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Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers

01/08/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Space Vulture in the USA - or Buy Space Vulture in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 333 page small hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1852-7.

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‘Space Vulture’ is advertised as a ripping-yarn that might have appeared in ‘Planet Stories‘, an early American Science Fiction magazine famous for its gaudy space-opera stories full of aliens and beautiful women. It didn’t pay enough to attract top writers but did kick start the careers of Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett and Phillip K. Dick. The content of the magazine was often good, despite the scantily clad women on the covers. So how does ‘Space Vulture’ the novel measure up to this? Pretty well, to be fair. The plot is certainly fast moving and full of action.

Gil Terry is a petty criminal in debt who has stolen a cargo hold full of expensive mushrooms from the planet Verlinap. Gil’s bookie took his right arm and one eye as security for a debt and left him equipped with a Saurian cricket’s leg and they eye of a Venusian dung beetle to go on with. Understandably, he is keen to pay what he owes and get his human parts back. There is a time limit on this.

Unfortunately, he is caught on the mushroom caper and arrested by Galactic Marshal Captain Victor Corsaire, hero of the spaceways. The dialogue hints that the two have a past and frequent reminiscences in the narrative when either one is the point of view character soon tells any reader older than seven what it might be. Anyway, Corsaire takes Gil to the town of Verlinap to give the locals a look at the dastardly villain who tried to steal their crop. The Chief Administrator there is Cali Russell, a beautiful widow with two sons, Eliot and Regin, aged eleven and seven.

No sooner has the hero met the beautiful girl than the real villain attacks. Space Vulture (for it is he) hits the town with a high density ion beam, knocking everyone out. He kidnaps the townsfolk to sell into slavery and Corsaire to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Space Vulture always leaves someone behind to spread the legend of his escapades and Gil is chosen for this. He soon discovers that Eliot and Regin have hidden and are still alive. Eliot wants to use Gil’s ship to go after Space Vulture and rescue everyone. A kid obviously raised on Heinlein juveniles, he is brave, daring, a dab hand at engineering and a great pilot as well. They don’t make eleven year-olds like that anymore!

Thus a great adventure is launched. The story takes place in a galaxy full of inhabited planets populated with many strange aliens, which is fun. There are some surprises along the way and despite the promotion of it as a comicbook adventure it does have some depth. As one might expect in a book co-written by a Catholic Archbishop there are strong moral overtones. Eliot is forever lecturing Gil about right and wrong but the thief’s fondness for little Regin is probably a stronger influence. There is a surprising amount of quite visceral violence and an unsurprising lack of sex - think Archbishop again. The violence is not lovingly described in the manner of some modern horror writers but it doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up a gory image and one torture scene left a bad taste, to be honest. I suppose being a Galactic Marshal is a dangerous job.

Oddly, the major characters work least well. There is some success at humanising them but in general, Space Vulture comes across as a cartoon villain and Corsaire as a cartoon hero. He made me think of Kenny Everett’s spoof Captain Kremen (familiar to older British television viewers) and also of ‘Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, the hilarious parody of Captain James T. Kirk. Even so, both hero and villain are enjoyable and do not detract from the overall quality of the book.

It’s extremely readable and there are touches of humour, sentiment and morality in with the rip roaring action. The back cover recommendations come from Stan Lee, Gene Wolfe, William Tenn and Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. Beside such distinguished company, my own humble opinion hardly counts but I liked it, too.

Eamonn Murphy

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