Greetings, Happy Readers!
I know I’ve been quiet for a while, but I do have a half-way decent reason. I have recently re-read the ENTIRE Legacy of Heorot series and it’s newest addition!
So, here I am to talk about some older classics and the newest entry in this series in a 3 part (and may be a 4th) Series Review/Discussion.
This series review will be in 3 parts:
Part 1 – Book 1: The Legacy of Heorot (1987)
Part 2 – Books 1.5 & 2: The Secret of Black Ship Island (2012) & Beowulf’s Children (1995)
Part 3 – Book 3: Starborn & Godsons (2020)
This series is what I consider to be Epic Science Fiction. It is some of the best Extra-Terrestrial Colony Science Fiction out there. The world building is so detailed, and the alien creatures’ biology so intricate, that it is hard to NOT believe that they could exist.
|I will also be doing a Part 4 at a later time for the novel Destiny’s Road (1997), which is written in the same universe, but on an entirely different planet.|
Now, on to the important part!
Book #1 – The Legacy of Heorot
The colonists from Earth have spent a two centuries in cold sleep to make the first journey, one way, to settle a planet in another solar system. Avalon seems perfect, a verdant, livable world still in its prehistoric age. The biologists and engineers who busy themselves planting and building scoff at the warnings of professional soldier Cadmann Weyland until a large, unnaturally fast and cunning predator begins stalking the colony. Learning how to kill the beast is only the first step, for they must then reevaluate their entire understanding of Avalon’s ecology.
Alright, Happy Readers, let me issue a bit of a warning on this review. This book has been out for quite a while (since 1987), and while I think that’s plenty of time for people to have read it, when it comes to books there is always a new generation of people coming along that are seeing it for the first time (yay for you!). However, because I’m going through this whole series, including the newest, I plan to ‘Discuss’ & ‘Summarize’ the books. That means there will be spoilers! But don’t worry, I’ll warn you ahead of time. If that is a problem for you, then don’t go past the warning sign below. You’ll be fine reading the first part, which will be my typical ‘Review’ section.
So, here we go.
Legacy of Heorot: In general, the story telling is excellent. The foreshadowing is terrifically done. There are three distinct plateaus within the plot, with the climax of each exceeding the emotional peak of the last. The characters are highly developed and human (and in some cases, NOT!), and you will have no trouble empathizing with any of them. The world building is on a level of excellence seldom encountered… Avalon EXISTS when you read this book.
The story effortlessly pulls you into the lives of the colonists on the newly settled planet called Avalon. They have established a settlement on an island called Camelot, off the coast of the major continent of the planet, and are slowly introducing Earth species from their stocks of frozen embryos. They are just discovering many new native species and are setting up Earth crops. Competition from native plants and animals is minuscule, or so they believe, and the whole endeavor is idyllic. That’s one of the reasons they shrug off the efforts of their security expert, Cadmann Weyland, as simply the over-cautious nature of an ex-soldier.
The only real problem they have experienced is Hibernation Instability (aka Ice On Their Minds) which has afflicted many of the original colonists. It seems the freeze and thaw cycle has left many (if not most) of them slightly brain damaged over the course of the 200 year journey to Tau Ceti IV, 10 light-years from Earth. Luckily, with the aid of the highly sophisticated A.I. named Cassandra, still aboard their orbiting colony ship, Geographic, they are able to mostly fill in the skills gap created by losing the talents of those affected.
All of this is the stage that is set for the problem to come… Grendels!
Now, I don’t want to gloss over a major theme in the book too badly, namely the ‘love story’ that the authors (esp. Pournelle) decided must be there, but it was a side issue in my opinion. Basically, it’s a complicated quadrangle involving Cadmann; Sylvia Faulkner (the resident exo-biologist); her husband, Terry Faulkner; and a H.I. afflicted former agricultural expert named Mary Ann Eisenhower. Since the colony is made up of people who are not overtly religious, pre-marital relationships are not really frowned upon, but marital fidelity is still around. That does cause issues. You’ll have to read the book to get all the details of that little situation for yourself.
As for me, I’m all about the monsters! Dat Grendel Tho!!!! It is a creature whose physical capabilities are so astounding that it is almost a force of nature. Speed and Tooth and Claw are virtually unstoppable when it begins to wreak havoc on the colony. You won’t want to stop turning the pages even as you say to yourself: “Oh No! Now what!” with each new revelation.
Obviously, I highly recommend this book, and the entire series.
From this point forward, spoilers are going to be in play. If you want to see more, though, carry on!
Some Side Research:
This was my second time reading this book, so I knew of the creatures called Grendels that were in it. Consequently, when I started the re-read of the series, I had to go see what kind of awesome art was out there. Things have changed considerably since ’87 when this was first released. You can find lots of things on the Interwebz! So, I found a really great piece of Grendel art (although not accurate) that illustrates an intense scene in the book… the moment when protag Cadmann Weyland is strapped down to a gurney and about to be eaten by his nemesis!
(Right) “Legacy of Herot”, Doubleday SF Bookclub advance ad, Acrylic, 1987 by A. C. Farley
See more here: https://alteredearth.com/farley/farart19.htm
Then there’s Kurt Miller’s version for the re-released covers.
See more here:
The Plot Summary:
Grendels are the creatures that start to show up and kill the Earth animals. The colonists think it must be a lost dog at first, then a practical joker makes fake footprints just to rib Cadmann. Still Cadmann tries to use the situation to convince the colony’s leader to upgrade the security setup of the colony perimeter that keeps getting vetoed. A good bit of time goes by without further incident, but then the monster breaks a fence and rips apart several calves. Even though a model of the beast’s projected jaws is made from one of the carcasses which shows that something terrible did it, some people suggest that it’s a Hibernation Instability affected person (even indirectly suggesting Cadmann himself) rather than a real threat. They refuse to act to implement security or allow a hunting party to search for the creature. A lot of the distrust and ridicule come from Terry Faulkner, who is still jealous of Sylvia & Cadmann’s friendship. It should be obvious to everyone else, but since they don’t want to be bothered with the threat, they just go along with it.
Irritated by all this, Cadmann decides to take matters into his own hands and goes on a hunting mission with his friend Ernst, who is ice-minded but utterly loyal. While they set up a blind to entice and kill the creature, it sneeks back into the still-unfortified colony area and kills an infant girl and her mother. Soon after, it makes its way back to the location where the blind is set up. When Cad takes a shot at it, all hell breaks loose. The grendel, preternaturally strong and fast-moving beyond anything known to man, is much more than he expecting. In a split second, Ernst is ravaged by the attacking grendel. Cadmann is forced to shoot him to free him from the pain of being eaten alive. Gas cylinders that Ernst is carrying explode, burning his body and heavily wounding the grendel. Cadmann is also hurt by the exposion, but the colonists, still thinking he is messed up in the head from ice, believe he might have killed Ernst himself. The gun shot wound and the fact that he’s acting crazed when he gets back to camp just reinforces that thought. As a result, they sedate him.
I’ll note here, that the idea of someone being psychopathic enough to kill to further a goal is a theme that will repeat itself in Beowulf’s Children, but at that time it is real and the same people refuse to recognize it even though Cadmann does. I’ll leave that discussion for Part 2.
Being sedated and strapped to a gurney leaves Cadmann vulnerable to the grendel that got away, which turns out to not only be intelligent, but vengeful! That’s where that picture above comes into play. The grendel seeks Cadman, its perceived nemesis, out at the colony. It actually breaks into the building to find him! The noise draws defenders who barely save Cadmann’s life by being a distraction. During the consequent grendel attack, the colony is nearly destroyed, with many killed. The battle sees the grendel killed at great cost and effort. This is plateau #1. ONLY PLATEAU #1!!! This book is quite a ride, Happy Readers!
Cadmann survives, but is traumatized and quite pissed (as anyone would be), so he decides to separate himself from the colony and build a redoubt in the hills. They believe him now, of course, but they also think the problem is dead. Not wanting to consider the possibility of unpleasant truths is the true enemy of the colonist of Avalon! It is a shared character flaw in all but a few of them.
After a time, Cadmann — now joined by Mary Ann (whether he likes it or not) — builds a new home on the heights at the brow of Mucking Great Mountain. Time eventually dulls the anger, and Cadmann returns to Camelot with a pregnant Mary Ann and they join in the Landing Day festivities. Later, his friend, Carlos with his fiance and another couple, take a ceremonial ride down the Miskatonic River to establish their marriages. Before they can reach the beach, however, they are attacked by yet another grendel. Only Carlos survives, and then the great grendel hunt begins. They study the creature and find out about its ‘Speed’ gland which super-oxygenates its blood to give it super speed, but also generates so much heat that is will cook itself alive if not near a water source to keep it cool. Using this information, they proceed to systematically rid the island of all adult grendels. This is plateau #2.
The final part of the story comes when a colonist is attacked by a mass of young grendels that have metamorphosed from the native ‘samlon’ population. What they thought were a native fish-like species are actually baby grendels whose population has been kept in check by the adult grendels that feed on them in this island’s unique and narrow biosphere. Now, all the babies are coming out of the water at once. It leads to the colony being overrun, with many fleeing to the Geographic in orbit, and the rest making a last stand at the redoubt of Cadmann’s Bluff. Terrible losses ensue, and prospects for survival are bleak until someone has an epiphany — use synthetic speed to cause the grendel hoards to self-immolate. The colony is saved, but the population and critical equipment is in dire straits. Plateau #3 is concluded, and the love quadrangle is whittled down to a triangle, as Sylvia’s husband dies in a last stand fight before the creatures are repelled and killed.
Concepts worth discussing:
- Extra Terrestrial Colonization – This is the central premise of the book. The primary take-away for me from this is the technology needed to make it happen: cold sleep, fusion drive, A.I. computers, embryonic storage and artificial wombs.
- Unforeseen Consequences – Hibernation Instability causes a severe deficit in the skill sets available to the colony. It also creates an underlying fear factor that makes the once adventurous colonists highly risk averse. This is a major detriment to their ability to understand and tame their environment which ultimately almost causes the colony to fail because they don’t know enough. It also puts a seed of doubt and distrust between everyone. Almost all are affected by it to some degree, so they can’t help but believe they need to question the motives and competence people that they had come to trust before leaving Earth.
- Distinct Planetary Biology – The grendels and how their speed works are an amazing concept. The life cycle in the small biome that is Camelot is based on an African frog according to the author comments. To take that and expand it in the way it was and weave a story around it a demonstration in storytelling as a craft!
- Human Interaction/Relationships – Unrequited love, jealousy, heartache, anger, wounded pride, devotion, self-sacrifice, more… it’s all in this story. It’s what makes the characters so believably real.
This book is a great work of science fiction. It it almost a work of science fantasy with the way it weaves the myth of the grendel into the fabric of its reality. I truly can’t recommend it enough!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this overly verbose and spoiler filled run-down. I would love to hear your observations about the book if you have read them, so leave a comment below.
Part 2 will be coming soon after as I do the same for The Secret of Black Ship Island and Beowulf’s Children.
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If you like intrigue, humor and a bit of speculative technological supposition, you should pick up a copy of my technothriller-comedy eConscience Beta from Amazon today!
Peacekeeper Incorporated’s breakthrough nanotechnology could bring repeat offense crime to an end, freeing society from the need for criminal incarcerations. But first, they have to finish testing it. With funding on the line, and time to prove out the project getting short, the lead scientist must find a way speed things up. That’s unfortunate for his guinea pig, and anyone who would stand in his way.
Can the goal of ending most crime justify committing one… even a few?
And what happens when you conflate altruism with egotism?
Find out in eConscience Beta, where two lab techs and an uncouth petty criminal must outwit a brilliant but sociopathic scientist who’ll stop at nothing to establish his legacy as the man who ended crime.
If Science Fiction Space Adventure is more your speed, then you should check out my anthology, Horizons Unlimited: Volume 1.
Matter conversion technology—Matt-Con—has broadened the scope of mankind’s existence. It has opened up the real possibility of viable colonies on other planets in our solar system, and even space itself. Anywhere matter can be captured or energy from the sun can be felt, the possibility of expanding human habitation exists.
In this volume:
Quicksilver (short story)
The space station Chariot of Helios—on its way to Mercury to become a power collection station for Earth’s growing need for energy to power matt-con tech—encounters a strange anomaly that threatens ship and crew.
Null Gravitas (short story)
New crew and new relationships form above the skies of Venus. A post-prequel to Escaping Aurora.
Escaping Aurora (novella)
The sudden destruction of mankind’s first atmospheric terraforming platform leaves three unlucky exonauts struggling to survive in the skies of Venus aboard a cobbled-together airship. Meanwhile, the commander of the space station above battles obstacles that might keep her from rescuing her stranded husband and crew in time.