Remember the old Ace Doubles, each of which included two novels/novellas printed back-to-back and upside-down, each with its own front cover? I love those, and am happy to report that Wildside Press has started a new series using this concept. Wildside Double #7 includes two science fiction novellas set in the same universe: Slaughterhouse World by Ardath Mayhar and Knack’ Attack by Robert Reginald. Both are fun science fiction tales involving humanity’s battle against an implacable alien race, the Knackers, with whom we cannot effectively communicate and who view humans as a culinary delicacy. I’d consider both works to be in much the same vein as the old Heinlein juveniles, in that they would appeal to teen readers but can still be appreciated by adult readers.
Minor plot spoilers follow.
Slaughterhouse World: Ardath Mayhar’s novella describes the (mis)adventures of an ordinary grunt, Joel Karsh, who is one of the few survivors of a human military unit operating on the eponymous “Slaughterhouse World,” which is a planet the Knackers are using as a processing center and transshipment point for human flesh. Joel just wants to survive and make it back to his rendezvous point, but along the way, he may just find a way to give humanity the edge it needs to win the war.
Knack’ Attack: I was initially concerned about the dialect in which this story is told – it’s a first person account by a fifteen-year old genetically-modified – in what way(s) we’re not sure, though she can’t eat “standard” food – human girl who has lived her entire life on a rural alien world. She speaks in kind of a “folksy” voice with lots of quaint expressions and contractions peppering her dialogue and thoughts, but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the story as I’d initially feared it might. As I read, I found myself mentally pronouncing each word phonetically and that worked just fine and didn’t slow me down. In any case, this is a coming of age story about a young woman thrust into a situation requiring courage, wisdom, and leadership far beyond her years if she and her fellow settlers are to survive the Knacker invasion of their world. We also learn more about the aliens themselves and what’s going on in the larger war effort.
Despite the fact that the premise of both stories is one involving a pretty horrific situation – humanity is losing a war to an alien race that eats us – these are classic, fun, wholesome military SF tales. Since these are stories of courage, survival, and coming of age, I think they will especially appeal to teen readers.
I enjoyed both novellas very much and recommend them to anyone looking for some fun SF adventures. Don’t expect convoluted plots or hard science. These are rousing adventure stories. I give this duo of novellas a very solid 4 stars out of 5 and am very much looking forward to more tales of the Human-Knacker War
Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers