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Kings of the High Frontier
Victor Koman
Final Frontier Books, 576 pages

Art: Rob Prior
Kings of the High Frontier
Victor Koman
Victor Koman has twice won the Prometheus Award for his novels The Jehovah Contract and Solomon's Knife. He is also author of the Spaceways novels Jonuta Rising! and The Carnadyne Horde writing as John Cleve with A.J. Offutt. Koman organized the campaign which saved "Old Red," one of the original design monorails at Disneyland, which Disney saved from the scrap heap and put on a nationwide tour. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter.

ISFDB Bibliography
Bereshith Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

A book is always judged by its cover. At least initially. And I confess that I left Kings of the High Frontier sitting on my shelf for quite some time largely because the cover art didn't appeal to me. I certainly wouldn't have picked it up in a bookstore. Rob Prior's artwork isn't bad, I just think it doesn't convey what this book really is: an important science fiction work that should be read by everyone who has ever dreamt of space travel.

There are few, if any, places on Earth where you could live and not pay taxes to one government or another. But what about space? To whom does space belong? If you live on the moon, would you have to pay taxes to the US government because someone planted an American flag there in 1969? What if you lived in orbit? No flags there. Or are there? Who owns space?

These may seem like silly questions, but the reality of our present course seems to indicate that any future space travel is likely to be jealously regulated by one government or another. Victor Koman raises some vitally important questions about this issue. To whom does space belong? May as well ask: to whom does the future belong? Space is yours -- if you have the courage and the ingenuity to reach for it.

Kings of the High Frontier was first published online at Pulpless.Com, where it became the first non-print novel to win the Prometheus Award. Apparently due to its controversial nature, this book had some difficulty finding a paper publisher, until the nascent Final Frontier Books (a subsidiary of Bereshith Publishing) had the courage to put it forward as their first major release.

Controversial, it certainly is. Koman doesn't pull any punches in his all-out attack on NASA in particular, as well as the UN and governments everywhere. In this novel, he not only exposes waste, corruption and stagnation in the space program, but he also espouses his disdain for government control over many other aspects of our lives. And, although the scope of the book is international -- almost, even, universal -- it still seems very Americentric to my Canadian palate. The bulk of the characters and politics are most definitely American. There are also a couple of scenes of what can only be described as handgun glorification that make me cringe. (And how is it that the sheriff with a six-gun can always pick off the five snipers with rifles hiding in the rocks 80 to 300 yards away? Maybe this is just my own little pet peeve, and an irrelevant tangent, but there you have it!)

The NASA of Koman's novel is nothing but a top-heavy, bureaucratic organization whose agenda is purely political and not at all scientific. Good designs are quietly swept under the carpet because they are too cheap, too simple, won't employ enough people, or aren't presented according to the accepted format or, more likely, from the accepted source. Safety issues are given a back seat to political calendars. Lies and coverups abound. NASA has absolutely no intention of ever establishing a permanent off-planet human settlement, nor indeed do they intend to do anything more than make showy shuttle-flights that will teach us nothing new. How close is all of this to the real-world NASA? Well, take your own guesses.

With this situation, and with an impending UN bill to enforce strict UN control over any future travel beyond Earth's atmosphere, several groups decide to take their own future into their own hands by getting into orbit before the bill takes effect. Some of these brave individuals are wealthy enough that their efforts seem realistic and even reasonable. But others -- like an enterprising group of university students whose liberal "borrowings" and secretive construction of a functional rocket in an abandoned warehouse in New York City should appear absurd -- are also made to seem quite plausible.

There is a large cast of characters in this novel, and someone -- either author or editor -- wisely chose to include a dramatis personae at the beginning of the book, for which I was, on several occasions, grateful. Nevertheless, by the end of the book all the characters are so well-defined that the dramatis personae, which had earlier been indispensable, is no longer required.

Also of note, Kings of the High Frontier is intriguingly subtitled Book One of The High Pilgrimage. But the ending does not read as if a sequel were required. It ends as satisfyingly as one could wish. If (or, as I hope, when) another volume in this new series appears, I will be judging it only by what lies between the covers!

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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