Written by Fred Patten, and intended for Apa L, 2257th Distribution,
LASFS Meeting No. 3705, August 14, 2008.
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Another old review:
Star Prince Charlie, by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson. NYC, Berkley Medallion, March 1976, 189 pages, $1.25; ISBN: 0-425-03078-4.
Look out; they've done it again! Star Prince Charlie is a Young Adult novel (Putnam, 1975), reprinted here as an adult paperback. It's quite good for the ten-to-fourteen age set, or for older readers who are looking for the lightest of entertainment. Anyone who expects anything deeper - say of the usual level of Anderson's or Dickson's plotting - may find this disappointingly shallow.
Eighteen-year-old Charlie Stuart is the son of a space freighter captain, who goes sightseeing on the feudal planet New Lemuria. New Lemuria has only recently been admitted to the Interbeing League, and the galactic bureaucrats are protecting the natives from Culture Shock with a muleheadedness that is keeping the world solidly in the Dark Ages. Charlie is seen and taken under the "protection" of the Lord Dzenko of Talyina, a baron who recognizes the redheaded lad's resemblance to an old legend about a rightful deliverer from a cruel usurper - which despotic King Olaghi certainly is. Charlie is nervously aware that he shouldn't be getting into local politics, but persuades himself that he's only an involuntary observer when the smooth-talking Dzenko raises a revolution using him as a figurehead. Besides, New Lemuria really does need modernizing, and it's fun being idolized as a heroic redeemer.
Soon Charlie can no longer delude himself that Dzenko will make any more benevolent a ruler than the one they're fighting against. His conscience will not let him remain passive while peasants are being stirred to revolt and die in his name. He begins talking with some of the more genuinely friendly of the soldiers in their army, clumsily trying to introduce concepts of democracy. But this poses a double danger. Firstly, he is now unquestionably breaking his own government's rule about non-interference in native affairs. Secondly and more immediately, his attempts at intrigue are transparent to the Machiavellian Dzenko, who has no desire that his pawn begin showing any real leadership. Charlie must travel a dangerous path in attempting to preserve his self-respect and prove a worthwhile ruler to the Talyinans, while saving his skin from his erstwhile advisor and at the same time keeping himself and his father out of trouble with the interstellar government.
The story is told in a vein of light humor rather than real adventure. Charlie's predicaments never seem very dangerous because he gets out of them so easily, usually by means so coincidental that the reader would feel insulted if it weren't obvious that they aren't meant to be taken seriously. Every forty pages or so there is a long paragraph moralizing on some simplistic theme (don't look down on primitives just because they haven't the benefits of modern civilization; don't try to impose your ideas of right and wrong on others), as though the authors felt a need to add something weighty to the frothy story to justify its existence.
In fact, Star Prince Charlie is most successful when it turns to outright humor. Charlie has a companion throughout his journeys, a teddybearlike Hoka from another planet. This golden furry bear has overenthusiastically adopted human customs and history. When Dzenko proclaims that he is trying to "restore" Charlie to his legendary "rightful throne", the tubby Hoka gleefully dubs himself Hector MacGregor, makes himself a Highland costume (complete with bagpipes), and insists upon addressing Charlie as "my ain true prince". It's great comic relief, although the story is so light that there's really nothing to require relief from. Readers will also be amused once they realize what the authors are doing with their chapter titles, all of which are popular literary references: "Kidnapped", "Stranger in a Strange Land", "The Red-headed League", "The Return of the Native", "Beat to Quarters", etc.
Junior-high aged readers should find Star Prince Charlie good fun and not a bit demanding.
Delap's F&SF Review #15, June 1976, pages 21-22.
2007 Note: This review was of the 1976 paperback reprint. The first edition (hardcover) information is: Star Prince Charlie, by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson. NYC, G. P. Putnam's Sons, January 1975, 190 pages, $6.95; ISBN: 0-399-60933-4.