The Chalice of Death (Trade Paperback)

***½( ) (based on 2 ratings)

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By Robert Silverberg with a new introduction by the author

Three complete novels of mystery in space from Grand Master Robert Silverberg explode back into print for the first time in decades in this thrilling new Planet Stories collection. These extremely rare tales originally appeared in the legendary Ace Double novel series, and represent a future multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author bridging the rollicking, action-oriented science fiction adventures of the early pulps with more introspective themes from the new wave that swept SF in the 1960s. From the shadowy secrets of Old Earth in The Chalice of Death to the mysterious pirate world in Starhaven and the time-shrouded superweapon of humanity’s ancestors in Shadow on the Stars, these three novels of science fiction mystery blaze back onto the scene in this brand-new collection, revealing the early masterworks of one of the genre’s most gifted and celebrated storytellers!

In The Chalice of Death, a human from the far edge of space must track down the legendary planet that birthed his race tens of thousands of years ago. For the legends hold that the long-forgotten Earth holds the Chalice of Life, and the Chalice of Life holds immortality!

In Starhaven, interplanetary fugitive Johnny Mantell flees authorities to the artificial pirate world known as Starhaven, sanctuary for the criminals and misfits of space. There he finds a new home for himself—as well as questions about his past, his future, and his very identity itself!

In Shadow on the Stars, deep space colonist Baird Ewing returns to Earth for the first time in the thousand years since his ancestors first departed, seeking aid against the aliens who seek to destroy his colony. But the weapon he finds upon the ancient Earth can save only one planet, and Ewing must choose between his two home worlds.

Seldom or never reprinted since their original appearances and with a new introduction by the author, these three novels of science fiction adventure blaze back onto the scene, revealing early masterworks of one of the genre’s most gifted and celebrated storytellers!

320-page softcover trade paperback
ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-377-4

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***½( ) (based on 2 ratings)

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Three Novels of Pulp Action and Fun

****( )

A collection of three old Silverberg novels/novellas from the '50s, very pulpy and science-light space operas, which should indicate whether or not you'd like them. From my standpoint, two of them are Silverberg's better "pulpy" novels (Starhaven and Shadow on the Stars are fine books), and the other one is a roller-coaster of action, so this is a damn fine collection. If you like the good-old-days of pulp fiction, space opera, of simple yet thrilling science fiction, you are the ideal reader.

Some of them were renamed since their days as Ace Doubles, so I'll use their new (well, originally intended) names here.

The Chalice of Death:
Hallam Navarre, Earthman adviser working for decadent a alien noble is late for work, and claims he's working to discover an ancient tall-tale: the Chalice of Life. The noble thinks this is a swell idea, and sends him off to find it. Navarre (and his two friends, a half-breed and another adviser to another noble) decide they're more likely to find the mythical, long-lost planet Earth than the Chalice, so they set off to find it.

Rapid-fire story that began as a three-novel serial, and that shows. It's all non-stop movement and action, the characters falling in and out of trouble, getting thrown in jail (repeatedly), being double-crossed, and making a miraculous discovery that will change the fate of the universe. I thought it was a little too fast, leaving it with under-developed characters and plot, but if you're okay with leaving those behind you'll get a rollicking adventure.

Beachcomber Johnny Mantell is blamed for a murder he didn't do, so he flees to Starhaven, an artificial planet-fortress full of pirates, murderers, and thieves. There, Mantell falls in love with Myra, secretary for dictator Ben Thurdan, and is caught up in a plot to overthrow Thurdan to prevent a less-beneficent dictator from replacing him.

Starhaven is a great blend of pulp action, intrigue, and from its slow speed and developments, it has stronger characters. It combines Silverberg’s wild ideas and creativity with great pacing and a balanced story arc; it’s near the top of his early novels, and I enjoyed it. Also, I dig Starhaven as a perfect pulp paradise mixed with a Bond villain's lair; great setting.

Shadow on the Stars:
Ambassador Baird Ewing heads from the colony world Corwin back to Old Earth, to requisition help against the insectoid alien Klodnoi. But he finds a changed earth, with pacifist inhabitants about to become the protectorate of another colony world. A colony world whose ambassadors believe Ewing is working against them, so he's taken into custody. He's saved by a mysterious stranger, and the next day, discovers that Earthling rebels have time-travel technologies... you see where this is going.

Many of Silverberg's early novels had glimpses of his future brilliance, straining to be something more important than a pulp novel, and Shadow on the Stars is one of the few that succeeds at doing so. It's got a strong, character-driven focus, a puzzle-like approach to time travel paradoxes, and a unique giant space battle near the end. Its finale is predictable, but perfect.

A whimpering bang, or a bangin' whimper?

***( )( )

After this, Paizo is putting their Planet Stories line on indefinate hiatus, so this will stand as the endpoint of the brand for at least a time. So does it end with a bang or a whimper, or a little bit of both? Probably both.

Once again, this is a collection of classic Robert Silverberg - the third in a row, and the second to have three novellas together. Maybe my Silverberg threshhold was being pushed as a result, but I thought this was the weakest of the three collections, with Hunt the Space Witch probably the best. Of the three stories, Starhaven was the most fun, but all stories, I think, have flaws. Sad but true, the best part of the book is probably the excellent introduction by Silverberg about writing sci-fi in the 50's and 60's.

Chalice of Death is about the potential rebirth of a long-lost human empire, based around a mythical Earth. The problem here is, finding Earth is about as hard as a trip to a local library and then chatting to some nobel savage aliens, which kind of makes it all seem a bit implausible. There are some fun moments of battle and politicing, but its probably OK rather than good or great.

Starhaven is actually pretty morally grey: an artificial world run by a strongman, where nothing is illegal - including murder. There is a little depth here as our hero is not sure himself whether he is a brainwashed space cop sent to close the place down, or not. There is also a local resistance movement, that spouts a lot of fancy rhetoric, but basically thinks that they can do a better job of avoiding the struggle for power when the Stalin-like leader eventually dies. So, they plan to bring his death forward involuntarily so they can control the outcome. At first it sounds noble - especially on a world somewhere between rogue state and libertarian paradise - but the more you think about it, no one has much goodness in their heart. Still, there are moments of derring-do and a pretty girl in a love triangle, so it definitely has moments.

The last story, Shadow on the Stars, is a time paradox sci-fi think piece, with a background overwhelming threat or two to overcome. Really though, its aiming at being hard sci-fi dealing with temporal issues, as well as themes of colonialisation and decay. Its ok, but just seemed to lack a little "fun".
All up, this is an interesting reprint of some old more or less early sci-fi tales by a guy who turned out to be a pretty damn good writer. These tales might otherwise have been more or less lost, and that would have been a shame.

Hopefully the Planet Stories line will return in time, bringing back more old classics.

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