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Captain Sir Dominic Flandry of the Intelligence Corps, Imperial Terrestrial Navy continues to fight, usually against the Merseians, who plot to overthrow the Terran Empire and replace it with their own. If Flandry’s fight is not always the elusive Good Fight, at least it’s usually the best possible fight that circumstances allow. 

There’s a greater fight: against the fall of the Terran Empire and the Long Night which will fall across the known region of the galaxy. But the Empire is fatally flawed, its fall is inevitable, and that fight cannot be won. Time is always on entropy’s side, and social systems built by humans and other sentient beings have their own entropy. 

That’s on a galactic scale. On a smaller, human (or other sentient being’s) scale, Flandry can win, though his victory may come with a price. Sometimes that price is one which Flandry would not have paid, if he had any choice . . . 

I’ve covered this ground in introductions to previous volumes in the Technic Civilization series, and I don’t want to rehash the basics of Flandry’s universe yet again. But I did want to give a short orientation to the reader who picks up this volume without having read its predecessors. 

Now, onto fights which can be won (but, don’t forget, sometimes with a price). This volume of the unified Technic Civilization series begins with Flandry visiting a planet and finding that he’s walked into a trap. The planet’s ruling class has what looks like a foolproof way of keeping the masses—and Flandry—in line. However, foolproof doesn’t mean Flandryproof. The planet has a Plague of Masters, but Flandry is the cure for that plague. And watch for a mention of a now legendary historical figure named van Rijn. 

This episode of Flandry’s illustrious career doesn’t have galactic implications: just one planet under a tyranny, one inhabited planet among millions, out of touch with other worlds and likely to go on as it has even after the Empire falls. The inhabitants of the planet would have a different perspective, of course. And it hardly needs mentioning that the reader will get a first-class action yarn. But if a larger perspective is desired, Hunters of the Sky Cave delivers that in spades. 

This novel-length Flandry was my introduction to Captain Sir Dominic Flandry when I read a shorter version in Amazing Stories a few decades ago. It was also my introduction to Flandry’s frequent adversary, Aycharaych, a mysterious alien with telepathic powers, working with (but not quite for) the Merseians. This time, we learn that Aycharaych has a passion for the 20th century composer Richard Strauss, and the tone poem Death and Transfiguration in particular. One is tempted to speculate on that choice, since Strauss is known not only for his music (particularly since 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was nearly a decade in the future when this novel was published) but also for his coziness with the Nazis, which might be compared to Aycharaych’s alliance with the Merseians. And the subject matter of the tone poem might be compared with what the reader finally will learn about Aycharaych and his people . . . 

But Aycharaych is not the only fascinating alien in town. Chives, Flandry’s valet-cum-butler, has a large part here (and will reappear in the two yarns which follow). This omnicompotent chap seems to be P. G. Wodehouse’s immortal Jeeves reincarnated in an alien body, this time with an employer who isn’t an upper class twit. There are also the Ymirites, very unusual beings who evolved on a gas giant and have colonized Jupiter, whose crushing pressure, poisonous (to humans) atmosphere, and temperatures far colder than anywhere on Earth are as a spring day to them. And check out the colorful non-humans in Flandry’s task force near the end of the novel. 

There’s no shortage of action, either.  Plus memorable observations from Flandry, such as, “I don’t want to die so fast I can’t feel it. I want to see death coming, and make the stupid thing fight for every centimeter of me.” Or, “Let civilization hang together long enough for Dominic Flandry to taste a few more vintages, ride a few more horses, kiss a lot more girls and sing another ballad or two. That would suffice. At least, it was all he dared hope for.” 

The shortest yarn here, “The Warriors from Nowhere” is the earliest of these tales to be written. It appeared in that notable sf adventure pulp, Planet Stories, in 1954, under the more pulpish title of “The Ambassadors of Flesh” and with an equally pulpish cover by the late, great Kelly Freas. The version here was somewhat rewritten by Poul Anderson when it first appeared in 1979, but the headlong action typical of Planet still remains, with Chives again being conspicuously indispensible. (“One of nature’s noblemen,” Flandry calls him.) 

Then comes the longest episode, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows. Flandry and Aycharaych have their final showdown, and we finally learn the secret of the latter’s homeworld, Chereion—and also learn just how tragic a figure Aycharaych is. Without giving away too much of what is a pivotal episode in Flandry’s part of the Technic Civilization saga, I’ll only say that Aycharaych has long been playing with sentient beings as if they were pieces on a cosmic chessboard, and this time two of the pieces had too much importance to Flandry—and Aycharaych is going to pay. Go read the story. 

Flandry will return (Admiral Flandry, that is) in the next and final volume of the Technic Civilization saga, Flandry’s Legacy, which will also contain stories set long after Flandry had left the stage. There’s one story set during the Long Night, plus three more tales set in the time when galactic civilization is beginning to rise again. But there’s plenty of Flandry in the book. Not to mention Chives. And Flandry isn’t going to let a little thing such as being promoted to Admiral keep him stuck behind a desk—but I’ll save that for next time. 

In the meantime, I should mention that the online version of this book has a bonus: “Lurex and Gold,” another of Sandra Miesel’s essays on the Technic Civilization universe, which is far more perceptive and gracefully written than this introduction.

—Hank Davis, 2010

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