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Space Prison    by Tom Godwin order for
Space Prison
by Tom Godwin
Order:  USA  Can
Pyramid, 1962 (1958)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Space Prison is the ultimate SF survival story - appropriately enough its original 1958 title was The Survivors. It is long out of print and copies are hard to track down, but, if you can get hold of one, this tale will stay with you long after reading. Its message is one of the triumph of humanity, its ability to adapt and to continue, in conditions of the most extreme adversity.

The story begins as the unarmed colony ship Constellation is attacked by Gern cruisers (the Gern Empire declared war on Earth ten days before). Families are split into Acceptables (capable of slave labor) and Rejects, and the latter dumped with minimal possessions on a promised 'Earth-like planet'. It turns out that the Gern abandoned them on 'Ragnarok, the hell-world of 1.5 gravity and fierce beasts and raging fevers where men could not survive ... a death sentence for all of them.'

Tom Godwin takes the reader through generations on Ragnarok, telling the story of each one through the voices of individuals. He recounts their adventures and their sacrifices for the survival of the group, and especially of the children. As one of the first to be killed by prowlers vows to her small son Billy after discovering where they are 'I'm going to make sure that there is a tomorrow for you, always, to the last breathe of my life.'

And life is very short on Ragnarok, especially in the first few generations. Two hundred die the first night. As the planet swings between two suns, the climate varies between a summer heat and a winter cold that 'no human has ever endured'. The prowlers are highly intelligent and powerful felines. Unicorns are equally dangerous; 'big and fast and they travel in herds.' Swamp crawlers are 'unadulterated nightmares'. Then there's the heavy gravity, 'Hell Fever' and a lack of edible plants.

It takes many generations, but descendants of the colonists adapt to the planet, and make allies of some of its most vicious inhabitants. Each generation has its own stories of sacrifice for survival of the species, but they are ready when the Gern come again to their signal, to deal with them and to travel on 'beyond the space frontier'. Space Prison is one of my favorite SF stories of all time. It tells of an evolution of humanity through adversity and of 'the restless ones, the unwanted and forgotten, the survivors.' Find a copy, if you can.

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