Review: The Shrouded Planet & The Dawning Light

Robert Randall (Robert Silverberg & Randall Garrett)
1957 & 1959

I’ve been looking forward to reading these two books ever since I picked up The Dawning Light from Joe back in November (December?) last year.  Just like the Close Up for these two books, this will be a double-header review.  Both these books by Robert Randall are the joint work of two authors – Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett.  Garrett was an experienced contributor to pulp magazines and several years older than Silverberg, and acted as a kind of mentor to the younger writer.

These two books together represent one almost seamless and continuous story despite their origins as pulp fare.   ‘Planet’ was originally published in three separate parts in Astounding Science Fiction during 1956.  For the Gnome Press hardback release in ’57, linking chapters were added to aid the flow in novel form.  Something, incidentally, that was desperately needed for The Philosophical Corps, so desperately in fact that their absence effectively destroyed what could have been a much better book… but I digress.  ‘Light’ was likewise release over three consecutive months in 1957 in the same magazine. The linking chapters work very well in these books, so well that you wouldn’t know unless you… knew.

Wikipedia goes into quite a bit of detail regarding the plots of these two books (‘Planet’ here, ‘Light’ here) and has a substantial reference regarding the planet Nidor where the books are set.  However, if you want to really enjoy these books, I recommend not reading them (the wikipedia entries, I mean) if you can at all help it.  I somehow managed to studiously avoid all this information until after I completed the tales, and my reading experience was, I think, all the better for it.

So, what was the reading experience??  I’m not going to go into detail, I’m just going to gloss over the basic structure so you can enjoy it the way I did.  The biggest strength of the story is that we never find out what the real motivations of the Earthmen are until the very end.  I found myself swinging one way or the other with regards to whether they were benign or not.  But let’s back up a bit.  The planet Nidor orbits a very bright star and is perpetually covered in cloud.  Indeed, the Nidorians have never actually seen their sun, or even the sky for that matter.  This brings to mind the Murray Leinster’s The Forgotten Planet which I read recently.  In another parallel with that book, nightly rains are a by-product of all that cloud.  Since a great cataclysm some four thousand years ago, the Nidorians have lived in a static society structured around the worship of ‘The Great Light’, their sun.  Everything is in balance from the planet’s ecology, to the economy, to leadership by the oldest members sixteen tribes.  This living, yet petrified civilization is what’s alluded to by the title of the first book.  It certainly is a ‘shrouded’ or ‘mummified’ planet.  Well, it is until the Earthmen arrive and playing on being emissaries of The Great Light, shake things up a bit.

If the title of the first book gives you an indication of what the planet is like, the second title does too.

I’ve decided that I can’t comment how I want here without giving too much away, and if you haven’t read these books then I don’t want to spoil it.  The exact motivations of our brethren in the future really are skillfully witheld until the end, and in such a way that I couldn’t make a confident guess as to what they might be.  Suffice to say that there is a lot of scope for different interpretations and comment on the motivations for intervention/nonintervention in foreign (and not necessarily off-world) cultures.

The authors have created a very believable world here populated by interesting characters.  The writing is excellent and the story well paced and engaging.  I thoroughly recommend it.  The only negative aspect that is worth comment is that the revelations at the end are too hastily resolved.  Upon reflection, I think this may be a by-product of the pulp origins of the story.  Each book was published in three parts so the sixth and final installment had to provide a satisfactory conclusion as well as being reasonably self-contained in the confines of a short story.  If they went to the trouble of penning linking chapters, also fleshing out the ending to be more suitable for one long novel (which these two books essentially are) would have been a good idea.

One thing that many stories of this vintage suffer from is the curse of the outdated technology.  Not so here.  Because all of the action takes place on Nidor where the technology is relatively primitive to that contemporary to the time of writing, there isn’t much danger of attempting to describe stuff that seems odd or flat out nonsense to the modern reader.  One of the reasons why the tale holds it’s own very well today.

This is a very entertaining and satisfying read that despite being a little too quickly wrapped up at the end, I think any SF fan will enjoy.

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