23 September, 2010

Book Challenge... Win: Empress of Outer Space, by A. Bertram Chandler

In an effort to discover new and worthwhile writing, Brice came up with the wonderful idea of running a book challenge for that very purpose. Pick a book at random, read it and review it. His experience was abysmal, sadly, leading to the only review of his that I have read where he actually advocates against buying the book.

My experience was notably different. I picked up, randomly, an Ace Double containing Empress of Outer Space (1965), by Bertram A. Chandler.

Empress of Outer Space is one of the earlier explorations of strong women characters in science fiction and makes for a memorable read. Set in the distant future where humanity spans the stars and is ruled by an absolute monarchy, the book opens with the summary execution of traitors to the empire and the Empress. The leader of the rebels escapes however, and the Empress decides to go after him in person.

Empress of Outer Space is memorable for the way it presents the Empress and the relationship she has with the crew of her ship. At times a spoiled child, fearless leader and vengeance bent madwoman, the Empress seems to try on a number of personas throughout the novel. As such, Empress of Outer Space provides an insightful look at the treatment of woman characters in 'older' science fiction writings.

Empress of Outer Space is a mix between space opera, military scifi and a romantic adventure novel. The highlight of the narrative is undoubtedly the dream sequence in which Mr. Chandler generously borrows from the political debate of his time to present two drastically divergent political ideologies. Communism vs. Absolutism! Of course, the Empress and her trusted lieutenant ally themselves with the the precursor to democracy to crush the evil Communists.

One of the major inconsistencies of the novel has to do with the Empress and her crew getting stranded on a distant planet. On board her ship is a Telepath and Mr. Chandler goes to great lengths describing the history of Telepaths in the Imperial Navy. Lo and behold, one of their many skills is.... faster than light communications. So, getting into adventure after adventure on a foreign planet all could have been avoided by a little psychic phone call to home base for a tow truck.

All in all, Empress of Outer Space is a fun trip back to the past and will interest readers to the extent that it is well written and concise, if maybe a little overly imaginative. I should mention that Ace Doubles are a great way to discover older science fiction and fantasy and can be picked up for a dollar at most any street vendor. Two books for a buck is hard to beat.


Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

So glad your book worked out in this challenge. :) Sounds like quite an adventure in space. Thanks for the review!

Bryce L. said...

Yay! It actually worked out. Now I'm definitely reading this.

BryStearns said...

Wow that sounds like an interesting read. I don't generally read older sci fi books, I find them harder to relate to, but I may pick this one up. Cheers.

steve davidson said...

Thanks for paying attention to one of Chandler's works. You might be interested to know that there are two other novels featuring the Empress Irene - Space Mercenaries and The Dark Dimensions (although Dark Dimensions only includes her as one of many characters).

I've not re-read Empress in sometime, but am very familiar with Chandler's works and I think that you are crediting his Psionic Radio Officer with too much range. PROs have never been described by Chandler as having unlimited abilities. I also seem to recall that there were good reasons for Irene to NOT just call for help (political).
Regardless, I'm glad you enjoyed one of my favorite authors.