JOHN BRUNNER – The Altar of Asconel. Interstellar Empire series #4. Ace Double M-123, paperback original; 1st printing, July 1965. Published back to back with Android Avenger, by Ted White (reviewed here ). Cover art: Gray Morrow. Previously serialized in If, April-May 1965. Collected in Interstellar Empire (Daw #208, paperback, 1976).

   Pure space opera, through and through — the kind of science fiction that might also be called swords and spaceships — but none the less enjoyable, as it should be in the hands of an author who would win a Hugo for his novel Stand on Zanzibar, published only three years later.

   The basic premise of The Altar on Asconel is that mankind is in the midst of a galaxy-wide decay after a huge expansion based on what they have found left behind by a prior empire, now mysteriously collapsed. Billions of interstellar spacecraft, for example, are there for the taking.

   But borrowing so extensively from another civilization is no way to build another one from the ashes, as mankind has now discovered. One world that has fallen to a cult-like ruler and a priesthood that follows him without question is Asconel. Can the three brothers of the former ruler fight to win back the planet on their own, with only the female companion of one and the fortuitous discovery of a young girl with as yet untapped telepathic powers?

   The answer, of course, is yes. You only need to read this book to just begin to understand what such powers can do on the behalf of a ragtag group of rebels such as this. (It’s almost cheating.) As I said earlier, this is pure space opera, such as that championed in the pages of Planet Stories a decade earlier. In one sense, this is more of the same, but with more than the usual amount of thought behind it, it’s also a jump higher — a solid, definitive jump.