The name Edmond Hamilton is legendary in the science fiction genre. He originated, or at least popularized, the space opera style story, and he wrote several classic tales including the short story “The Man Who Evolved”. He was a stable writer for the pulp magazine Weird Tales
where he published 79 stories between 1926 and 19481
. He was one of the most popular writers of science fiction for decades, but since his death in 1977 his work has nearly been forgotten.
I recently read his novel Fugitive of the Stars—an ACE Double (M-111) published in 1965 with Kenneth Bulmer’s Land Beyond the Map. It is, according to isfdb.org, Mr Hamilton’s second to last published novel. It is a scant 116 pages, but it is pure adventure from the opening sentence to the final page.
Horne is the First Pilot for the Federation freighter Vega Queen. He is on a leisurely cruise to the distant Fringe Worlds—a place where the Federation’s influence is only sporadic and rumors of slave ships and abduction has caused a good deal of unrest and fear. When the Vega Queen reaches its second port stop at the small world of Skereth the second pilot and Horne find trouble. Horne makes it out okay, but his second isn’t so lucky, so with a new second pilot the Vega Queen continues its scheduled route through the Fringe.
Unfortunately the trip goes awry in a hurry. The Vega Queen is smashed apart in an asteroid belt. There are only eighteen survivors, and Horne is accused of drunken negligence. He knows he was drugged, but the investigation taps him as the responsible party. He isn’t satisfied with the verdict—he escapes the detention center in search of the second pilot and the truth behind the crash.
Fugitive of the Stars is pure pulp. It captures the essence of adventure and awe that was science fiction in the 1940s and 50s. The intended market was twelve year-old boys, and it hits square. The only problem, it was written and published in the 1960s; an era when science fiction was changing from its escapist adventure roots to a more serious form. An era that introduced writers like Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and J.G. Ballard; Mr Hamilton was an old horse by then. His time and stories very probably viewed as archaic and trite by the genre elite.
But damn if it isn’t entertaining. The story is quick and competently written. The prose is smooth and clean, and surprisingly strong and attractive in places:
“To fall with a soundless scream through an empty chaos of contending forces, to be riven right out of your own dimensions and hurled quaking through alien continua…that was how it was, if you looked at it one way."
“The mountain was a skull and Horne walked within it, a micro-organism moving through the convoluted tunnels of the brain that filled its great domed hollowness.”
The bottom line: Fugitive of the Stars is entertaining. It is escapist and fun. It is competent—the prose, the plot, the characters—and very well designed. It is a novel that anyone who enjoys a quick and exciting story will enjoy. Don’t break the bank acquiring it, but if you run across a copy—buy it!