The Stars Will Judge
Reviewed date: 2018 Jan 11
A man is kidnapped, transported hundreds of light-years from Earth, has his memory wiped, and is put on trial for a crime he doesn't remember.
The Htarians reveal nothing of his background until the trial itself, where he is placed under the Light of Truth, a machine that restores his memory while replaying those remembered events on a screen for the entire court to see. He learns that he is Dr. Warren Hudson, of Earth. While on an expedition in the Brazilian rainforest, he gets into a fight with a colleague over a woman. That colleague, Dr. Robert Tolly, beats him and leaves him for dead in the jungle.
Hudson survives. He lives in the jungle for years and becomes a venal Tarzan. When he stumbles upon a village of people, he descends upon the first woman he sees in a lust-filled craze. The warriors of the village chase him off and pursue him through the forest. Then, suddenly, a Htarian spaceship crash-lands in the jungle. Hudson clambers aboard, murders the crew, and loots the spaceship. In particular he makes off with a powerful beam weapon and a Mod Four computer.
With the Mod Four computer he sets out to solve all the problems of Earth. But to do so, he needs control and authority, so he goes ahead and manipulates his way to power. Not everybody agrees to his ideas, so he's forced to carry out a series of purges. Just for spite, he purges Dr. Robert Tolly, too, and steals the man's wife. Hudson is a bad guy.
For the eventual greater good, Hudson makes himself into a dictator along the lines of Hitler and Stalin. He justifies himself:
I wanted to have the Earth, or rather the people on Earth, raised to where every man would be king unto himself. But to accomplish that other things had to be done first. Nationalism had to be destroyed. Religious beliefs of any kind had to be destroyed. The individual had to be harnessed to the will of the state. Everyone had to move in the same direction.
The wars required to subjugate the people of Earth result in poisoning the planet. To keep the survivors alive, Hudson needs a new planet: with the Mod Four computer's help, he builds a space force and invades the nearby planet of Osrius. Osrius, too, is left poisoned and unfit to support life.
It's at that point that the Htarians snatch Dr. Warren Hudson and transport him to Htare for trial. Despite all his protests, Hudson is found guilty of war crimes. He is given a choice between being returned to Earth without his Mod Four computer, serving a life sentence on Htare, or being the first man to operate a Mod Eight computer. It's a trick, but Hudson falls for it: he attempts to operate the Mod Eight computer. The computer absorbs his mind, sucking up his consciousness and personality to fuse with its programming. He becomes part of the ultimate computer, the computer that runs and directs the entire Htarian civilization.
I'm afraid for the Htarians.
I've read The Stars Will Judge twice before, and I remember being so impressed with the defendent's insightfulness and resourcefulness. Despite not knowing who he is, having no memory of his past, not knowing the rules of the court or even what crime he's accused of, he seizes the initiative. He raises objections. He makes demands. He picks up on clues, attacks the prosecution's case, and does a marvelous job of defending himself. He would have been acquitted, too, except that the trial is a sham to justify the fate that has already been decided for him.
On this re-reading, however, I see things differently.
The defendent, Dr. Warren Hudson, is thoroughly unlikeable and not the slightest bit clever. His objections and demands in court aren't ingenious or diabolical, they are just loud and boorish. He is the sort of man who imagines himself to be a genius, but is actually just egotistical and loud. He's continually shouting at the judges, at the prosecutor, at everyone. Far from tying the court in knots, his outbursts are tolerated because everyone but Dr. Hudson knows that the outcome is pre-ordained.
Dr. Hudson's favorite thing to do is question the court's authority to put him on trial. His behavior reminds me of war criminal Slobodan Praljak, who theatrically drank poison and killed himself in court at the Hague, saying "Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With disdain, I reject this verdict." Or of Hermann Göring, who committed suicide rather than permit his death sentence to be carried out. There is no repentence, no remorse, no self-awareness, even to the end.