In a galactic culture that extends from quasi-utopian worlds, like New Alexandria, to vermin-infested slums, like Old Earth, starship pilots have become the great romantic heroes of the day. When Star-Pilot Grainger is rescued from a shipwreck, he finds himself pressed into reluctant service to fly the Hooded Swan, the prototype of a new kind of interstellar ship. He's also picked up an alien parasite that's determined to share his brain. Under these dire circumstances, can Grainger possibly stay out of trouble? Not a chance!
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I loved this book when I first read it years ago, I was worried I would not enjoy it as much now. But it is still a great book. The narrator did a great job of capturing the mood of the book. The cynical world(s) weery protagonist with his strange mind symbiot. Excellent, I really hope they do the rest of the series but even if they don't this is a great book all by itself.
Grainger, a spaceship pilot, has been shipwrecked on a deserted island in a dangerous star system called the Halcyon Drift. He’s just about to give up hope when he is unexpectedly rescued by a commercial spacecraft. They charge him for the rescue and take him to court, so now he’s deep in debt. When he arrives on Old Earth, he finds it in decline. There’s no hope of getting off or finding lucrative work, so he’s forced to accept a job offer to pilot the prototype of a new hi-tech spaceship, the Hooded Swan. Unfortunately, this means going back to the Halcyon Drift to help his boss, a mad scientist, hunt for the Lost Star, a spaceship that disappeared in the Drift carrying a potentially valuable cargo. This is a very dangerous job, but perhaps Grainger will get some help from the alien parasite that took up residence in his brain while he was stranded in the Drift.
There’s so much beauty at the beginning of The Halcyon Drift as Grainger sat alone on an empty world, reminiscing about the planets he’d visited and the people he’d known. Brian M. Stableford has a gift for world building and I was entranced by the creative places and interesting experiences that Grainger described:
"On Bira, we both got hooked on the nectar of the scorpion lilies, which grew only in the dawn, and faded once the sun was clear of the horizon. But the local day was two standard years long, and the dawn lingered long. We followed sunrise around the planet for half a year, until we reached the shore of an uncrossable sea. There would be no more lilies until the dawn reached the far shore. Hundreds of the natives had taken the same ecstatic trek, and over half of them died in the throes of withdrawal. Those who did not began the return journey, to wait for the sun again. They were a slender, sickly people, but Lapthorn and I had stronger stomachs and stronger minds. We returned only so far as our ship, and left for a different shore."
This part of the novel reminded me of some of George R.R. Martin’s work and I thought it was wonderful. Perhaps that’s not too surprising since Brian Stableford’s background is in biology and sociology (he was a sociology professor before becoming a full-time writer).
Grainger is an interesting protagonist — smart, quiet, tough, confident, proud, ambitious, arrogant, sexist (at least at first). He’s introverted and solitary and, though he seems to think he doesn’t care much for other people, we learn that this is not exactly true. The alien parasite, which Grainger calls the Wind, enjoys analyzing his host’s personality for him, though it’s not appreciated by Grainger.
Once Grainger is on the Hooded Swan, the story shifts tone and becomes more typical of an old science fiction exploit as the characters race to the Halcyon Drift to find the Lost Star before their competitors do. Usually I like a lot of action and adventure in a science fiction story, but I discovered that in the case of The Halcyon Drift, I preferred the quieter moments when Grainger is reminiscing and being introspective. I thought Stableford did a better job with these parts and I found them fascinating. Some of the action scenes — most notably the long spaceship flight to the Halcyon Drift — get a little dull. This may just be my particular taste, though. I can imagine that other readers may have exactly the opposite reaction.
The Halcyon Drift (1972) is the first in a six-book series about Grainger and the Hooded Swan. The sequels are Rhapsody in Black, Promised Land, The Paradise Game, The Fenris Device, and Swan Song. I read the audiobook version of The Halcyon Drift which was produced by Wildside Press and narrated by Bob Dunsworth who I liked very much. Unfortunately, at this time, books two through four are not available in that format, though the last two books are. I would like to read the rest of the series, so I hope Wildside Press will produce them.