pick Kettrick up and drive him out to Long Island (I hope Hamilton means the Hamptons!) for a meeting with some of the biggest wigs in the galaxy! Scientists have reason to believe somebody in the Hyades has developed a weapon that can cause a star to emit catastrophically dangerous gamma radiation, radiation powerful enough to sterilize entire solar systems. Kettrick, though an Earthman, grew up and spent his career in the Cluster until he was exiled from the Hyades two years ago for breaking some silly protectionist trade laws (the government calls that "smuggling.") Seeing as he knows all the ins and outs, all the languages and cultures, of the Cluster, he is the perfect candidate for the job of playing gumshoe out there and getting to the bottom of the eggheads' suspicions about a star poisoning device that, rumor has it, is known as "the Doomstar."
|Fake news! Johnny is not really a pirate! He|
just resists unjust trade restrictions!
Hooking up with some other of his many friends in the Cluster and their old decrepit space ship, Kettrick travels from system to system, trading goods and seeking revenge on the boat saboteur while investigating this whole Doomstar business. After lots of close calls and tense conversations on several different worlds (featuring eight different alien races), in the end, Kettrick leads a bunch of stone age alien tribesmen in an infantry assault on the ground-based missile battery whose cobalt-tipped munitions will, in mere minutes, turn the local star into a gamma ray death machine.
Doomstar reminded me of the kind of adventures Han Solo or Lando Calrissian might have had before getting involved with that troublesome Skywalker clan: travelling from planet to planet via hyperspace, dodging the authorities and buying and selling goods among disparate intelligent species. Kettrick even has a big hairy alien sidekick and flies in a temperamental old ship that needs a lot of maintenance, and, like Solo and Calrissian, lays aside his hopes for personal gain to instead fight for the greater good.
The characters in Doomstar all have believable and interesting motivations and relationships, a welcome improvement over the flat characters in the 1920s stories of space war by Hamilton we were talking about earlier. Unfortunately, this novel lacks the driving energy of those stories from Crashing Suns, the gusto and horror of the combat and torture that made up so much of those tales. Johnny is not the kind of hero who is master of his fate and drives the book's plot; rather he often seems to be at the mercy of events and of forces beyond his control, and we repeatedly see him manipulated, protected or rescued by other characters (I associate such motifs with those hard-boiled mysteries in which the reader and the main character don't know what is going on until the end of the story.) Doomstar's narrative feels more episodic than tight, though the individual episodes are all entertaining, if not thrilling.
A decent space adventure, suitable as an entertainment.
The last page of my copy of Doomstar has an ad for three novels, none of them SF. There's an important mystery novel, a minor gothic romance thing, and a minor adventure caper apparently designed to appeal to fans of Burt Reynolds movies. Even though they only advertise three titles, the good people at Belmont Tower include an order form with space for five titles, plus space for four alternates. Just try to put yourself in the shoes of a guy who ordered a novel about a "Southern stock car racer cum hillbilly hoodlum" and opens up his mail (after waiting four weeks!) only to find the sole available alternate was the tale of Lady Barbara and her trials in gloomy old Cameron castle!