Review: Space Lawyer

Nat Schachner
1953

I never thought I’d say it, but I really enjoyed reading about a lawyer!!  The author, Nat Schachner, was a lawyer himself, though probably not a bona fide space lawyer like this chap here.  This was the only book he ever had published – albeit like many GP books, it was put together from a couple of his shorter stories.  He did however, contribute to pulp magazines in the 30s and early 40s.  I found Space Lawyer to be a surprisingly good read, but for some quite unusual reasons.  Reasons that I could have taken as negatives.  Indeed probably would be negatives to more than a few modern readers.  But before I talk about those reasons, what’s it about??

Our hero Kerry Dale, bright, young super-hotshot space lawyer, gets himself dismissed from Kenton Space Enterprises, Unlimited by the irascible Simeon Kenton (an adjective used to describe him three times in the first two pages) after being employed for a year with no promotion or advancement to show for it.  No longer a practicing lawyer, he busts out on his own, plying the space-ways of the solar system looking for opportunities and legal loopholes to thwart his old boss and advance his own ends.  Being quite successful – out-smarting ‘Old Fireball’ Kenton, making a fortune and winning the affections of his ex-employers beautiful daughter along the way.

So, what was unusual about it all??  Well, I had an inkling that this would be a little different when on the very first page, author Schachner chose to express ‘Old Fireball’ Kenton’s annoyance by employing the ejaculation “Har-r-rumph!”  In fact, a whole panapoly of outrageously quaint expressions of abuse and aggravation are variously employed throughout the book.  Let me give you a taste:

On page 14:

Old Simeon found tongue at last. It had swelled with indignation until it protuded from his mouth. “That goddasted blitherskite – I mean dadgosted slitherblite – did he dare call me Old Fireball?”

page 31:

“Is he really back on your payroll, father?” Sally asked innocently.
He glared at her. “Quiet! Of all the insufferable impudence, the ratgosted, blatherskited ripscullian!”
“Father, your language! It’s not even English!”

page 97:

“Dadfoozle it!” shouted Simeon.

page 209:

Old Simeon came hurtling over. His eyes blazed, his hair flared, he danced around the young man in a rage. “That’s right dingburn ye for a dimscullion, Dale. I expected almost anything else of ye, but not this. You forced my daughter along on this blamefoozled, scarumharum trip o’ yours!”

I just pulled a couple out at random, but I could go on and on.  I understand that it might not be to everyone’s taste, but to me, it’s brilliant.

Dale’s modus operandi is to do some reseach on a subject, execute a carefully conceived plan and when all and sundry are telling him he can’t possibly get away with it, he trumps them as to why he can by quoting from the law books obscure articles and sections with precedents.  As a reader we aren’t enlightened as to the exact nature of the trumps until he plays them.  It’s very entertaining.

To draw a comparison with another Gnome Press book, Space Lawyer brings to mind Lewis Padgett’s Robots Have No Tails. While they are different in that ‘Robots’ is penned as a comedy and ‘Lawyer’ isn’t (though it’s certainly lighthearted), they are very similar in the way they read.  Both are light and easy, reading them is a breeze.  I want to contrast this with another book I have finished recently – Renaissance by Raymond F. Jones.  It’s so complex and heavy that I can’t even get a review off the ground.  Though perhaps that’s more a testimony to my abilities as a reviewer…

Anyway, both ‘Robots’ and ‘Lawyer’ allowed me to enjoy them with nothing grand and heavy to consider.  This is the other element that I think the typical modern sf reader might have problems with.  Books these days seem to need to be so… for lack of a better term, meaningful.  This one isn’t.  Look, I’m not sure that I’m expressing what I feel too well here, perhaps it’s best just to say that when I finished the book, I could look back, smile and feel a genuine sense of simple pleasure – Space Lawyer is fun.

I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

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