Berserker Blue Death

by Fred Saberhagen
Series: Berserker 8
Reviewed date: 2007 Feb 4
Rating: 4
282 pages
cover art

I have not read Moby Dick. But if Moby Dick were set in space, it would be Berserker Blue Death. Instead of a white whale, we have a blue berserker named Leviathan--a giant machine whose only desire is to sterilize the universe of all life. Captain Niles Domingo monomaniacally hunts Leviathan after the berserker kills his family.

The deadly war between humanity and berserkers continues, but Domingo refuses to help defend human colonies. Instead, he takes his powerful spaceship Sirian Pearl into the Milkpail nebula and hunts Leviathan. The berserkers nearly kill him; Polly Suslova nurses him back to health, and as soon as he recovers he sets out again. This time he corners Leviathan, and with help from a Space Force cruiser, mortally wounds the berserker. Domingo boards the berserker himself, to get his revenge in the most personal way possible.

Saberhagen undoubtedly parallels many plot points from Moby Dick. I wouldn't know; I haven't read Moby Dick. Still, I found that Berserker Blue Death holds up on its own merits. The character study of Niles Domingo is engaging, if ultimately meaningless: Domingo never changes, never grows as a character. The blue berserker is likewise an uninteresting character, as it rarely appears on stage until its final deadly flight. The most interesting parts of the story are almost incidental to the plot: in the course of hunting Leviathan, Domingo uncovers evidence that the berserkers are developing a biological weapon to use against humanity. I had hoped this revelation would be important to the resolution of the story, but Saberhagen opts to leave that unresolved plot thread for another book. (Minor spoiler: I'd suspected that Domingo and his crew were the biological weapons: that they were actually berserker-created zombies, not real humans. I was wrong.)

Berserker Blue Death is a top-notch story, but would probably be better received if it were edited. The story works well when considered as a medium-length novella. As a full-fledged novel, it's hard for people not to dismiss it as a mere retelling of Moby Dick.

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