Review of THE COLORS OF SPACE by Marion Zimmer Bradley (see her website)
Monarch Books, 1963
Humans have reached the stars, but not under their own power. The Lhari hold the monopoly on space travel and have no intention of giving it up. And humans may value the ability to travel faster than the speed of light, may appreciate the economic opportunities the Lhari have brought them, but they resent the Lhari for keeping their monopoly and they'll do anything to learn the secrets.
The Lhari don't just keep the technology secret, they've spread the word that humans can only survive faster-than-light travel in cold-sleep. But what if that's a lie? Bart Steele's father believed that humans could find their own way to the stars but now he's dead and Bart is on the run. He joins up with the conspiracy in an audacious plan to infiltrate a Lhari ship--disguised as a Lhari. If he survives the first jump, he'll know the Lhari were lying. Of course, first he has to survive.
On board the Lhari ship, Bart is surprised to discover that the Lhari are more like humans than he'd guessed possible. They have personalities, desire company and friendship, value loyalty, and seem mostly kind. Yet, they are keeping humans from attaining their full potential. When he learns the full ramifications of the plot to learn the space travel secret, his most fundamental beliefs come into conflict.
Author Marion Zimmer Bradley (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Bradley) is best known for her Darkover World series, and THE COLORS OF SPACE is certainly a less mature and complex story than she would later create. Still, Bradley's writing is already clear and her story-telling fast-paced and engaging. Bart Steele makes an intriguing character, faced with the loss of his father, the forced separation from his friends, and especially the loss of his certainty about human entitlement.
Written in the early 1960s, COLORS has some strong messages (perhaps a bit heavy-handed but still important) about the importance of character vs. differences in skin tone or facial characteristics. Fortunately, these add to, rather than detract from, the adventure.
THE COLORS OF SPACE has a young adult feel to it and was written at a time when most science fiction was pitched toward adolescent males. The resolution to Bart's problems, and to the mystery of space travel relied way too much on coincidence, and the Lhari were, perhaps, unbelievably noble and forgiving. Still, if you're looking for an enjoyable quick read, or if your a fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley and want to see how her early work stands up to her more developed fantasy, THE COLORS OF SPACE is worth the look.
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