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Sundog (SF) - Brian Ball ****

Brian Ball's main character, Dod, in this slight dated but still effective title, is a space pilot on a grunt run from Pluto to the Moon. (The weakest aspect of the book is the assumption that anyone would want to have a regular route to Pluto.) A few hundred years before, the solar system was locked in by some unknown alien force. After a military coup, the Company runs the whole solar system with an iron grip based on a mixture of brute force and psychology.

In one sense this book is a classic 'rebellion against the empire' book, the sort of thing Asimov was doing years before - but there's more to it, and here's where the similarities with Fritz Leiber's Gather Darkness! come through. Our hero turns out to be mentally programmed by the bad guys to change his behaviour - previously a brilliant scientist he is now a thick pilot. But the conditioning starts to crack when suddenly he is endowed with a halo. (This proves to be a result of contact from the aliens, but that comes much later.) Bizarrely, halos also feature in the other book as part of the priests' uniform.

So imposed on top of the rebellion against empire story is our hero's gradual discovery of who he is (decidedly Bourne Identity), plus some mental frippery that eventually enables him to contact the aliens. It is actually a much more layered book than it first appears. There is also a slight link to Heinlein here too. Heinlein's later books almost all featured a character that seemed to be a thinly veiled version of himself. This guy would be old, incredibly wise and rather cynical. The Gompertz character in Sundog is just such a person - all he lacks from the Heinlein clones like Jubal Harshaw (the only name I can remember offhand) is he's not obsessed with sex.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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