Perseus Spur by Julian May (HarperCollins Voyager, £16.99, 310 pages, hardback; published 2 February 1998. Paperback £5.99, published 4 May 1999.)
Imagine, if you can, the result of a collision between a fully laden E E 'Doc' Smith space opera (complete with galaxy spanning spaceships and devious aliens wishing to take over the galaxy) and a precariously stacked Aaron Spelling soap opera (The Colbys or, better still, Dallas, complete with family black sheep, inter-corporation rivalries and a head of the family with a striking resemblance to Jock Ewing). Appalling prospect, isn't it? And yet, Julian May has plainly considered just such an idea, and then, even more remarkably, has written it and sold it as part one of a series. (Perseus Spur is Book 1 of The Rampart Worlds series, though thankfully a complete story as it stands -- no sudden shuddering halt on the final page, but at least an honourable closure to the plot.)
As the story opens May's hero, Asahel Frost, is in disgrace, scratching a living pseudonymously as a beach bum pilot for sports divers on a holiday resort planet. Then his past catches up with him, when a giant sea-toad eats his seaside home. On investigation, it turns out that the sea toad was lured ashore, and that Asahel was supposed to be at home when it munched his domicile. Suitably aroused from his usual drunken stupor, Asahel decides to follow a lead or two, with help from his smuggling crony, Mimo, who puts a spacecraft at his disposal. Unfortunately, Asahel's attempts to apprehend his would-be assassin backfire, and he ends up strapped to the blowhole of a comet, waiting to be blasted to smithereens as the ice mountain moves closer to the sun. All this within a couple of chapters -- you just know that things can only get worse for poor Asahel, and they do!
In Perseus Spur, Julian May goes in for fast-moving, breathless pacing, trying very hard not to let the reader have any space in which to sit back and say, "What a load of cobblers." In this she only partly succeeds, tripping up when using trendy elements like product placement. On planets a considerable way across the galaxy, and several hundred years from now, to find the hero choosing Timberland clothes and hiring a Jaguar car is pushing this reader's willing suspension of disbelief just a little too far. Otherwise, Perseus Spur is a readable, untaxing but ultimately rather empty novel, serving little purpose other than to pass the time. Rack it up with the Star Trek books.
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© John D Owen 21 March 1998