No Truce with Kings and Ship of Shadows

Ship of Shadows

Given the recent interest in my Fritz Leiber reviews, I decided I’d post my last retro review for Leiber: “Ship of Shadows”, the flipside of Poul Anderson’s “No Truce with King” in one of those Tor Doubles from the 1980s.

There’s still a lot of Leiber I haven’t read yet.

From September 12, 2010 …

Review: No Truce with Kings/Ship of Shadows, Poul Anderson/Fritz Leiber, 1989.

Two classic works that have stood up well.

Anderson’s tale follows Colonel Mackenzie of the Army of the Pacific States of America as civil war breaks out in the wake of the president usurping power. Decades after a nuclear war, the inheritors of the United States of America – rather like the European kingdoms after Rome’s fall – are feudal, vie for power, and hope to recapture the technological and, perhaps, political glories of the past. Anderson’s knowledge of history was deep, and he frequently mined it for plots. Here elements of the Middle Ages, the Rennaissance, and many a civil war show up. But, with the Espers, a religion that promises the development of man’s latent psychic powers, something new in human history may have been brought into the mix. Hints may be found in the source of the title – Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Old Issue“.

Pastoral, tragic, fast-moving, it’s Anderson at his very best.

Leiber’s story is something markedly different. (Though, for those looking for the hidden meanings behind the pairings in the Tor Doubles, I could suggest that Leiber and Anderson were friends, these were both Hugo winning stories, and both deal – on varying scales – with political struggles.)

The setting is a spaceship; Spar, the protagonist, is just a man who wants some teeth and better eyes. Old Doc says he may be able to use some old technology to give those to him. But then Spar gets involved with Crown, the local gangster. Oh, and people keep disappearing – maybe due to vampires.

With the surprise ending, the unconventional hero, and the story’s lowlife, spacefaring setting, this story is still fresh and different. Its brand of future sleaze, space travel, and odd argot reminded me somewhat of Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” from the same period.

Recommended for Leiber fans and those who like generation starship tales.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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