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The Stars, My Brothers by Edmond Hamilton

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message 1: by Chris (last edited Jul 09, 2019 11:45AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I love me some Edmond Hamilton. I can't, at this point, recall what story of his I first came across; it might have been Kaldar, World of Antares , a favorite of mine.

Whatever it was, I'm sure it was nestled in an anthology because I've enjoyed for years those magical collections which expose one to so many varied authors. My first such of these was The Macabre Reader which introduced me in one fell swoop to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei & others. I mention these guys because they were all contemporaries of Hamilton's.

So, Edmond Hamilton--who was he, what is he remembered for, and why is he still important today? Maybe a better question might be -- is he important today?

He is to me.

Hamilton wrote in the pulp heyday - the 1920s thru... pretty much the end of the pulps. Admittedly, some of EMH's stuff can be somewhat campy. But the man could tell a story and had simply mind blowing ideas. But the stuff had to be written fast. Writers were churning out cutting edge scyfy, fantasy and horror and were faced with an ever-inundated field where the known cosmos was fast shrinking as more and more authors explored it. You want to write a novel about visiting Andromeda and then--BAM! Someone beats you to it. In this environment, Hamilton yet thrived, who had yet to produce some of his best work. A couple of my favorites, Castaway and Requiem, weren't written until the 60s (Castaway was published in 1969, the year I was born, and is just a wonderful little tale).

Hamilton ended up seguing to the comic market in the early 40s which was really an excellent time to do so. He was able to work on what was--at the time--cutting edge stuff such as Batman, Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Hamilton didn't cease writing science fiction, however, after he began writing for DC. He went on to create popular series with his StarWolf, StarKings and Captain Future novels. His short stories have been anthologized and collected many times. One of the best reads one might encounter is The Best of Edmond Hamilton which is a simply fabulous collection of Hamilton goodness. I could go on and on about each story, how great they are, each in their own right.

Hamilton is a crucial piece of the pulp fiction pie. One can't be a serious reader of pulp authors and not invest in reading some Hamilton. What keeps his writings, for me, valid today are the emotional and social challenges his characters often face which can be found in many of his short stories, one of which we'll begin discussing sometime around mid-August -- The Stars, My Brothers. That, and the guy is just a darn good story-teller.

Hamilton was famous for surprise 'reveals' at the end of his stories. To see a delicious cross section of these I highly recommend The Best of Edmond Hamilton, a selection spanning decades of Hamilton's writing career which was edited and had a forward written by his wife, Leigh Brackett who is a famous author in her own right. Castalia House has a good article on Brackett's Best of EMH.

The story I chose of Hamilton's would not be considered his best (you'll notice that Leigh Bracket did not include it in her selection of his works, although it is included in What's it Like Out There? and Other Stories , IIRC), but I wanted to pick something that hasn't been overly discussed. To it's credit, The Stars, My Brothers --frequently typical of Hamilton--poses a couple of social issues we might expand upon which I hope some might find interesting. To boot, expect a bit of Hamilton's scyfy campiness, which--to me--is always delightful in that it makes me feel like I'm back in the day when little boys still said, "golly gee!" and robots still made mouths gape. Some might call it dated; I prefer to think of it as a delightful sample of the genre and a taste of the times in which it appeared. It was first published in Amazing Stories in May of 1962.

For those interested in reading this (it is a short story by the way) I'll include a few links below.

Free online Text at Gutenberg
Free eBook on Amazon
Free audio on YouTube

message 2: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
REALLY looking forward to this tale and the discussion!

message 3: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
A little minutia:

World’s Finest Comics No. 90. DC Comics, 1957. Story by Edmond Hamilton . Art by Dick Sprang, George Papp, and Fred Ray. Cover by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley.

message 4: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I had not heard of this story, Chris, and I really enjoyed it. This one makes you think! Can't wait for our discussion to begin.

message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "I had not heard of this story, Chris, and I really enjoyed it. This one makes you think! Can't wait for our discussion..."

So glad you enjoyed the story!

Are you familiar at all with Hamilton? I'd highly recommend his Best of collection, compiled by Leigh Brackett. Really just an enjoyable collection of stories with provocative ideas, just like The Stars My Brothers.

message 6: by Chris (last edited Aug 19, 2019 09:33AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
So, The Stars, My Brothers. This story has much to recommend it. Sure, it has sprinklings of the campiness found in early ScyFy. But what some feel are the literary shortcomings of the science fiction and fantasy that was written at the dawn of the genres is what draws me to it.

I'll own to it, I like hearing an innocent Opie opine: "Golly gee, pa". It epitomizes an age of innocence that--in actuality--wasn't quite as innocent as it pretended to be; but it's nice to think that it was.

In The Stars, My Brothers, however, I found it interesting that there isn't any Golly gee moment to be found. In Actuality, we quickly discover some pretty serious issues--issues which drew me to this story because they resound today and probably always will.

I must warn anyone who has not had a chance to read /or listen to this little tale that what follows beyond these asterisks will be revealing of the inner secrets of the story's plot.


I'm anxious to dive into the social commentary that is found entwined in the plot of Stars. But, before we do, there is something that just sort of came to mind as I was reviewing the story to open this discussion.

You know, part of what draws me to any author (aside from his plot points and creativity) is his use of good, well-written prose. Or at least, what I think of as well written prose. Now, to those who advocate writing sparsely and expurgating any word that does not further the plot--these might disagree with me; and they're welcome to.

I wish to admit another guilty pleasure: that of purple prose. Lovecraft has been known to spend nearly the entirety of a story simply describing the setting. A. Merritt is practically the self-confessed godfather of the purple. Edgar Rice Burroughs was awesome in how he would describe the world thru which his characters traipsed (I'm currently reading The War Chief which is resplendent with descriptive prose that does little for the plot, but everything toward an understanding of the characters and setting). I, myself, might be guilty of this on occasion in my own delvings.

And Hamilton has some cool lines in Stars. Here is one I like that appears near the opening of the story:

"the gaunt, silver deaths-head of the Moon forever turning beneath, the still and solemn glory of the undimmed stars, the filamentaries stretched across the distant star-clusters like shining veils"

One has to lay a foundation of the setting upon which the writer will then carefully place his characters. Some of these descriptions--these non-plot driven lines--are as much for mood, IMO, as to give the reader a sense of the scene.

Here's another:

"Stars blazed like high fires across the screen, loops and chains and shining clots of them . . . the starry firmament was partly blotted out by vast rifted ramparts of blackness, ebon cliffs that went up to infinity"

I find it amazing how many different descriptions can be brought to bear to describe space!

To me, the bulk of Stars maintains an edgy mood; the characters are walking a razor's edge between risky, space business and clashing personalities. There are things that have been undertaken without permission--and so there is resentment.

What did others who read the story think of the prose Hamilton employed, or the mood of the story? Did the story feel dated, having been written in the early 60s? Does it come off as having a ring to it that might still be acceptable today, or is it permanently (prose-wise) trapped in the time of its birth?

message 7: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
Great question, hadn't thought about it. I think in general what Hamilton does well here is keep that descriptive prose tied to the relevant image. He's painting space and that's relevant because there's going to be this crucial accident, which exposes our main character to the vacuum (and probable death). It's a terrific example of purple prose, you're right- and yet it's nailed to the plot so I think it succeeds because now such images are on my mind as this terrifying accident unfolds.
As for "dated" I must say I didn't get a sense of that and I'm not sure how one would even know. Interested to hear other opinions about it.

message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I myself feel it has held up well. Hamilton did a passing decent job with his technological creations such that the things he invented are still not possible.
It begins to feel dated to me when the tech they invent actually exists now.

It would have been nice had Hamilton selected a date a bit further off, as with Star Trek. 1981 just doesn't seem like a futuristic time period when it's in our past, although it was twenty-years away for EH when he wrote it.

message 9: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
This question tells me that the medium with which I read a book impacts what I notice about it. When I read I pick up on the purple prose, but I listened to this book in audio and I was pulled right into the plot and I never noticed the language with which Hamilton brought his future to life for me.

message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
It's something I think about because I read a lot of these old classic-era stories, and I peruse a lot of articles about the topic, online reviews, and such. Quite often, sticks are poked because certain language doesn't hold up well according to some (your "golly gees" &etc I guess); being overly descriptive is often highly criticized (the author used more than one word to describe the scene so he's wordy, or the description is too poetic so he's purple).

You're right, the story pulls you right in and we immediately find ourselves immersed in some pretty serious plot points, even for today. Let's just dive into the first one...

A decade and a half after Hamilton wrote this story in the US was passed a law pertaining to the resuscitation of the dead -- which is exactly what happens (without his permission) to our character in the story. We know it as Do Not Resuscitate today and, as many things do, it came about from a lawsuit (no surprise there) in 1976.

I understand (in as much as that is possible, considering I've never experienced it) how Reed Kieran might have felt when he was awakened after having been dead for a hundred years to a time where not a single, solitary person he knew, loved or was related to still existed.

I said I understand, because of a similar theme that, for some reason, has always fascinated me--that of being marooned, alone, with no hope of ever seeing friends and family again. I've woven this theme into stories I've written, and even wrote a poem about it.

Here's an excerpt from The Things I Miss about Home:

If I were stuck somewhere, where I’d be for all time;
A dreary place, with neither metre nor rhyme-

With only mushrooms to eat and stagnant water to drink;
And time on my hands to ponder, mull and think-

I’d imagine those things I’d never see, touch or taste;
As I crouched eating fungi amidst disconsolate waste-

The face of my wife would spring often to mind;
Yet I’ll never again see her so I might as well be blind-

And oh, how I’d ache to reach forth my hands;
To touch my kids’ faces as I mope these dark lands...

As you can see, I have indeed pondered Reed's particular quandary. It's an unhappy one, for sure. And Reed is very unhappy about it. Especially after he learns he wasn't brought back to life because of any goodwill toward him, but more about that later.

So, what do you guys think? Was he justified in being completely and utterly ticked-off? Or should Reed have got down on his knees, smooched Paula's hand, and thanked Goodness he'd been given a new lease on life? Did he act like an ingrate? Should he have been excited at the prospect of having been brought back to life a hundred years after his own time (to put that in perspective, think of a cowpoke in 1870 being whisked off his wagon and plopped down in 1970 after we'd just returned from the moon). He does become exhilarated at the prospect of a star-ship, but other than that, he didn't really seem interested in anything else, regarding technological advances.

message 11: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I think he had every right to be angry--even before he found out how his "saviors" wanted to use him. This isn't that unusual a theme today in SF. I guess it's a natural development out of Rip Van Winkle. To put it simply--these people treated Reed like a commodity. In the name of humanity, they forgot that he was human and tried to use him for their narrow political ends. I would have been intensely angry also.

message 12: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
Sorry I didn't respond for several days, my PC seems to have decided to sign me out of everything and I didn't even get the notice! Ack! Sci-fi future definitely has NOT arrived...

As for Reed's anger at being awakened, I thought it was authentic to an extent. It's a place where you could really have explored by Hamilton glossed, probably for considerations of "space" of the not-outer kind.

But I think of two things right away. One, the way Walt Disney had himself frozen for future resuscitation, which happened when I was a kid, really made me think about things like that. I'm not sure a man who was certain he would die one second, would feel abused to be awakened right off the bat- even if his "rescuers" had ulterior motives. I got the impression that Reed was confused, more than anything, and that's appropriate.

But second, if you've never seen "Passengers" with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Laurence, I found it VERY affecting as the one character, in essence, agonizes over the decision to pull the other out of cryo-sleep. The movie overall got kind of a yawn from the critics (I think it ended too happily for them), but again it reached right down inside me like few other sci-fi issues have.

I can't say I would agree that one should be very angry about being awakened. At all. And certainly not if you thought you were going to be dead!

message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
William wrote: "...I can't say I would agree that one should be very angry about being awakened. At all..."

I agree. Who knows, this might have just been Hamilton trying to build emotional intensity. Unlike Disney, Reed's cryogenic experience wasn't voluntary. Maybe he was a little 'icy' about the whole thing because he was struck down in his prime, and missed out on his best years. To awaken to an unknown future, not knowing a soul, would be disconcerting, no doubt.

I do feel Reed was justified in being angry about being used as a pawn. But speaking of which, is there any set of circumstances under which he might have been awakened that wouldn't have resulted in his becoming completely, inflammatorily enraged?

Had they awakened him to 'prove' their medical theory, he might have become indignant at being experimented on (which, in a way he was in this instance, being the first to have been revived). If he was awakened because they wanted to interview someone from the previous century, he might have exploded.

Nearly any reason I can think of to awaken Reed from his deep freeze boils down to selfish reasons on the part of those doing the awakening.

message 14: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
No one likes to feel inferior--as an individual or as a race, or even as a species.

In The Stars My Brothers, we're introduced to a planet known as Sako where dwells a race of humans that possess the intelligence of the humble squirrel, while the reptilian lizard race, the Sakae--who fly about in air and spacecraft as the humans of their world run naked through the forest--are intelligent; maybe even more so than the humans of the Humanity Party who have come here with a reluctant Kieran.

The problem is, the Humanity Party don't feel that, however lacking in cerebral fortitude, the humans should be ruled over by the much smarter and advanced bi-pedal lizards.

In my opinion, this is an example of emotion overruling good, sound logic. Here is how Paula sums it up when Kieran states that, logically speaking, the more advanced race should be the ruler of the planet:

"You see, there's another race on Sako beside the human ones, and it's a fairly civilized race. The Sakae. The trouble is—the Sakae aren't human."

Kieran stared at her. "So what? If they're intelligent—"

"You talk as though it was the simplest thing in the world," she flashed.

Paula immediately goes on the defensive without pausing to consider Kiernan's opinion--who has been frozen for a hundred years and really can't be expected to understand every facet of the situation except for the basics he was born with. Put in that situation, he fell back on stone, cold logic: IE the smarter should rule.

I'm a pretty black and white person who likes to boil things down to understandable chunks and elements. So to me, Kiernan's feelings on the matter make sense. It's purely logical. Another might feel differently--altogether differently, as in positing a view different from either of these.

Any thoughts?

Here's another Paula comment that reinforces the fact that she is guided by emotion and not reason:

"The Sakae rule the humans on that world," Paula answered. "There are some of us who don't believe they should. In the Council, we're known as the Humanity Party, because we believe that humans should not be ruled by non-humans."

She believes it to be so, but offers no sound reasoning behind her assertion other than it should be so. To my thinking, that's not good enough.

message 15: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
I agree this is a balance-point where the reader's feelings probably turn against humanity. A lot was left unclear- how many humans are in the Humanity Party, for one thing- and their rationale did seem to break down pretty fast under Kiernan's questioning.

I did NOT think, however, that the humans on Sako were unintelligent, just uncivilized. And the Sakae gave some reasoning or other about why they couldn't uplift them that struck me as thin. These were things that a longer story would have had to explore.

But yeah, it was a weird ride, almost arguing that in the future humans will take a step BACKWARDS in terms of their attitude and ability to understand others. A bit of Buck Rogers there, the guy from the past has the right idea!

message 16: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I didn't really see it the way you two did. Maybe I missed something, but the image I got was that humans have spontaneously risen on more planets than earth and these humans simply hadn't evolved as far as earth humans had.

The aliens were as political as anyone else. They didn't want more advanced humanity interfering in their affairs. Uplifting these humans would have created future problems for them. It was far more useful to keep them as the equivalent of dogs.

The Humanity Party was probably specieist. (If that's a word.) They just didn't like the idea that there was a place in the galaxy where humans weren't the dominant life form.

It's not surprising that they misjudged Kiernan. It is very common for us to look back on a historical people and stereotype them. Most people have a very unsophisticated understanding of past civilizations. Lets face it, most people have a very unsophisticated understanding of different contemporary cultures. Heck, we could make a case that most people have an unsophisticated understanding of their own cultures and the different groups within them, so why should we expect the future to better understand Kiernan?

message 17: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I'm not sure at what point in their mental evolution these people were at, but they seemed more like frightened animals than reasoning people to me. Even animals lose certain fears by association, whereas these humans were still easily frightened by fire, or the lights on the Sakae ships for instance.

The Humanity Party, in my mind, presented facts to Kieran which were later proved to be false when they all heard explanations from the Sakae themselves (who actually lived on the same world as the undeveloped humans). Recall Paula saying the Sakae were driving the humans?

The Sakae then explained that the humans migrate every year and that they merely followed them to monitor the 'health of the herd' so to speak. IOW, the Humanity guys were feeding Kieran a line of bull to make matters seem worse than they were. The Sakae accused Webber of knowing this, and explained to Kieran that it was this knowledge that allowed the Humanity guys to find the humans so quickly.

I still think this Humanity Party aren't using good, sound logic here. I think most would agree it wouldn't be smart to allow deer and bear call the shots and in the case of these particular humans, that's exactly what would be happening on Sako. Well--maybe in some cases it might actually be better if the animals called the shots!

I find it interesting that Hamilton returned to this sort of theme. It must have been something he pondered--that of the human race losing its ascendancy of being at the apex of the pyramid. Because this isn't the only story of his where it boils down to different species other than humans being the dominant race of the planet.

In Day of Judgement (1946) we find an Earth of the far future where humans no longer exist, and where animals have learned the ability to talk. When humans in a ship wreck on Earth after having fled during a time of great catastrophe (presumably one of their own making) they are in for a shock when they meet members of the Hairy Clan and the Hoofed Clan, and the Clawed Clan, Etc.

Weird Tales September 1946

As Skregg--a Sakae--said about the Humanity guys: "Enthusiasts always believe what they want to believe."

I feel the lizard man was being truthful here but that the Humanity Party weren't the types to let a little inconvenience like the truth stand in the way of their advancing their ideology.

message 18: by Chris (last edited Sep 24, 2019 06:34AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I'm just going to throw out a handful of other themes I noticed, based mostly on the story's dialogue:

"You—all you who woke me up illegally..."

A Kieran quote, obviously. This could be looked at from a couple of perspectives. Today, we have 'Don't Rescitate' laws (mentioned earlier) that might possibly prevent a situation like this (not sure if, in his case, Kieran would wish this or not).

Another way to look at it is that this Humanity Party has no respect for law or logic and will do whatever it takes to forward their agenda. No surprise there. This has been their MO from the GET GO.

"All right," she answered. "We need you, as a symbol, in a political struggle we're waging against the Sakae."

Kieran the Pawn! Gads, that would totally infuriate me, too. No wonder ole Reed was on their bad side from day-one.

"Of all the people in that space-cemetery, we had to pick one who thinks like that," said Vaillant, with a sort of restrained fury.

Orwellian? Thought police, anyone? They don’t like how he thinks, and look on him as inferior. We can't have people thinking like that!

I know this is kind of a mixed bag of topics. I just found it fascinating that Hamilton managed to throw so many of these into one little ole short story.

message 19: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
As a scy-fy story, Stars doesn't stand out too much in the area of technology. But then, I didn't select this story because it is so technically outstanding, but rather because it contains social conundrums and issues that resonate today.

As to technology in the story, we discover a star-ship with which Kieran is amazed. Nothing outstanding here other than Kieran is surprised when the individuals who revived him from being frozen in space tell him they have troubles. Troubles, on a starship? Kieran is doubly amazed.

Then there is the flitter (which I suppose is similar to the shuttlecraft in Star Trek).

There are intelligent, inhuman aliens (common in scy-fy stories), revivification of the dead (maybe a bit of H. P. Lovecraft's Herbert West--Reanimator influence there?).

The Hypnopedic technique is interesting (Hamilton might have taken a lead from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) here, come to think about it, with Huxley's use of hypnopaedia--the process of learning under hypnosis or while sleeping).

As a story, I liked it. Not Hamilton's best, and certainly not my favorite by him, but I enjoy reading the best, and the lesser, of my favorite authors' works, and so will always seek these out. Anyone else? I look forward to reading some more Hamilton in the future. As a matter of fact, I just finished up Crashing Suns in audio format on my commute.

Although some of these stories tend to sound dated to our modern ears, I always enjoy them. Reading one (or listening to an audio on YouTube) is like slipping back in time to days when things were slower, and folks were more inclined to curl up with a book or magazine, and just read.

message 20: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
The way I see it, SF falls broadly into two overlapping camps--hard science/technology based and clash of cultures. The Stars, My Brothers falls into the latter category. This is about Kieran and the future humans not understanding each other and it makes for a very interesting story. I really enjoyed it.

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