needed a break from my long slog through The Republic (“Do you think that a book that goes so long, and is so pedant, can hold your attention?” “Of course I do, oh Great Socrates!”). Picked this one up in a Maya’s raid, a thin scifi (154 pages), and it would make for a nice intermission.
So, things on this future Earth (as seen in the 60s, when this was written) ain’t so hot. Aliens have arrived, ones we’ve never set eyes on except for their five great ships. When they show up, all of our nuclear stockpiles and weapons detonate, making rather a mess of everything. Worse, the cities have landed at various parts of the globe, strange shimmering monoliths (which crushed whatever they happened to land on). And so now there are lawless areas ruled by warlords around these strange things, and the rest of the countries are trying to recover after their own weapons blew up, literally, in their faces.
Oh, and just to head off your thoughts, any conventional armies that are sent against the cities go mad, turn around, and lay waste to the countryside. Occasional individuals can make it inside, but they come out ragged and dirty and crazy. Called “weirdos” by everyone else (ah, the sixties!), they are shunned. And meanwhile, “free traders” cast about the foundations of the cities, looking for any-old tech the unseen aliens have chucked out.
So strange things begin to happen. One weirdo confronts a brutish free trader in a bar, screaming odd things and starting a riot that puts everyone into the can. And in Russia, the warlord there has apparently assembled the alien tech into a powerful weapon, one which he uses to drive off Russian armies with ease. And a few remaining scientists are starting to see a pattern in the alien landing positions, and making frightful leaps of logic…
Okay, so The Day of the Star Cities was fun (compared to The Republic, even the phone book would be fun). Brunner writes pretty solid. On the down side, there are a number of characters that don’t seem to have points in the story (the Russian crew that shows up to help the heroes, frankly, seem redundant in their characterizations and personalities). And probably my biggest complaint was that the hammer that was going to come down on the heroes’ head, the big we-can’t-stop-it threat, it simply goes away. I could have thought (in retrospect) of things they could have done. But to threaten the characters with a insurmountable danger, and then to suddenly say “Never mind”, that was a little annoying.
Then again, the book (even though written in the sixties) reads smooth and fun. I did enjoy it, and outside of the disappearing danger, the way the heroes solve their primary obstacle is quite unique and, in retrospect, nicely done. So, overall, yeah, if you see this one on the shelf at the local used bookshop, pick it up. Quick and easy and fun. Perfect for a summer’s read.