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James White "All Judgement Fled"



James White is one of my favorite writers of solid space adventure, an under-appreciated master of UK Sixties hard science fiction. The wholesome values and entertaining plots of his writing never disappoint, comparable to the best of Simak, Niven and Leinster.

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James White
"All Judgement Fled" (nv)

© IF, Dec 1966-1967
Rapp & Whiting Publ. 1968
--/ third place space sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ emotion award
--/ shock value
--/ adventure award

This is an unsung masterpiece of "first contact" science fiction, a most rewarding adventure that you can still find in many used book stores. A case of "not judging by the cover", an unexpected find - Third Place for Space Novel in all of science fiction? Yes, don't forget who is the writer: James White, one of the most solid providers of space adventure fiction in the 60s, always writing with good pacing, excellent subject matter and special effects worthy of Larry Niven's best. In a way he was UK's answer to Larry Niven, they even shared the same magazine issue this time. With the "new wave" attracting more and more writers to the psychedelic realms of incomprehensible experimentation, James White stuck to his guns till the end of the 60s and beyond: this is a feast for any hardcore space fiction fan.

The book starts as a Cold War paranoia thriller (there are sinister political agendas among the 6 person crew on a space mission to meet an alien vessel - including the "compulsory" nuke hidden somewhere on board) The claustrophobic feeling is vintage Frank Herbert, whose "Under Pressure" is the best "enclosed spy" thriller of its kind, with James White coming close second. It definitely helps that both writers were medics - Herbert was a psychologist, White a practitioner - the tension is palpable, soon to grow almost unbearable. The alien spaceship contains more than a few surprises, including nasty creatures of an "Aliens" kind (the ones so cheerfully exterminated by Sigourney Weaver in the well-known movie). The "first contact" situation deteriorates so realistically and so fast that one man has to repeatedly make decisions against the combined opinion of his superiors and the whole population of Earth. Dramatic tension is excellent, the ending is touching and remarkably romantic - something out of the good old Forties stories, rather than cynical Sixties. Overall an excellent thriller, worthy to be put on the big screen, if Hollywood only had the brains and the guts to turn this hidden gem into a big-budget script.

As for James White's body of work in general and his consistent quality, somebody said "This is what "Star Trek" should've been like". Comparable to Murray Leinster's best, and just as readable today - this is "The Right Stuff", precursor of modern space adventure renaissance.
review: 23-Aug-07 (read in 2007)



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