Saturday, November 28, 2015

Warriors of Terra by John Faucette

"If we are to bring peace to the universe, we must break these blood chains of revenge....  We are breaking them now.  We are turning the other cheek.  We are going to show the Universe that pardon is better than revenge, and that eventually neither will be needed." 
Behold the one and only edition of this novel
I spent the week of Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's house, which lies in the middle of a vast agricultural zone, over 20 miles from the nearest grocery store.  I found I had developed an allergy to her cat, and on Thanksgiving Day slipped on ice and hurt my knee.  While recuperating from all these afflictions and misfortunes I read John Faucette's Warriors of Terra, a 1970 paperback from our friends at Belmont.  To be honest, my main reason for buying B75-2002 was that I liked the cover of its sequel, Siege of Earth, which I encountered on the same expedition to Boone, Iowa. Even though the cover art on Warriors of Terra is weak, and the advertising text on the back seems to have been written by an incompetent, I figured I may as well get both.

Warriors of Terra, the first volume in the two-volume Peacemakers series, is a poorly written space opera with a message.  Primarily, the message is opposition of war, but there are subordinate supporting anti-slavery and anti-racism themes.  Despite the anti-war message, the book does seem to endorse hegemonic powers using their superiority to "persuade" weaker societies to behave (making them abolish slavery and hereditary rule, for example.)  We've seen this kind of author-approved imperialism inflicted on Earth by aliens in SF like the famous film The Day the Earth Stood Still and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, but in Warriors of Terra the shoe is on the other foot, with Earthlings using their space fleet to make aliens change their ways.  

The plot of Warriors of Terra is fine, but the novel lacks the spirit of adventure or the kinds of striking images and crazy SF ideas that make better space operas (like Edmond Hamilton's Outside the Universe and "Doc" Smith's Spacehounds of IPC) engaging.  The anti-war theme and all the scenes of people crying means the fight scenes and chase scenes are not exhilarating, but a slog.  An example of the lack of creativity and "world-building" can be seen in Warriors of Terra's aliens, who are just like human beings (they can and do have sex with Earth people), differing only in skin color-- Faucette doesn't give them interesting biologies or memorable societies.  And while Faucette tries to do more than present an adventurous entertainment, writing with a message in mind and portraying characters who change over time, he does so in a clumsy way, apparently having bit off more than he can chew.  Characters are flat and dimly realized, and spout some pretty corny dialogue:
"You're free to go now, Overlord. Though if I had my way, you'd regret being alive."
"I'm gonna get you Terrans, and when I do...."  His tone left nothing to the crew's imagination.
To ram home his theme, and perhaps in hopes of elevating his material, Faucette includes as epigraphs to many of his chapters quotes about peace from various luminaries, including Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole, St. Augustine, John Ruskin, and Shakespeare.  Unfortunately the novel is dragged down by an abundance of typographical errors, with quotation marks particularly vulnerable to misuse, and some odd spellings ("Field Marshall" for Field Marshal, for example, while Shakespeare's play Cymbeline is cited as "Cymberline.")  The staff at Belmont likely deserve more blame for this kind of thing than Faucette himself.   

When we first meet our hero, Battle of Ran Hudson, (generally just called "Ran") he is an old man, ruler of the Earth and the Commonwealth of Peaceful Species.  His title is "Peacemaker."  Ran has his hands full because the Commonwealth is about to collapse into civil war at the same time extragalactic aliens are attacking.  The book soon switches from this drama to its main plot thread, a flashback to Ran's youth and a narrative of how Ran evolved from an angry violent young man into a lover of peace, and began his rise to power. 

(People in this book have distracting names; besides Ran's own name there is a human called "William Blake," and another named "Bull Dog Daggon"--an homage to both Sapper and H. P. Lovecraft?  The most prominent non-Terran in the book is named "Overlord Train.")

Young Ran was a slave on planet Morgia, home of the sadistic green-skinned, bug-eyed Morg.  Hundreds of Terrans are there as slaves, having been sold to the Morg by their captors, the Spartans, over a decade ago.  This was during a war between the bellicose Terran Empire and the Spartan Empire.  The Terran slaves on Morgia don't know how the war turned out, if the Terran Empire even continues to exist.

There are several brief flashbacks to this war between the Terran and Spartan Empires; these vignettes constitute the book's third plot thread and star Dane Marcellus Barclay, pacifist turned fighting man.  Dane works his way up the ranks to become ruler of Earth and is the first to bear the title of Peacemaker, his career in some ways paralleling that of Ran.

Somewhat improbably, Ran and some fellow slaves escape, are captured alive, and escape again in the first 60 pages of the book.  To make Ran's transition to peace lover more dramatic, young Ran is extremely bloodthirsty and says things like "Anyone who doesn't like the way I do things can leave.  There's going to be a lot of dead Morgs before I'm finished.  I'm going to enjoy killing every single one of 'em."  True to his word, Ran kills a multitude of Morgs in a dizzying variety of ways: shooting (of course), strangling, stabbing with a knife, chopping with a cleaver looted from a Morg kitchen. 

In his efforts to make the reader see the folly of war, Faucette includes plenty of gore--skulls cracking open like eggs, people holding their own intestines in their hands after suffering a belly wound, that kind of thing.  Accompanying all the violence, which cynics might suspect is exploitative rather than a component of the book's anti-war message, Warriors of Terra has some sex--for example, the Morgs take Terran women as concubines, and there is a scene in which one of Ran's fellow fugitives tries to rape another of their number.  This tepid erotic content is harder to justify than the pervasive bloodshed; it really feels like it is just there to titillate. 

Ran and friends steal a spaceship and flee to Novad, an independent planet on the edge of Morg space.  The yellow-skinned and scantily-clad (hubba hubba) Novadians protect our heroes from their Morg pursuers, so Overlord Train, the Morg who is in charge of the pursuit, hires the second finest swordsman on Novad to challenge Ran to a duel in the arena!   (As you know, people in SF stories are always getting tossed into the arena!)  Luckily, Ran has made friends with the Number One swordsman on Norvad and gets the pointers he needs to survive the duel.  (Following Faucette's anti-war theme, Ran wins the duel by allowing himself to be impaled, thus trapping his foe's blade and leaving him defenseless so Ran can stab him through the eye.)

In the final 60 or so pages of the 175-page novel Ran and friends leave Novad, are pursued by Train's ships, and then saved by ships of the Commonwealth of Peaceful Species.  The escaped slaves, and we readers, learn that the Terra-Sparta War ended with a treaty that joined the Terran and Spartan Empires into one polity under Barclay. Barclay and the Commonwealth have sworn off vengeance, and only use their space navy to "wage war to end war" and "persuade other species to join" the Commonwealth:  
"The Commonwealth does not accept surrenders.  In the first place, it doesn't defeat anyone.  It only makes them see the light and join the Commonwealth.... The Commonwealth doesn't allow slavery or class societies or hereditary rulers.  Fix these things and you have nothing to worry about."
Ran is distressed to find that Barclay is not interested in supporting Ran's campaign of vengeance on the Morgs, so he and his friends get their hands on a space ship and attack planet Morgia all by themselves.  After all of his friends have been killed Ran realizes the folly of war and the futility of vengeance and forgives Overlord Train. Then Dane Barclay's peacekeeping fleet arrives, and Train agrees to change Morg society to meet Terran demands, bringing Morgia peacefully into the Commonwealth.

The plot thread about elderly Ran, Peacemaker trying to keep the Commonwealth together, must be resolved in Siege of Earth, because it is not wrapped up here.

Warriors of Terra is ambitious, but poorly executed.  It is lacking in fun and excitement, and I didn't care who lived or died and which warriors became pacifists or vice versa.  Its ideology (war is wrong but it is OK to use force to make aliens change their cultures to meet my culture's standards) is kind of sketchy.  So I am going to have to give Warriors of Terra a thumbs down.  I'm still going to read the sequel, Siege of Earth, though, to see what Faucette does with these themes a second time around, and suggest that students of space opera and those interested in SF by African-American authors or explicitly anti-war SF may find Warriors of Terra a curiosity worthy of investigation.

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