by John Brunner
Series: Zarathustra Refugee Planets 2
Reviewed date: 2007 May 7
Rating: 3
156 pages
cover art
cover art
cover art
cover art

Without warning, the sun of the planet Zarathustra goes nova. There is no time to evacuate, but a few spaceships on the night side of the planet are able to lift off and--by driving at maximum speed--outrun the shock wave of the explosion. Driven far beyond charted space, beyond communication range with civilization, they have no hope of rescue. Each ship puts down on the first habitable planet it can find, hoping to make a life there.

On one inviting planet, two ships make crash landings. One lands on the coast near a river delta; the other sets down in the interior highlands. During the bitter winter, the group on the coast lose their radio antenna and lose contact with the other survivors. When spring begins, they give the others up for dead and settle down to the task of building a permanent community on their new world.

The Zarathustra refugees are unqualified, though. Zarathustra was an advanced, automated planet, and the people have no experience with the outdoors or with manual labor. The two people who reveal themselves as most qualified are an amateur historian who has some book knowledge of old machines, and a hobbyist who figures out how to turn that knowledge into practice.

On the leadership side of things, the situation is even worse. Captain Arbogast acted as ruler during the winter, but the distress at losing his ship eventually overwhelms him; he has a mental breakdown. Nanseltine, a continental manager back on Zarathustra, has no useful skills whatsoever, but is intent on succeeding Arbogast. The best qualified leader is a young man named Lex, whose polymath training gives him special insight. Among the women, no qualified leaders emerge. Worse, the interpersonal issues come to a head when the youngest refugee, a girl named Naline, develops an unhealthy sexual fixation on Delvia. The other women turn against Delvia because of the callous way she appears to toy with Naline.

Lex, with his polymath training, is the only hope the survivors have. As a polymath, he is specifically trained--and augmented physically--to coordinate the terraforming and colonization of a virgin planet. However, this planet is not the planet he has trained for; further, he has not finished polymath training. Nevertheless, he must adapt to the planet, hone his leadership skills, and forge a lasting community.

And he must fight a war against the survivors from the interior, whose captain has instituted a military dictatorship, enslaved his crew and passengers, and is now eyeing the resources of the coastal survivor group.

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