Slavers of Space — John Brunner (1960)


Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace edition, 1960

Cover Art: Ed Emshwiller

Plot Synopsis (of cover): It’s a question often asked of theologians by non-theologians—if Hell suffers its victims pain for all of eternity, would not the unfortunate souls of the damned eventually get used to it, as one does a hot bath? Likewise, the question could be put to the Hedonians of Caligula 3, who find themselves in a similarly eternal fate, though one of considerably different character. Life for the Hedonians is a cycle of constant revelry, a perpetual New Year’s Eve to put Duke, Bishop, President, and Durcet to shame. However, as the disaffected champagne-swillers of the 1920s might have told you, tedium does tend to set in where discord makes no home, so, once a year, one from the people is chosen. This year, the honor fell to young Harry Cyrenaic, who had proven himself to be full of the kind of juice that makes men of his age unruly. It was an exciting time for the young man, as only one was chosen each year, and the majority would never know the distinction. Chained and sat in the city square, he would be cared for by beautiful attendants—he would be fed the most basic gruel to sustain him, watered as was necessary, but given no kindly attention past that required to keep him alive and out of pain. Moreover, as the days and nights wore on, celebrants would circle around him, wildly parading their depraved sexual practices in his full view. Forced to watch but not allowed to participate, Harry became a martyr to the bacchanalia, an intentionally sober counterpoint for all to see. It was a strange kind of titillation, for, though Harry was symbolically chained, he could certainly demand to be released. It was the denial, the self-imposed blue balls, that made Harry’s martyrdom significant for the Hedonians, as it provided a necessary contrast to their own epicureanism. Harry would be there all year, slowly watching as the blueness of his balls darkened and spread to cover his stomach, his chest, his arms and legs. Delirious with desire and bereft of outlet, he would stare at his fapping hand, azure with neglect, proudly displaying it to the crowd as he laughed at its uselessness. “Look at this hand, and despair!” he would shout, to the delight of those committing new and terrible sodomies in his shadow. “Unsullied by sin, I am cast in the pure, blue hue of righteous deprivation! Worship my immaculacy!” Then the Hedonian Pope shat in the woods, and everyone laughed.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: This was a really refreshing little sci-fi political mystery/thriller. For all its trappings—topics broached include child slavery, first-world imperialism, and capitalist corruption—it’s curiously uncomplicated. The novel does a good job of introducing the reader to concepts, treating them with the gravity they deserve, and moving on without moving out of their influence. If it suffers from anything, it suffers from its short length (this is, BTW, the second half of the Ace Double that I mentioned back in the comments section of my review of Dr. Futurity, a part of the Dickathalon). I think of this story as one of those fish you move from a smaller bowl to a bigger bowl… you could move this story into a big fuck-off bowl, and it wouldn’t suffer from overgrowth. Unfortunately, John Brunner died in Glasgow in 1995, so the bowl’s as big as it’s gonna get. It’s a solid example of early 60s sci-fi, and anyone who likes early 60s sci-fi will find something to appreciate here. Not much in the way of nutty technology to explore beyond the obvious robots and androids, but if you like space colonization and interplanetary politics, you will like this book. If you like examples of words being pressed into pulpy sheets with a colloidal suspension of dyes, you will also like this book.

Rating: 9.2 Horny Rotund Jesters

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Are all robot waiters in the future controlled by an RC remote via a little antenna on the back of their heads, or is said antenna a cleverly-placed mobile WiFi hotspot?
  • Who orders hundreds of rhythmic gymnastics ribbons via Amazon drone, and who, in turn, bothers to shoot it down?
  • Examining the building in the background, is it possible that the trophy given out to Most Ineffectual Architect is, itself, a building?

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5 thoughts on “Slavers of Space — John Brunner (1960)

    1. Totally. Except, in the book, the androids have blue skin, not the robots. Also, at no point does Brunner ever suggest that the androids OR the robots are antagonistic, so “bewaring” them would be kind of silly. Then again, “Beware the Lazy Humans” doesn’t sell paperbacks.


  1. Hmmm, your conclusion is not exactly as motivating as a recent Comcast review for Out of the Dark…“If you’re into beautiful young girls … and clown masks, and crazy psychotic stalkers and murder. Yeah, if that’s what you’re into, this film is definitely for you.” …But, your analysis of the cover has sucked me in!


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