Camelot in Orbit by Arthur H. Landis
DAW Books, 1978
Price I paid: 90¢
Fomalhaut II was an inexplicable enigma in the annals of the Galactic Watchers. A world of knights and ladies, of dungeons and dragons, it was truly medieval and therefore out of bounds for science-armed Terrans. Yet science seemed thwarted there for magic really worked and witchcraft baffled the secret watchers.
Camelot was their name for it, and Kyrie Fern was their Adjustor on its surface—a knight in truly shining armor, a champion of chivalry, and the only one who actually stood between the Arthurian natives and the alien being that menaced both their world and the advanced planets that swung unseen through their sky.
Once again Arthur H. Landis has worked the magic of combining the wonders of swords-and-sorcery with the science adventure of high space.
I bet at least a million books were conceived with some thought along the lines of, “You know, nobody’s ever had the idea of writing a science fiction novel where through some kind of whatever it turns out that there’s a planet where magic actually works.”
I mean, this is at least the fourth book I’ve reviewed where magic was a real thing and it wasn’t explicitly a fantasy novel. There’s George H. Smith‘s two novels of “Let’s insult Irish people” and there’s The Suiciders, and then there are a few others where magic is just sufficiently advanced technology but that’s a whole different can of worms. A preferable can of worms, though. A can of gummi worms.
Do they make cans of gummi worms?
Interestingly, this book falls somewhere in between the “magic is real” and “sufficiently advanced technology” camps. On one hand, yes, magic is running around on this medieval planet like it’s not even a problem, but on the other it turns out our main character can’t use that magic, so he has to use technology to shoot laser beams and stuff to impress the natives that way.
Now that I think about it, I kind of like that. The rest of the book, though, I’ll pass on.
First problem is that this is another dang old case of a sequel that doesn’t say anything about it being a sequel until I’m invested in reading it and it starts making all these references to past adventures and I have to look it up. I really, really hate that.
Second problem is the main character, Kyrie Fern, also known as Collin. He’s better than most of the protagonists I read about, to be fair. He does have a goal in mind and he makes plans to complete that goal. It’s just that it’s really obvious that he’s not the one making the plot move forward. He doesn’t have skills to solve problems, he has gadgets for every occasion. When those don’t work, he has benevolent aliens that will save him because they love him. More on them later.
And the third problem, the real doozy, is the writing. I had a hard time getting into this book because of its style. It goes back and forth between going “Yea, yon doth prithee nuncle, boatswain!” and “Wowwwwwza!” It stinks that it’s so distracting because it is justified, to a degree. Our hero is straddling two worlds, this crazy pseudo-medieval planet that he’s worked his way into and the regular one of the rest of the galaxy.
The writing also fell on its face in that the author felt the need to use quotation marks for absodamnlutely no reason sometimes. I swear, they were arbitrarily placed around words and I spent waaaaay too much time trying to figure out why. Fake example:
Steve knew that he’d need to activate the “lasers” on his spaceship before the “enemy” arrived. Their “torpedos” would “pierce” his shields before he “knew” “what” “was” happening.
Italics were like that too, so I included them in the fake example. In that regard, the writing of this book reminded me of the King James Bible.
These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.
I wonder how intentional that was.
And then the last thing that bugged me is that the enemy was so consistently stupid and awful that there was at no time any sense of a threat toward our hero or his mission, which follows.
So there’s a bad guy on this planet. Sometimes he’s called the Dark One, other times he’s the Kaleen. He’s your standard-issue ancient evil from another universe.
I feel like in terms of plot and writing, this book owes a lot to the Weird Tales crowd.
From what I gathered, the Dark One was defeated in the first book. This sequel, then, is that most boring and least inspired kind of sequel, where all it is is that the bad guy is back and he’s possibly more powerful.
Kyrie/Collin is a dude from space. He was sent here a while back to investigate this planet because it has magic on it. In the meantime he got swept up in all the majesty of this Arthurian world and he’s even gone so far as to get engaged to one of the natives, who look roughly like humans except that they have fur.
He’s a sort of thing called an Adjustor. Basically, adjustors work like this: they watch Star Trek, learn about the Prime Directive, and go NUTS TO THAT.
Seriously, his job is to go from planet to planet and futz up its development. Now, he and the organization claim that it’s for the better, that they’re helping civilizations develop in a way that will help them prosper and join the galactic community, but come on, this is just totally monstrous, especially considering that his method is to take a bunch of scientific equipment, land, and go I AM THE MIGHTY WIZARD WHO IS ALSO YOUR MESSIAH.
The only reason the Terrans aren’t the bad guys are that the real bad guy had the good sense to call himself the Dark One.
It’s also worth noting that Kyrie’s job is to basically fly around the galaxy and be an on-demand White Savior. There’s a whole organization for that kind of thing in this book. Magnificent.
A thought: does this still count as a White Savior narrative if the White Savior is interacting with natives who are an analog to one of the points of history where we were at our whitest? The Knights and Castles period is basically as European as you can get without trenches and mustard gas.
Kyrie’s alias on this planet is Collin, which is always italicized because it’s also kind of a title. This may have been covered in the first book because I had to figure it out for myself, but what I gather is that a long time ago there was a guy named Collin who died and was prophesied to come back. Kyrie has claimed to be the comeback, because he is a dick.
There are some other races on the planet besides the furry knights. There are some things that I guess are supposed to be dragons, called the Vuun, and there are also Pug Boos, which I imagined as looking like Moogles. I think they were also described as looking like koalas. One presumes that, unlike koalas, the Pug Boos do not have chlamydia.
The thing with the Pug Boos is that they run around looking all cute and serving as good luck charms for the people that Kyrie is hanging around with. Kyrie alone knows the truth, which he learned in the last book but has the grace to remind us in this book: the Pug Boos are an extremely powerful and ancient race that also happens to be adorable. They’re also that kind of hyper-advanced race that can’t be counted on to do anything at all because otherwise that would render the story completely pointless. The Pug Boo we interact with most is one named Hooli, who talks to Kyrie via telekinesis.
So the plot of this book involves Kyrie learning that the Dark One is back, and and now he needs to lead an army to fight him or it or whatever. He takes some folks from one kingdom, marches toward the Dark One’s kingdom, meets some other people, frees them from the Dark One’s influence, leads them toward the Dark One too, calls some dragons, and finally makes it to the Dark One’s front doorstep, where there is a climactic battle.
That’s really the first 130 pages or so. Easily skippable stuff that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about. But then we get the big battle scenes.
I’ll be honest, I’m not usually a fan of big battle scenes. They tend to run together in my head and I can’t keep stuff straight. In this case, though, I rather enjoyed it. It was well-written, although it still had some problems. Never once did I feel that Kyrie was in any kind of danger, even when he ended up fighting gigantic beasts and dreadful wizard-priest-warriors. By extension, I never felt that his bride-to-be who is also a princess was in danger, for much the same reason.
Not only does Kyrie have tech powers, it also turns out that he’s got roughly twice the strength of the average person on this planet, simply because he comes from a planet with twice the gravity. He’s got fighting prowess not from practice and training, but from having it zapped into his head on the way over to the planet. He’s not a character to admire for his skills, he’s just lucky. That’s boring.
We do get this great battle where Kyrie is fighting what basically amounts to a Tyrannosaurus. It’s described as the most fearful beast in the Dark One’s army.
A note on the Dark One: he’s completely stupid and worthless and not a good bad guy. At one point early in the book, he sends a giant centipede/scorpion/spider thing to kill Kyrie. It’s huge and there’s no way in hell anyone could ever survive fighting it, except for one flaw that Kyrie, of course, catches immediately. The monster was magically transplanted from the tropical regions of the planet for this job, which is in the far north. It’s something like 20º F outside. The monster thrashes around a bit, but all Kyrie needs to do is stand back while the stupid thing freezes to death.
And we’re supposed to take this villain seriously.
The beast that Kyrie has to deal with near the end of the book isn’t much better. It’s big and armored but it’s stupid. It tries to eat Kyrie, who thrusts his sword into its mouth and kills it.
The Dark One’s soldiers aren’t much, either. They’re unskilled and untrained. Kyrie and his retinue cut through them like butter.
I’m not doing a good job describing how these battle scenes impressed me. Now I’m not even sure if they actually did or if they were just a little bit better than the rest of the book and thus stood out.
Kyrie fights his way to the Dark One’s lair. He loses most of his pals on the way there, but Murie, the girlfriend/princess/shieldmaiden, only gets wounded. There’s another gigantic beast, but Kyrie lets one of his pals fight it while he sneaks past.
The final showdown comes and Kyrie barges into the Dark One’s office or whatever.
Oh, I forgot to mention that everybody was on a timer and if the Dark One wasn’t destroyed before the conjunction of the planet’s two moons there would be hell to pay. Fine, now you’re caught up.
In the office, Kyrie sees not some abhorrent monstrosity from a parallel universe, but instead he sees Hooli, his Pug Boo pal. Hooli casually says that the monster downstairs that just died was the actual Dark One, so good job, the mission’s over. He’ll finish up here.
In a flash of insight, Kyrie throws a bit of trivia out at the Pug Boo.
The Pug Boo looks at him confusedly just long enough for Kyrie’s laser to disintegrate him.
See, a real Pug Boo, especially Hooli, would have been able to pick the answer right out of Kyrie’s brain. The Dark One, who was also apparently a convincing shape shifter as well as an idiot, is no more.
And that’s the book.
So I didn’t like this one but it’s not a strong dislike. It was occasionally frustrating, with the “What, ho” all over the place and the completely superfluous quotation marks, but as a story it was strictly mediocre. That in itself is frustrating because it means I don’t have any overriding reason to finish the book other than the fact that I started it and now I’m committed and the review needs to be up sometime today oh looooooord
That’s a pity because it could have been a pretty interesting read. What I was hoping for was something like Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade (Wikipedia link; spoilers), which, if you haven’t read, I seriously recommend you do so. It’s a much better option than this book, to say the least.
Two things before I go: A) Why is the book called Camelot in Orbit when none of the action takes place in orbit of anything?, and B) Who thinks the “dungeons and dragons” in the back synopsis was a deliberate reference?