Starhammer The Vang -the Military Form The Vang- the Battlemaster

I really enjoyed writing these three stories. I think it shows. As I’ve said many a time, I’m a kid from the 50s who started reading SF in the shape of Ace Doubles in the D Series. My favorite authors as a kid were Eric Frank Russell, Andre Norton, James Blish, John Brunner, Clifford Simak, Alfred Bester and Philip Jose Farmer. A little later I discovered Clarke and Heinlein, Vance and A.E. Van Vogt.

Van Vogt’s “Rull” stories, James Blish’s “Cities in Flight” novels, all kinds of things from Vance and Russel, Norton and Simak, worked their way deep into my nine year old brain alongside Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor and the Purple People Eater.

A bit later on, in England, I discovered the Victorian men of adventure stories, H. Rider Haggard, G.A. Henty and Arthur Conan Doyle.

And undoubtedly these are the influences that went into the Starhammer/Vang series. The idea behind them was to update the “space opera” subgenre and filter into it some modern SF style. I was hardly the only writer in the 80s to be doing this, of course, but I was writing for Del Rey, a very successful imprint and their meat and potatoes was adventure SF and here was a chance to have fun with the genre and along the way ask a few questions.

Another impulse was to undo the effect of Hollywood’s typecasting of alien life. I very much admired “Alien”- in fact I deeply wish Ridley Scott would come back and do SF film again. Since “Bladerunner” there has hardly been anything that one could call a “serious” work of SF film making (Okay, there was Gattaca, and Terminator 1). “Alien” had a serious beauty to it, a terrifying sound track and a wickedly good story. Alas, the “Alien” franchise has been completely ruined over the years by subsequent movies. That’s because the central premise of “Alien” was that the Derelict ship was a crashed B-52, and the alien eggs in its hold were a kind of bioweapon. Never entirely deciphered in the movie, the central conundrum was whether or not the vaguely elephantine creature in the huge pilot’s chair had been a hapless victim of the bioweapon or an unlucky combatant whose cargo had somehow slipped out of control and killed him. Either way his derelict ship was parked on a small planet with a reducing atmosphere while broadcasting a warning signal to all passing traffic.

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Leave it to a greedy terrestrial corporation to discover the signal and decide to send one of its own passing vessels to investigate. Without warning the crew, of course.

The logic of the Alien bioweapon ran thus. You wanted a planet, but you didn’t want the planet’s population. You sent one of these ships which seeded the planet with eggs containing chest bursters. The chest bursters would soon locate the population and begin the process of converting them to more eggs. Eggs to chest bursters, to adult Aliens, to more eggs. Each adult alien could operate for about 90 hours. At which point it would revert to the egg form itself, complete with chest burster.

Neat and nasty. Let’s hope we don’t ever develop anything like it.

While being terrified by the movie on first viewing- people screamed and ran out of the theatre I was in during that showing- I was also busy acknowledging the smart science fiction background to it. Clearly A.E. Van Vogt’s “Ixtl” critter from the seminal “Voyage of the Space Beagle” was part of it. Another possible influence was Jack Vance’s magnificent “Durdane” trilogy, with his remarkable “Asutra” aliens. Others, from Heinlein to Russell also flickered through my thoughts.

The Aliens, however, had a major weakness. While being swift and powerful and undoubtedly deadly, they lacked the intelligence to employ weapons. If an advanced space going species were to go all the way down this road, from “replicants” to bio-weapons and beyond, where would it end up?

Vang-Military Form is where, at least in my opinion. Here we have a creature designed from the genes up. Parasitic, and capable of adapting any good host form quite quickly into a lethal battle-beast. But more than that, the Military Form is equipped with built in understanding of weapons and technology. From swords to laser cannon, slingshots to assault rifles, Military Form know it all. This makes them unstoppable, or almost.

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Vang themselves were parasitic creatures who achieved symbiosis with certain kinds of reef animals in the ancient oceans of their homeworld. Their intelligence evolved in a well developed, active reef environment, loaded with predators and other parasites. And for those who doubt that intelligence can evolve in the oceans, I offer the example of the Cephalopoda, the squids and octopi.

Octopi have been shown to outperform rats in maze tests. I recently read of one who figured out, very quickly, how to unscrew the top of a jar to get at the crab that researchers had placed inside. Smarter than the average mollusc, Boo-boo.

The native Vang fought each other for control of their homeworld, then expanded to their solar system and beyond. Wherever they landed they behaved with much the same cheerful indifference to native life that we ourselves have always exhibited on our own world. What they couldn’t use, or eat, they exterminated.

Eventually this form of life came into contact with the Starhammer builders. A much older, and wiser life form. From the outset it was war to the death. The Starhammer builders, the “Batrachians” as I call them, were an amphibious life form, dwellers in swamps and ocean margins. They had evolved a peaceful, cooperative civilization and had spread by NAFAL colony ships to a dozen or more nearby worlds. They were unprepared for the onset of deadly warfare with the Vang and soon found themselves facing extermination. No negotiation was possible with the Vang overlords, who saw all other life as either a threat or as host. The Batrachians lost world after world, while rapidly improving their military capabilities, but against Vang Military Form they were overmatched.

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In the end their science dug deep and came up with the Starhammer technology. A way of converting matter to energy with almost 100% efficiency. One aspect of this technology allowed them to smash the barriers of space and time and travel elsewhere, perhaps to another universe entirely. With this capability they saved a remnant of their population. Another aspect of the technology provided the Starhammer itself, essentially a mass-energy transfer system able to operate across the reaches of space-time and cause stars to turn Nova. In the last frantic days of the war, the Starhammer was used to smash the Vang space fleets, and burn Vang worlds, even as the remnant population of the Batrachians fled our universe entirely.

All that was left from the war was the Starhammer itself, stationed at the bottom of a rapidly freezing ocean, and a few fragments of the Vang, scattered through a pocket in the starfields.

Since the Batrachians had been forced to consume their own sun to fuel their escape from this universe- essential because Military Form had been landed on their homeworld- that planetary system broke asunder and the Batrachian homeworld wandered off into the darkness of interstellar space. It spent aeons thus, and for a long time the Starhammer itself was encased in solid ice at the bottom of an ocean of ice.

Then the wandering planet was plucked out of the dark by the gravity of Pleione, one of the seven sisters of the Pleiades and fell into a distant orbit around the hot young, blue white supergiant.

There it warmed up enough for the oceans to melt and evaporate to provide an atmosphere once more. The Starhammer machinery resumed its endless march across the seabed while human space travellers arrived and colonised the ancient planet, a couple of centuries before the fateful contact with the Laowon.