The Rim of Space
By A. Bertram Chandler
Sphere Books 1958/1981
ISBN 0 7221 2247 0
In places, this novel reminded me of Andre Norton’s ‘Solar Queen’ stories – especially the descriptions of the star ships (standard 1950’s needle shaped ships that have landing fins/legs). Star ships have both a manoeuvre drive and some form of FTL drive and both drives are crewed on the engine decks, rather than run remotely.
Chandler had a nautical background, and, in this story, it is interesting to see the crew of the ‘Lorn Lady’ attempting to communicate with another ship by using Morse code. Also, the main character, Derek Calver, has sufficient planet-side sailing skills that he is able to rig stays to protect the ship from a planetary storm. Elsewhere, much of the described technology is now hopelessly dated, though some is sufficiently vague to allow modern readers to place their own gloss on it. The casual sexist behaviour of the male characters, alas, reflects the era that Chandler was writing in. Nowadays, it grates until the story gets going.
The standard set pieces of the interstellar merchant story are presented – the cultural conflict engendered by offworld contact, that results in a crew member being kidnapped; the rival trade line/government agents who need to be out-witted; the alien race, seeking human knowledge so that their civilization can challenge the Earthmen at a later date. To this Chandler adds a planetary storm that almost overwhelms the grounded ship, and a space wreck.
Chandler was an experienced writer who writes fluently and well. Some of his characters are a little flat, and not much is revealed of the civilisation they function within, but there are some nice idea-seeds for Traveller space merchant games.
There is a biography of Chandler on Wikipedia which mentions his writings and gives links to other sites for further reading.