Visions of Paradise

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Altar at Asconel

John Brunner is one of the forgotten masters of science fiction. From the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s he published an amazing group of mature sf, starting with The Whole Man and The Squares of the City and continuing with a series of near-future dystopias which were as biting and thought-provoking as anything being written at that time: Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up and The Shockwave Rider.

But such works were actually a minority among Brunner’s fiction, most of which were sprightly adventure stories, loosely falling under the then-denigrated form of “space opera,” but always well-plotted, literate and more thoughtful than the lower end of that sub-genre which unfortunately tended to set the standard in the eyes of many readers.

The Altar at Asconel took place in Brunner’s mini-series about a galactic empire which flourished when humans found the technological debris from a former greatly-superior race which had left its discarded spaceships behind when they fled the galaxy for unknown regions. In this novel, the human empire has begun disintegrating, so that piracy and invasions are commonplace.

The three main characters are the sons of the former ruler of Asconel who has been overthrown by an invasion fleet which has established a repressive religion that has won over the hearts and minds of nearly the entire populace of the planet. All three sons are living offworld at the start of the novel, but they soon gather along with two women, one a telepath, and determine to regain their homeworld from the invaders.

The Altar at Asconel is briskly-paced with sufficient character development to be believable. There is no doubt it is a space opera, but a good one. Ironically, it was published in 1965, the same year as Brunner published The Squares of the City, so it was apparent that he was no longer content to be “merely” a writer of space operas and planetary adventures, but this novel was good enough that he had nothing to be ashamed of. Its ending left open the possibility of more novels in the series but, alas, they were apparently never written. This was good, fun stuff.


  • John Brunner is one of the "forgotten" writers of science fiction. This is the kind of things I like to comment on in Science Fiction Times. Too many authors are being forgotten.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 6:20 AM  

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