The Future From Quite a While Ago: The Fury From Earth by Dean McLaughlin.
Pyramid, 1971, 192 pages.
Dean McLaughlin is an Astounding/Analog author from that magazine’s tin age. Well post-Golden Age. The early-to-mid 50s right up to the recent and highly regarded “Tenbrook of Mars,” in the July/August 2008 issue of Analog. I’ve had a soft spot for his work ever since borrowing Hawk Among the Sparrows from my local library as a kid. A little while ago I made some fairly unfavourable remarks about The Man Who Wanted Stars, which on reflection were perhaps a little harsh — while the protagonist was dislikeable, that very fact gave the story a kind of edginess. This novel has no such figure at its core.
Alex Frost starts out as a young man on Venus, a colony held in its place by ‘The Companies’. One is put in mind of the American colonies before independence, being exploited by private interests in Britain and prevented from trading amongst themselves, prevented from really developing. Anyway, Alex manages to go to Earth to get an education unavailable on Venus, which, when the war of independence breaks out, makes him a valuable, if unwilling, resource for the Venusians.
McLaughlin unwinds a fairly conventional SF plot at brisk speed, with plenty of chases, subterfuge, and even a little romance. The prose is competent with the odd arresting metaphor. The story is seen almost entirely through Alec’s eyes, and he’s a likeable young man, believably conflicted about his duty as a Venusian, and his unwillingness to serve the military. There’s some iffy physics in there, but nothing worse than what we’ve accepted before for the sake of a good story.
The story is dated in he usual ways. Most notably, the unconscious sexism. Women are beautiful, nubile, and never in any position of authority. Despite Alex’s romances, it is always men who take the important actions. Scientists are men, or a group of men, or a team of men, or whatever. No indictment on McLaughlin, really. Authors much closer in time to the 21st century have shown the same.
In conclusion, this is a fast-moving story of interplanetary espionage and warfare, very much a product of its time, and good fun if the attitudes noted above don’t trouble you.