The Tenth Planet

by Edmund Cooper
Reviewed date: 2012 Oct 29
Rating: 2
192 pages
cover art

Captain Idris Hamilton commands the Dag Hammarskjold, the last starship to escape from an over-polluted, dying Earth. Their destination is Mars, where a fledgling colony is humanity's last hope. They never arrive: a saboteur's bomb rips Dag Hammarskjold apart. She drifts in the cold depths of space.

Five thousand years later Idris Hamilton awakes. He is not on Mars--mankind has long since ruined Mars as it ruined Earth. The last remnant of humanity is living on Minerva, a dead icy planet in the outer fringes of the solar system. For three thousand years the underground colony on Minerva has eked out a fragile existence. In that time, they've managed to breed out all sense of adventure, violence, and emotionalism from humanity. The Minervans are content and their society is stable. They can exist eternally on Minerva, underground, secure, safe.

Idris Hamilton marvels at the Minervan's advanced science: they located the Dag Hammarskjold, retrieved his five-thousand-year-old body, revived his mind, and gave him a new body. But he despairs at their lack of gumption. After five thousand years, Earth has surely recovered and may be capable of supporting life once more. But the Minervans show no interest in returning to their racial home.

Idris Hamilton, the last Earth man, decides to shake things up. He determines to give humanity back what it has lost: a sense of adventure, of spirit, of hope. Humanity will reach for the stars--or at least for something beyond a meagre existence in underground cities on a cold, dead rock of a planet at the edge of the solar system.

How wonderfully poetic! If only Idris Hamilton wasn't such a boorish cad. The first thing he does upon being revived is demand that his psychologist strip naked so that he can gawk at her. She humors him, and eventually he has an affair with her. Later, he discovers that the Minervans don't exactly practice monogamy. So he does what any red-blooded Earth man would do: he beats the other man senseless. The Minervans are horrified, but Hamilton is just exhibiting normal human behavior for an Earth man.

Oh wait. That's the kind of behavior that we on Earth would expect from degenerate rednecks or from overgrown adolescents who haven't learned to control their tempers. It's the kind of behavior we throw men into prison for. It's certainly not the behavior we expect from a starship captain.

But apparently Idris Hamilton is the quintessential Earth man, the reluctant Adam who will usher in a new era for mankind. That is, if he can just manage to apply the right kind of violence against the Minervan government. After serving his sentence for the brutal beating, Hamilton kills a government agent (ostensibly a mistake--Hamilton despairs that the Minervans seem unable to discern the difference between manslaughter and murder.) The Minervans sentence him to exile--that is, death by exposure on the surface--but Hamilton turns the tables by stealing a spaceship and threatening to use its atomic reaction engine as a weapon of mass destruction. The Minervans have no choice but to let Idris Hamilton, now a violent sociopathic terrorist, take on a crew of Minervan malcontents and blast off for Earth.

The Tenth Planet could be a good book if it were slightly better written. By which I mean, if Idris Hamilton was not so obviously a violent, sociopathic misogynist. The Minervan society is not especially attractive, but Hamilton's alternative is frightening.

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