JACK WILLIAMSON – Mazeway. Ballantine/Del Rey, hardcover, 1990. Paperback reprint, October 1990.


   Younger science fiction writers may have technical proficiencies that Jack Williamson can only dream about, but other than that, I think his dreams are the stuff that dreams are made of.

   There is something somebody once called a “sense of wonder” in trying to describe a certain brand of science fiction, and Jack Wiliamson has it, and he always did: his first published story was in 1928. He had then — and still does — an awe of the future that younger writers take for granted, as everyday events, and their books are (arguably) the poorer for it.

   But what’s this book about? Nothing more than a few representatives of mankind trying to make the evolutionary leap from planet to space. How? By playing the eldern’s Game of Blade and Stone on the double planet Mazeway – sort of like taking a hard, rigorous entrance exam.

   Winning the game means mankind’s acceptance into the wider world of the entire universe.

   Why such exalted creatures such as the eldern need such a childish way to enter into their ranks is not precisely clear, but given the premise, admittedly not a new one, Williamson delivers an old-fashioned homily on growing up and getting along and maturing.

   It is, as well, a murder mystery. May I quote from page 80? Benn Dain, Terran, is making demands of the Hydrans concerning his friend and mentor, Edward Gibbon Beta, whose brother by fission at birth has been killed, under mysterious circumstances:

    “Sir. You can’t let him die. He wants to live. His brother was murdered at Starsearch. The murderer is unknown. I think you’ll find him determined to identify the killer.”

   Find the killer, they do, although I’d have to agree that it is not one that Ellery Queen, say, in his wildest dreams would ever have recognized. And as much as I like what some of the newer SF writers are saying, as futzy and outdated books like this might be, it’s still my kind of story.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 32, July 1991 (shortened and slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 01-18-12.   You didn’t miss a great deal when I shortened this review to post it here. Back in 1991 and for a reading audience of mystery fans who might not have known who he was, I spent a few paragraphs of time telling them something about Jack Williamson’s background as a writer.

   Today, however, all I have to do is include a link to an appropriate page, and you’ll know what I said about him then, and a whole lot more. (I also spent some time justifying the inclusion of a SF writer in a mystery journal. I stopped worrying about that a long time ago.)