Berserker’s Star reminds you of some of the old radio shows you can still catch sometimes where the characters follow the old pulp tradition, adventure isn’t hard to come by and the commercials are perfectly timed with the cliffhangers. That isn’t to say that any of that is a bad thing at all. Indeed in the mess of Brit inspired broody senseless SciFi we find ourselves stuck in now, Harry Silver and the Berserker’s are quite a relief. Written back in 2003 by an author born in 1930, Berserker’s Star is space as it was imagined in the golden age of Science Fiction, the technology may be a bit new but not painfully so, and the characters are perfectly at home in a chrome universe.
That isn’t to say that Berserker’s Star is a great novel. Saberhagen seems nearly as tired of the whole thing as his protagonist Harry Silver, scenes are written in a circuitous way and go on long after they have served as an information dump until they abruptly end, dialogue consists of the characters repeating the same things over and over again, most notably Lilly, but it’s a problem everyone in the novel suffers from. The Berserkers themselves are mostly absent from the novel except as a shadow and for a destructive climax that sees Harry Silver fighting to stop a Berserker plan to touch off a Hypernova that will wipe out thousands of solar systems.
But Berserker’s Star has plenty of charm, from the oddball planet that isn’t a planet with breakdown zones where technology doesn’t work and a planet that seems to be adapting to mankind, to its pulp age characters, sexist as the depiction of Lilly as the prototypical clingy shrill dame may be and to Harry Silver’s final suicidal showdown with the Berserker that takes him to within spitting range of a black hole and a pulsar through warped space. Even when he hardly seemed to be trying, Fred Saberhagen still delivered a much better novel than 90 percent of the writers who clutter today’s Science Fiction seem to be able to. Perhaps it was because he stuck to the basic rules of writing, know your characters, awe your readers, tell your story as free of clutter as possible and make sure you nail the ending. And Berserker’s Star does all of the above.