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Far Stars Hardcover – 1 Dec 1961
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Hardcover, 1 Dec 1961
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The first and last, "The Waitabits" and "The Timeless Ones" are both variations on a favourite Russell plot, whereby some seemingly powerless individual or group, without resorting to any kind of force - indeed The Waitabits would probably be physically incapable of doing so - nonetheless completely thwart the aims of someone much more powerful. Both defeats, in this case, relate importantly to "pace rate", the weak party simply acting, consciously or unconsciously, on a totally different time scale from that of its opponent.
But the two stories handle this theme in very different ways. The Waitabits are an alien species, so utterly different from humans as to be literally unconquerable, despite being utterly powerless. The Timeless Ones, by contrast, are a branch of the human race, who, when drawn into conflict at all, are conquered pretty fast - yet win just the same. I have heard this story described as "politically incorrect", yet this suggests a rather short sighted view. The "villains" have never harmed anyone that we know of (indeed they apparently didn't even retaliate when other races tried to exterminate them) and if other "superior" races have lost out, this would seem to be entirely the latter's own fault. The "Timeless Ones" themselves don't come out badly at all.
Moving on, the novelette "Legwork" is to my mind the best item in the collection. It reflects Russell's interest in police work (for someone so libertarian he always displayed a great respect for the police) and shows a bunch of completely run of the mill law enforcers, just by getting on with absolutely normal 1950s police work, without a single high-tech gadget in sight, thwart a clandestine invasion by an alien life form superior to humanity in just about every way you care to name. The portrayal of "Law In Action" put this reviewer off a life of crime once and for all. In some ways it is a bit like "Three To Conquer" but with the telepath (despite having other abilities as well) on the losing side.
"Allamagoosa" and "Diabologic" are rather slight compared to the above, but still fun reads. The first relates to some hysterical misunderstandings in regard to a spaceship's official inventory, and I strongly suspect it harks back to Russell's time in the army. "Diabologic" rather resembles a more concise variation on "Next Of Kin", where a Terran in alien captivity manages to hornswoggle his captors into letting him go, in hilarious if none too credible fashion.
Finally, "P.S." Is a gentle, touching tale of the kind Russell was good at. It's story of the Earthman who discovers some disturbing information about his lifelong alien pen pal is a real tearjerker, with a lovely touch at the end which I prefer not to reveal to anyone who hasn't read it. Get the book.
One final point. I was rather concerned to discover that this book does not appear to be stocked on Amazon.com, which seems to me a deplorable gap in the education of our transatlantic friends. Oh well, I suppose their loss is our gain. Buy it.
"The Waitabits" has a plotline and twist that countless "Star trek" episodes have plundered. Russell's characters are full of efficiency but also filled with humour and craft.
It sets a high standard -- one which only really flags with the second story: "P.S.", which is one of the author's few sorties into sentimentality that doesn't really come off. All of the other stories have a common thread of space exploration and the meeting of different species, and "P.S." stands out like a sore thumb.
However, "Allamagoosa" brings us bang up to the high mark, and is a great example of Russell's fine humour.
"Legwork" is an impressive piece of Terran detective work. If Russell is best known for his novels involving space scouts, then this is the other side of the coin for once.
"Diabologic" is a short tale that has its roots well within the novels "Next of Kin" and "Wasp".
Finally, "The Timeless Ones" is an interesting tale that, in these ever so politically correct times, will have you smiling at the final denouement.
Aldiss wrote of Russell: "For more than twenty years nobody has rivalled Russell at his best."
This book clearly demonstrates why.