Mike Rousseau isn’t that unlike you and me. He’s just a guy trying to get by in life. Mike isn’t exactly an archeologist, but he’s not exactly a treasure hunter either. Rousseau lives on a planet called Asgard. Imagine this world like an onion – layer upon layer – a world constructed by some alien race, an unimaginable amount of time in the past. Rousseau, like so many others, strives to reach the center of Asgard. Unfortunately, he has only ever traversed the first four levels down from the planet’s surface.
Ancient technology is what attracts men like Rousseau to don a cold-suit and descend into the depths of Asgard. As they pass through the frozen tunnels and their abandoned roads, rooms, and cities, explorers often stumble upon items that were discarded or merely left behind by Asgard’s presumed builders (or at least some other previous inhabitant). These items can fetch a pretty penny from researchers on the surface, and so Rousseau has made a career of exploring Asgard’s depths and returning to the surface to sell the spoils he has collected on his travels.
Rousseau is preparing for another such journey, an incredibly deep dive when he is framed for murder by a particularly nasty thug. Asgard’s penal system would see him put into a coma for 20 years while his body produces pharmaceuticals. His only other option is to enter into a life of slavery to pay for his “crime.” Fortunately for him, a Star-Force captain is willing to conscript Rousseau into service. She leads Rousseau and a small group of starship troopers into the depths of Asgard in pursuit of an android, which the Star-Force believed to be carrying a genetic time-bomb capable of the eventual destruction of the human race.
Following notes written in the journal of a colleague, Rousseau leads the group to level four of Asgard’s interior, where they find an elevator shaft that leads further down into the planet than anyone in recent history has ever descended.
Deep under the planet’s surface, Rousseau and the Star-Force Captain and her troopers catch up with the android and the thug (who framed Rousseau for murder) and his henchmen, and the shooting starts.
Don’t worry! Rousseau escapes unscathed, as do the Star-Force Captain and her troopers. When the group returns to the surface, Rousseau is exonerated of all charges, and his conscription to the Star-Force is considered null and void. He then returns to his life of salvaging long-lost technology.
I think I was generally disappointed with this book because I started reading it thinking that it was about one thing when really it was about something else entirely. Stories with airships in them aren’t my only favorite type of story. I also love stories that have to do with the concept of an inner-earth, such as Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The fact that Asgard isn’t Earth doesn’t bother me, but the idea of a layered planet that is very cave-like just isn’t as interesting to me as the idea of a vast, open space in the center of a planet that holds mysterious people, plants, and animals that have long been thought to be lost.
What you will find in this book
There were a few interesting things I stumbled upon in this book.
“I have no proof that Amara Guur (the aforementioned thug) was listening to what we said, of course, but radio waves are free–anyone who can intercept them is surely entitled to decipher such information as they are carrying.”Mike Rousseau
I believe we all feel quite differently about this today. Things were a little different back in 1982 when this book was published. Specifically, we didn’t have cell phones, which are simply radio devices that operate at very high frequencies. Actually, today’s cell phones are operating at the low end of the microwave band of the spectrum, which is why some have shown concern regarding prolonged exposure to these devices. But that’s not the point here. What I found interesting was the idea that anyone who could intercept a signal was free to decipher its information.
As freely as we give away our personal information through social media and other such channels, I believe that it is still generally accepted that our communications are expected to remain private. I wouldn’t want anyone who could intercept my cell phone’s signal to decipher it and listen in to all of my conversations. It’s not that I have anything to hide, but I do place value on being able to have my words constrained so that they reach only the intended recipient.
Another thing I found interesting in this book was the topic of slavery. Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock these last few months knows that the topic of social justice has once again reached the front page of every newspaper and magazine, and is a topic of constant discussion during prime-time new reports.
In the book, our main character was having a conversation with his alien jail keeper, who shared his people’s belief that when technology has advanced to the point where people lack for nothing because every need has been met, that when a crime is committed, what does a man have to offer that is of any value other than his own life. The alien went on to explain that their penal system essentially provides two options: a life of slavery for a period of time fitting the severity of the crime, or twenty years as a vegetable where the convicted party’s body is used to produce pharmaceuticals. Their belief is that these are the only two ways that remain to repay any wrongdoing.
Rousseau strongly disagrees with this thought process, but it’s interesting how Rousseau and the alien jail keeper both consider one another to be barbaric in their ways. They both feel very strongly that their way is the natural and correct way to handle criminals.
I’m with Rousseau on this one. Slavery is barbaric and unquestionably wrong. However, I want you to mull over the question posed above: When humanity lacks for nothing, what do we have to offer other than our own lives?
My Favorite Quote
“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. But they don’t have to kill us for their sport. We do it for them.”Mike Rousseau
This is what Rousseau said after the dust settled on the violence that took place between the Star-Force Captain, her starship troopers, and the thug, Amara Guur, and his henchmen. We know that the Star-Force has descended into the depths of Asgard in pursuit of an enemy, but the story never reveals to us why Amara Guur and his goons wanted Rousseau to lead them into the lower levels. We are left to assume that he simply wants to recover artifacts for his own gain and that Rousseau represents his best bet for finding said artifacts. Rousseau is a loner. He was wrongly convicted of murder and pressed into the service of the Star-Force. We don’t know much more about him. We don’t know about his family or the circumstances that brought him to Asgard in the first place. I did find him to be rather articulate though, as I believe this quote demonstrates.
Words I Learned
An indefinable, elusive quality, especially a pleasing one
In French, it means literally, “I do not know what”
One of the reasons science fiction is such an influential genre is that it allows you to consider difficult social topics from an altogether “alien” perspective. This book, while it certainly gives the reader some interesting things to think about, seemed to be lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, if you know what I mean. There wasn’t a clear moral to the story, and the ending was disappointing since there was no resolution to the character’s problems except being released from all murder charges and being able to resume life as usual. Otherwise, there wasn’t any particularly objectional content in the book, so I consider it a generally safe read. This is book one of three, so there may be more to the story waiting for us on the next page. I only wish we would have gotten a little more of the story in book one.
I rated this book 2-stars: It was ok. Pick it up at the library.