Flying to Valhalla, Charles Pellegrino

Avonova, 1993, 337 pages, C$5.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-71881-2

Charles Pellegrino has lived an interesting life. The full-page author blurb informs us that he’s been involved with astronomy, palaeontology, archaeology, the Titanic, the Valkyrie antimatter rocket, the concept of cloning dinosaurs from mosquitoes stuck in amber, composite materials, high-speed global maglevs and a few nuclear devices. Yikes.

With Flying to Valhalla, he now turns his formidable imagination to hard Science-Fiction, complete with a forty-page scientific addendum.

(It’s at this point that the liberal-arts crowd roll their eyes and quietly go away. I’ll be talking to those who will stay.)

Yessir, Flying to Valhalla is pure, undiluted, ultra-hard Science Fiction. No substitutes, no wishy-washy fuzzy concept straight out of media SF, no fancy prose. No fancy characters, and no gripping plot either, but we’ll get to that.

In the same vein than Robert L. Forward and John Cramer, Pellegrino is a working scientist with bursting ideas who finds in SF an ideal medium of expression. So who cares if his characters are cardboard and the plot’s free of any suspense? Pellegrino is constructing the basis of tomorrow’s SF: lesser authors will mine this book for years to come.

What’s in Flying to Valhalla? A lot of stuff.

The Chronology begins with “First Contact: 33,552,442 B.C.” and ends with “Effective end of Earth: A.D. 2076”. The book continues with Pellegrino, Powel and Asimov’s Three Laws of Alien Behaviour:

  1. Their survival will be more important that our survival,
  2. Wimps don’t become top dog and
  3. They will assume that the first two laws apply to us.

No Star Trek goody-humanist doctrine, here. You already want to read the novel? Good, because this stuff is still all in the introduction.

Before the novel’s over, you’ll read about antimatter rockets, space disasters, alien civilizations, theories of cosmogony, near-c insanity (or lucidity), relativistic bombs, galactic predators, electronic civilizations, sun-driven antimatter factories, lunar colonization and so much more!

It’s redundant to say that Flying to Valhalla is a novel of ideas. It’s also redundant to say that hard-SF fans will devour it with glee while everyone else will look on in incomprehension. So let’s do the only decent thing and point out that if you’re looking for good hard-SF, Flying to Valhalla, and Pellegrino, are good buys.

(The most fascinating thing about Flying to Valhalla is the concept of relativistic bombs. Accelerate relatively small objects to near-lightspeed velocities and let them smash in something -say, a planet- you want destroyed. There is almost no warning due to the near-c speed, and the impact is such that destruction is total. There is no real theoretical obstacle to this: just do the math. Now imagine that other civilisations in the galaxy that have the power required to send these relativistic bombs.

This is where hard-SF shines: It anticipates a problem that has very real foundations years -possibly *centuries*- before everyone else. Flying to Valhalla also instill a deliciously real sense of paranoia: What if our TV signals are, at this very moment, reaching a civilization that doesn’t want any competitor…?

Sweet dreams.)

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