By H. Beam Piper
Ace Books 1963
ISBN 0 441 77779 1
I do enjoy H. Beam Piper’s stories. He is what I consider to be one of the quintessential authors of Classic Traveller fiction; up there with Andre Norton’s ‘Solar Queen’ series, Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ trilogy, early Heinlein, Dickson’s ‘Dorsai’ series and Pournelle’s ‘Future History’.
‘Space Viking’ plays upon some classic Space Opera and Historical themes in its opening sequence – the vigorous Sword Worlders prey upon the decaying remnants of a decadent stellar empire, but what makes them rich is weakening them as they loose population either in battle or as conquerors; Lord Trask, our hero can see this and speaks out about it, but is considered slightly eccentric by his compatriots; he suffers a great personal loss and becomes the thing he hates as he is driven to go a-viking to seek revenge.
Piper, having set the scene for a tale of piratical daring-do, then subtly alters the rules. Trask is at heart a builder, not a destroyer and does a lot of thinking as he hunts for his enemy. He sees opportunities to do more than just tip-and-run raids and begins to establish a profitable trading empire. His erstwhile sponsor Duke Angus, who in the interim has become king of Trask’s homeworld, ends up provoking a civil war. Urged to return home, Trask refuses. He is convinced that the Sword Worlds are failing and what little advantage they retain in technology will soon be lost, squandered in internecine squabbles amongst themselves or expended in raids on neighbouring planets.
Having cut his ties with his homeworld, Trask is now free to finally track down his enemy but, more importantly, build something for the future.
One interesting factoid; both the Nemesis, Trask’s flag ship, and the Enterprise, the ship stolen from him, are described as 8 Megaton displacement ships – 2000 foot diameter spheres.
There is a review of Space Viking on Wikipedia with links to the Analog magazine version of the story on the Gutenberg site, as well as a commentary and analysis by Joseph T. Major.
Other books by H. Beam Piper: Gunpowder God