You couldn’t get any more on the nose with the title Space Viking [Amazon link] than this book, which despite it’s space opera trappings, is a re-imagining of 9th or 10th century Europe, when intrepid men like Rollo secured their domains by wits and force of arms, while back home Harald Fairhair made himself king, to the consternation of almost everyone.
I picked up Space Viking because of Rick Stump’s excellent write-up at Don’t Split the Party.
When a madman kills his wife on their wedding day and flees into space on a stolen ship the nobleman Trask sells all he has for his own ship to pursue vengeances. In the long years of his search he slowly turns from raider into builder, from thief to leader, and until his obsession becomes protecting other innocent people from madmen who would destroy them.
Since he did such a great job there, I won’t attempt to best it, but rather look at some interesting elements of Space Viking. One of the interesting ideas in space opera is how travel times create different kinds of societies. The Galactic Republic of Star Wars is as interdependent as our own world, where all the major players are only a few hours of travel away from each other, and communication is instantaneous. Contrast that with Piper’s Terro-human future history, or the Empire of Man in Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, where worlds are weeks or months apart, and you might wait years to hear news from a particularly distant locale. Trade is important, but local autonomy is easier to come by, and you have to be very strategic about where and when you deploy your forces, lest you come home to find an enemy ransacked your home while you were on voyage.
Piper also seems to have been a fan of the cyclical theories of history that were more popular in the mid-twentieth century than now, although I think Space Viking can be enjoyed in isolation, without knowing the whole grand sweep of the future he imagined. This book is an excellent illustration of how adventure fiction can combine an interesting look at the relative merits of civilization and barbarism in a very historically grounded way, while still being a fun story. I don’t mind fiction that is pure escapism, but I do mind political treatises that are boring and preachy. Space Viking is neither.
It has been six years since I last read something by Piper, and that is probably too long. I will endeavour to remedy that.
Other books by H. Beam Piper