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There are probably more good new writers in the science fiction field today than at any time in the history of the genre. I'm not completely sure why this should be, though obviously such factors as the burgeoning quality and popularity of science fiction have a lot to do with it: not only are there more people reading sf today (and hence becoming interested in writing it), but the stories they're reading must be providing higher standards at which to aim than did such stories of earlier eras as, say, Captain Future and the Space Emperor.
Whatever the reason, I find that I get a lot of manuscripts from new writers that would make the established professionals of science fiction's pulp era flush green with envy. And whenever I get a manuscript that shows so much talent, whether or not I feel I can buy it for one of my anthologies, I try to let the writer know I appreciate what he or she has done, and I ask for more stories.
Jeffrey Carver was one of these writers: a couple of years ago I received two stories from him that raised my eyebrows. Neither struck me as completely successful, but as I read them I became intensely aware that I was meeting a writer of real talent; and when I regretfully returned the manuscripts I said, "What I like in these stories are your descriptive powers, which are considerable; I can see and feel these scenes." I asked where he'd sold stories so far, and was surprised to get a letter in return saying that he was just beginning and hadn't sold anything yet.
Since then Jeff Carver has sold articles and stories to such markets as Fiction Magazine andGalaxy; and now he's written a full-length novel that fulfills all the promise of his early stories, and then some.
Seas of Ernathe shows Carver's descriptive powers at their best: he brings the people and places of an alien world to life on the page and presents us with a well-thought-out alien society in conflict with visitors from Earth. He has an engrossing story to tell, too.
Science fiction is a strangely hybrid field of writing, as its very name suggests. Science: rationality, logic, the belief that all of reality can be understood in these terms. Fiction: imagination, wonder, the realization that strange things will happen in an infinite universe.
If we want to, we can polarize sf writers according to which end of the description their works usually fit. Heinlein, Asimov, Clement and Clarke are at home in the rationalists' camp; at the other end are people like Vance, Brackett, Zelazny and Norton. Talented writers all--and popular ones, too.
I think Jeffrey Carver's name will soon take its place among the latter group of writers: he imagines wonders, and allows us to share his vision. Seas of Ernathe is one such vision, and I think you'll enjoy it.
The starship labored in the uncertain currents of flux-space. Its course took it through unknown realms, bypassing the emptiness between the stars, until, in nearing the end of its journey, Warmstorm had effectively dodged seventy-four light-years of normal-space distance from the Cluster Central Worlds. But the journey, if quick by the standards of interstellar distances, was perilously draining. Warmstorm had strained to the limits of its endurance by the time, finally, that it wrenched free of the queer existence of flux-space and leaped, like a terrified fish bursting over a dam, into normal space.
A sculpted drop of quicksilver, Warmstorm hurtled on through the dark of space toward the golden sun Lambern and its second planet, Ernathe, where a troubled colony awaited assistance. From the darkened control pit, communication channels grumbled forthrightly between starship and colony as the ship decelerated toward orbit. With due concern for identification, the colony demanded and received clearance codes; then Warmstorm's master was advised that planetary defenses had been neutralized and that the ship was free, to approach. Warmstorm slowed and orbited.
Ernathe turned slowly on the control pit viewscreens: a misty planet, a world of spiderweb land masses, glistening clouds and green and blue seas. Ernathe the sea-planet. Somewhere in the clouds and the maze, tracked by signal but lost to the eye, were the tiny twin settlements, Lambrose and Lernick. They were the only human claim to this world but an important claim, indeed, to warrant a planetary mission from the busy Central Worlds.
Silent in the gloom of the control pit, Pilot Second Seth Perland monitored his screens and made ready to assist the Pilot First as the latter began the approach and descent sequence. Noting a red spark crossing his mainscreen, the Pilot Second signaled the Captain to advise him of imminent danger--and then allowed himself a breath of astonishment.
Warmstorm had been fired upon. A pulse-packet attack burst, apparently from the colony, was streaking out of the atmosphere toward the starship.
The Captain's voice murmured in his earset; and the Pilot Second touched two parted fingers to two plates on the control panel.
The starship's weapons-fire streamed sparkling across the emptiness of space and rained lazily into the closing pulse-packet pinwheel. Strange, the Pilot Second thought, that if they're going to attack at all they should launch only a single burst. He watched the deadly play on his screen and remained ready to double his fire if necessary.
The pinwheel brightened, absorbing the defensive fire. It overloaded white ... blue ... pulsing indigo ... then flared into a harmless nova and faded silently into space.
The danger had passed, with scarcely a word spoken aboard ship. While Warmstorm hovered, though, the communication channels came alive. Pilot Second Perland keyed in and listened. "Ernathe, explain, explain!" The Captain himself came on the circuit: "You will tell us, Ernathe, what in hell is going on!"--and the only answers were more confusion and consternation. The officers held the ship at battle readiness--prepared, if necessary, for pinpoint bombardment. Did an enemy hold the colony?
"Please hold, Warmstorm, please hold! We are trying to get you an explanation, we do not know why you were fired upon!" The explanation, when it came, was no explanation at all. It had been an accident, a mortifying fluke--a prank, the Ernathene operator stammered, on the part of a native life form. "We do, repeat do have full control over systems again. All weaponry has, ah, been disconnected from power. You are cleared, repeat cleared to land!"
The Pilot Second shook his head in disbelief--anger was impossible, that would imply belief--and waited while the Captain presumably mulled the situation over. He merely shrugged to himself when the order was given to resume the landing approach, with all weapons at ready.
Its journey nearing an end, the starship flashed gleaming through the planet's atmosphere, over seas glowing in the sun, and down finally to an uneventful landing on the Lambrose-Lernick spacepad. If there was an enemy waiting to greet the ship, he remained hidden. Only welcoming and profusely apologetic Ernathenes came forward to greet the starship crew.
So began Warmstorm's planetary mission on Ernathe.