Berserkers: The Beginning by Fred Saberhagen

May 16, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Because of the book’s age I didn’t have high expectations for this one, and further damping my enthusiasm was the cover of the Baen edition: “Your Galaxy Is Toast, Monkey Boys!” Imagine my surprise to find it was not a Doc Smith space opera but something that is actually pretty sophisticated. The premise is now a trope but I think was pretty original at the time: autonomous, self-replicating machines created long ago as weapons are out to destroy all life in the universe. The book is really a collection of short stories that share a common universe and occasionally common characters, all revolving around humans struggling against the Berserkers. Like any collection there are hits and misses, and the framing device of an alien historian doesn’t add much of anything, but it’s solid stuff. Saberhagen makes the work the writers of Star Trek did with the Borg (who had to have been inspired by Berserkers in the first place) look shoddy. He gives the Berserkers both the implacable nature of a malevolent computer as well as an intelligence that is both cunning and alien. The human characters are a little on the Asimov side of the spectrum, but not too far. All in all it comes together quite well, and I can see why his work has entered the common language of science fiction even though most people under 30 haven’t read it.

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