Book Review: SLEEPING PLANET by William K. Burkett Jr.

I have read and loved hard SciFi my whole life. However,  I first read this when I was only thirteen. It is not hard SciFi. The science isn’t even remotely accurate. But it was irresistible – unquestionably the first science fiction “DIE HARD” of its day

DSCN0835You get a resourceful hero who is determined not to lose, but who faces overwhelming odds (an entire occupation force). There is also the reliable outsider who can’t participate in the action, but whose efforts still aid the hero’s fight. And you have the clever villain, slowly tracking down and boxing in the hero.

Earth and its Venus* and Mars settlements have been at war with the invading Llarian forces for years, stalemated. To break the stalemate, the Llarians devise a plan to place the billions of humans on these planets into a hibernation-like sleep, and use them as hostages. It is spectacularly successful, except for a small handful of “unaffecteds” – humans who did not succumb to the sleep.

One among these is Rierson, an Atlanta lawyer and avid hunter, alone in the Georgia backwoods when the “big sleep” takes place. Another is Donovan, a crippled London truck driver, with a grouchy disposition and a sharp wit. Donovan uses his wits to intimidate his superstitious Llarian guards with stories about his Grandpa’s ghost wanting revenge. Riersen fights his way through squads of invading troops, while he tries to figure out what has happened.

Donovan’s tall tales begin to spread among the Llarian ranks, and stories of Rierson’s exploits begin giving them credence. As each learns of the other’s efforts, they both focus on creating fear and panic in the ranks of the Llarian occupation force.

While rank and file “Larrys” are fretting over being murdered by Earth’s ghosts, a brilliant Llarian  intelligence officer is putting together the puzzle pieces and tracking down Rierson. He sets a trap, and draws the net closer and closer to capture Rierson.

The rest I leave to readers to discover for themselves. Rierson’s tactics and  solution are imaginative, and are sheer fun to read. I always wished Hollywood would make a movie of this, and with the ILM class graphics now available, the ending would be joyously fun Hollywood magic.

Bruce Willis may have saved the people in the Nakatoma Tower, but Rierson very coolly saves the world.  This is a fast, fun, action-filled yarn from start to finish. On the Pizza Scale, I’d give it eight slices.

*I doubt the “science” in this book was even accurate  when it was first published in 1964. If not, obviously the publishers decided to overlook that weakness. I was recently surprised to find it had been reprinted (after a long hiatus) in 2012.  All they changed was the cheesy 60’s SciFi cover (robots & guns), although the new cover is rather blah (a tree – go figure). The cheesy one is actually better. And classic.

Burkett was only eighteen when he wrote this, and probably not worried about research or accuracy. At the same time, he clearly had a logical mind, and his character’s actions – both the heroes and villains – reflected that clear logic, thereby making the story more interesting (I hate when authors have smart characters do dumb things just to advance the plot). 

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The Rule of Right and Wrong

 

dscn0864Let’s face it, right and wrong should be simple concepts to follow. The truth is that the people who make most of the rules – regardless of their political persuasion – tend to muddy up the basic concepts with pretenses that will favor their goals.

Religions have set down some concepts in pretty simple terms – e.g. thou shall not kill.  It’s something that seems self-evident even if you don’t “have religion”. The truth is it doesn’t require a god to tell us this. It is pretty self evident that if it’s okay to kill someone, that someone could just as easily be you.  Think of the line in Clint Eastwood’s modern classic “Unforgiven”, where his character says “…you kill a man, you take away everything he is, and everything he was ever going to be”.  Death is final. You don’t get any do-overs. So if you want to protect your right to live, you have to accept the need to protect other’s right to live. Nothing mystical about that; it’s just common sense.

The same logic applies to Liberty (see a theme growing here?). If you want to preserve your freedom to make your own life decisions, you must recognize the importance to preserve the freedom of others to make their own decisions too. It is a matter of principle, and if you deny another’s right, you abrogate that principle not only for them, but for yourself. And “liberty” is a pretty big and inclusive word. It encompasses all humans – i.e. it doesn’t exclude anyone because they’re a different color,  because they’re a different religion,  because they’re a different gender, or  because they have different sexual preferences. Moreover, liberty means the freedom to choose and do however one pleases – so long as one does not infringe upon the liberty of others. This is again a simple, core principle. Once any entity (government perhaps) abrogates any person’s freedom of choice, it abrogates everyone’s freedom of choice on everything.

Let’s put it this way, using a modern issue…if you abrogate the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion, you equally abrogate the right of a churchgoer to go to church. Principles only protect us when we respect them. That is the nature of a principle. It is either true, or it is not. Where it is applied is irrelevant. It applies to all.

I won’t even discuss the “pursuit of happiness”. It clearly goes hand-in-hand with liberty. The principle applies to all. Deny it to one, and you deny it – on principle – to all.

Certainly, it is possible to get into cases, egregiously nuanced definitions, and so on, and so forth.  However, these are moot – a waste of time.  What is important to know is that when speaking of holding to principles, we are not speaking of holding to “some degree” of principle. Principles are all or nothing. Every serious decision must uphold the core principles, or no rule will ever be valid or permanent. When you abandon principles, everything is lost.

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