Flying to Valhalla (Review)

Flying to Valhalla (Review)

Pellegrino, Powell and Asimov’s Three Laws of Alien Behavior:

Law No 1: Their survival will be more important than our survival. If an alien species has to choose between them and us, they won’t choose us. It is difficult to imagine a contrary case; species don’t survive by being self-sacrificing.

Law No 2: Wimps don’t become top dogs. No species makes it to the top by being passive. The species in charge of any given planet will be highly intelligent, alert, aggressive, and ruthless when necessary.

Law No 3: They will assume that the first two laws apply to us.

Flying to Valhalla is one of those nineties books, written when scifi was coming of age, when writers were jamming hard facts into their stories. No more chrome-levers on the bridge, no more space opera. The novel examines the idea of very limited space travel, where you can get to perhaps .9 C (light speed) with your spindly hydrogen-sucking ships (more spiderweb than hull, really). We’ve sent two ships (with a couple in each) to Alpha Centauri A, One blows up, and on the other the husband goes a bit space nuts (a psychological effect that some people suffer when going zippity-fast). So they arrive, find a race that has fallen from technological grace, and settle in to explore.

So here’s where the three laws come in. You’re on Earth. Your two colonists are integrating with an alien race. One of them gave signs of being bonkers for a bit (and that was years ago, because of the signal lag). You don’t know what’s going on there, not in real time. You don’t know. Have they gone native? We’re they tortured into giving control of their ship? Could the husband have gone totally mad?

And they have a C-speed ship.

Which, thanks to the speeds that can be moving at planetary impact, can wipe away all life on Earth.

Maybe its already on its way back.

What’s the chance of that? Are you willing to accept a 1% chance of such a scenario, if it means the death of humankind?

Or do you ready your own ship?

And that’s what the story plays off of – what can war be when both sides have relativistic weapons (i.e. Kamikaze spaceships)? If there is little chance to see it coming, how can you risk waiting? And if both sides have it, it’s like MAD without radar.

I rather liked it, even though we occasionally bogged down on the science aspects (ever “new generation” writer always painstakingly describes what .92C travel would really look like). And there was one bit where I wasn’t sure just what I was reading. The crazy husband remembers dying on the moon in an accident. But then he’s reborn and can avoid that, but this crates causalities even worse. So round and round he goes, living his life over and over. Was this a strange attribute he actually had? Or is this being mad from the inside out? I had no idea. I just read on, frowning, wondering what the devil was going on. But like all storms, this rocky section passed.

There were other things, that the race we’d found had originally planet-bombed us (or rather, our smarter ancestors), killing them all off before they could become a threat (and putting Homo sapiens in the driver’s seat). And then the aliens started genetically modifying themselves, allowing themselves to remember thousands of facts but losing the ability to critically think (Iphones and internet, anyone?). But why this was brought up, I’m not sure. Nobody knew it had happened, it didn’t alter the story one bit. It was like finding out that Captain Ahab had wanted to run a grocer’s store in his youth, or Hamlet liked to sing as a boy. Still, it was interesting to read our own “pre-history”.

It’s copyright 1993, so you’ll have to look in the used bookstores for it. Still, it was fun, even the blurry parts.