Select one of the keywords
Slave Ship    by Frederick Pohl order for
Slave Ship
by Frederick Pohl
Order:  USA  Can
Science Fiction Book Club, 1962 (1957)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The world has been in a state of undeclared war for four years. On one side are the Europeans and N. Americans, and on the other the Caodai Church Militant, 'a religion with troops and battlewagons and fusion bombs' with support mainly in Asia and Africa. This 'cold war', fought across Europe and on the high seas, is heating up since the appearance of an enemy secret weapon, the Glotch, which causes individuals to suddenly drop down dead. The allies are on the run, and eight-year-old kids are being drafted.

Lieutenant Logan Miller is not too thrilled when he's seconded from his cybernetics job on a heavy undersea cruiser, to be computer officer at the top secret Project Mako. It's sited on a dairy farm, and involves research into communication with animals. Logan's room-mate turns out to be the Russian Semyon, son of a colleague of Pavlov's. As they develop vocabularies for cats, cows and chimpanzees, and expose their ignorance of animal husbandry, Miller wonders what all this has to do with the Navy, and dreams of his wife Elsie who is in an enemy prison camp for the duration.

On leave in Miami, Miller uses a 'Telepathists & Espers' service to contact his wife, and subsequently becomes a rare survivor of an attack of the Glotch. He assumes command of a small sub, crewed by three garrulous dogs, two playful chimps and a seagoing seal, none of whom are housebroken. Soon, Logan and Semyon receive crash-priority orders, and head to Madagascar to find the source of the Glotch. Adventures (with a continuing dose of humor) follow, involving an attractive Naval Intelligence officer, an enemy spy, sea battles, and finally a chance for the animals to show their stuff.

There is a crescendo of an ending, in which world destruction is narrowly averted, with a big surprise for both sides. In a fascinating addendum, Pohl cites various areas of animal research and discounts the definition of man as either the tool-using or the linguistic animal. Instead he suggests 'Man, the snobbish animal ... who clings to evolution's ladder one rung higher than the brutes beneath and saws away, saws away at the ladder beneath in an attempt to sever the connection between himself and the soulless, speechless, brainless Beast ... that does not, in fact, exist.'
Note: Slave Ship is out of print, but copies can still be found at second hand bookstores.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more SF books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews