George O. Smith
As I mentioned in the Close Up, I was very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this particular book. Fortunately I didn’t have any expectations regarding the story, despite my eagerness in possessing a copy. George O. Smith was a regular contributor to pulp magazines in the 40s, and this is his first true novel – albeit reassembled from serialization in Astounding magazine. The only previous experience I’d had with Smith was the short story ‘History Repeats’ in audio form, which is available from Librivox as part of the ‘Short Science Fiction Collection 20’ audio collection. I quite liked that story but just to preempt my review a little, it seems he developed his style a bit between the pulp release of ‘Pattern for Conquest’ in 1946 and the 1959 publication of ‘History Repeats’.
No (or low) expectations turned out to be a good thing. Another good thing was that I’d read Space Lawyer a few weeks ago. If you go back and read that review, it might give you a clue as to why it was good preparation.
‘Pattern for Conquest’ is an interesting book. ‘Interesting’ however, is an adjective that can cut both ways. The story defies a concise summary as quite a lot happens so I feel something of importance or interest would inevitably have to be omitted so I’m not going to attempt it. I’m just going to talk about both sides of the ‘interesting’ label.
If you made yourself familiar with the Space Lawyer review, one of the main reasons I gave that book a COSMIC! rating is the use of the vernacular of the times. The quaint mid-20th-century exclamaitions and language were a couple of reasons I enjoyed that tale so much, yet the very same factor works against this story. In ‘Lawyer’ some of this language is so over the top that one suspects author Nat Schachner had his tongue firmly in cheek. As a result, one is free to enjoy it as an endearing idiosyncrasy of the book. Here, though Smith is not so bold with his turn of phrase, the language and witty repartee come across as especially dated. Kind of like your old aunt’s 50s living room as opposed to the more progressive designs of the times. Despite both possessing obvious roots in a common past, one retains it’s charm and style and the other is just… tacky and old.
Another thing that is ‘interesting’ is the apparent attempt at incorporating some ‘hard science’. I refer to Robert Heinlein reasonably regularly in these reviews as he is probably the benchmark for science fiction of this period. When RAH explains something in terms of the science or rationale behind it, it comes across as sensible, readable and at least convincing. Whether it is actually true or not isn’t really important – it doesn’t stand in the way of the story. Here, it’s not so. Often I had to go back and reread descriptions of effects or processes as they came across as confused nonsense the first time around. Even if they were scientifically sound they were clumsily handled. With the re-digestion and extra conjugation required (which took me out of the flow of the tale), I just had to either continue with a mental question mark over it or proceed on faith. Both cases aren’t conducive to a satisfactory reading experience.
Ok, enough of the bad stuff. The positive side of the blade is what propelled this out of an ‘Orbital’ rating and into ‘Lunar’ territory. The story rocks along. Though many things transpire a little too rapidly to be entirely comfortable, there is never a dull moment. This book isn’t a page-turner but there is always something to come back to when you put it down. I like a book like that. As is typical with science fiction of this vintage, the book is too short – there are many ideas, situations and themes that would be given much more detailed treatment in subsequent eras, but the story itself, the premise of the whole thing is very good. I especially liked the path that the earthmen chose in the face of their defeat and domination at the hands of their alien antagonists. I can’t help but think that this was influenced by the cost (in all senses of the word) of WWII, the book being written just at the end of that period.
A story with many shortcomings, nevertheless a light and enjoyable read. If you don’t mind a bit of simplistic gung-ho space opera and are prepared to accept this on it’s merits as a product of it’s time, then great. If you are a trifle more demanding, well… you might not enjoy it. Tempering that though is a faint but detectable current of intelligence and some real food for thought, especially towards the end.