John Brunner is one of those names that I’ve heard since I was a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from him…or not much, anyway. Endless Shadow, which appears as the alternate side of an Ace Double with Gardner F. Fox’s The Arsenal of Miracles, may be expected to be a light-hearted, pulpy romp. At only ninety seven pages, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be quite what it is.
What is it? Well, it deals with some weighty subjects, from suicide to the very meaning of cultural/societal existence. By the end of the book, some pretty big questions are addressed. It’s part of that subgenre of Science Fiction that feels more than a little like a philosophy treatise with just enough story tacked on to make it a novel (see also; Starship Troopers). Like a few classics from the era, the characters may lack some depth and the human to human contact can be a bit stiff (Foundation Trilogy, I’m looking at you…). There’s also a surprisingly large cast of characters for such a short book, so I’ll admit, a couple times I lost track of who was from what planet, who was the rep for which group, and who had committed suicide or was planning to.
I found Brunner’s writing to be a bit slow-going. Not ponderous or anything. He was clearly a skilled writer. Yet, I found the pages slow to get through and not just because of the small print. That said, I did enjoy the book quite a bit.
It does make a kind of odd pairing with The Arsenal of Miracles, which is a more traditional Apsce Opera story, with dashes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulpy writers (expected from Fox). Though both books deal with traveling between worlds via gates, that’s about where the comparisons end.
I was especially amused thinking about how a bunch of contemporary internet comment section fanboys would flip their lid if this book came out today. They’d be crying ‘SJW’ this and ‘virtue-signaling,’ because Brunner’s vision of the future (like so many of his contemporaries) included women and people of color in positions of power. If there were a film adaptation, they’d probably hem and haw if Captain Inkoos wasn’t played by Scarlett Johansson or Emma Stone or something, clutching their pearls and crying ‘oppression’ if a woman of African descent were cast.