Priam’s Lens, by Jack L. Chalker

priams-lens-by-jack-l-chalker coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 1998
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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With the exception of the recent Wonderland Gambit trilogy (which I plan to pick up soon), I own every SF book Jack L. Chalker has written. Priam’s Lens is just about the only one that isn’t a transformation novel. Well, there’s some transformation in there, but it’s minor enough to barely even rate a subplot. A few other of the Standard Chalker Plot Devices are present though (drug-induced behavior modification, pregnancy compulsion, and artificial intelligences, if you’re keeping score at home) for those fans who need their fix. On the whole, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though it is not a particularly deep experience.

The setting is about 1000 years in the future. Humans are the dominant sentient life form in our galactic spiral arm – until the Titans come along. They have a method of draining all power from human technological devices enabling them to easily conquer human worlds. Virtually nothing is known about them. The Titans refuse to answer any communications and indeed seem to almost ignore humanity. Once they drain all energy from the planet, humans mostly die out due to an inability to get along without their scientific devices. The Titans then re-terraform the world into a permanent tropical zone and proceed to basically just plant flowers. For all humanity knows, they are just interstellar gardeners.

One of the conquered worlds contains the remains of a weapon that just might stop the Titans – Priam’s Lens. The book is the story of a motley crew of specially selected adventurers who dare to seek out this weapon in an effort to save humanity.

The premise was interesting I thought, and the story entertaining. The characters were also pretty well drawn. The pace of the action was quick and appropriate. I was glad this was a standalone novel, a rarity for Chalker. Apparently he pitched it as a trilogy and condensed it to a single volume to please the publisher. I thought the story was much the better for being complete in one book. I’d personally like to see him do more stand-alones and fewer series since I hate have to wait years to finish reading a story.

There were a few things not to like about the story. For example, right away we are told that humans have the power to make stars go nova, but cannot even seem to get the attention of the aliens. If I were running the show, I would have made the star of one of the conquered world’s go nova. That certainly world have gotten their attention! Also, Chalker borrows heavily from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to develop a super-awesome combat suit used by hardened space marines – then has the wearers abandon it as useless because the Titans can drain the suit’s power. That was about 40 pages wasted.

But on the whole the book was a solid effort. Chalker fans will definitely want to pick it up. For those who have never read him, this is a good introduction to his work.

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