76) Colin Kapp — Patterns of Chaos
Another of the books that I greatly enjoyed as a teenager but haven’t read for some years. Fortunately it turns out that this is one I still enjoy. A man wakes in the middle of a vicious attack upon a city by a starship, dragged from unconsciousness by a voice inside his head. He has no memory of who he is and what he’s doing there, but the voice in his head is no hallucination. The first priority is to get him up and moving to where he’s supposed to be — because Bron is a deepcover agent with a telepathic link back to his base, and being amnesiac doesn’t excuse him from the job he was sent to do. Within a few hours, the planet he’s on will be destroyed by hellburners, deadly missiles that can tear a planet apart. And in those hours, the Destroyer fleet will raid, taking slaves and goods, and most particularly anyone with expertise in chaos theory — the concept that the patterns of chaos can be read to predict the future. One of the first things Bron learns about himself is that he has a synthetic personality embedded to allow him to pass as one of those experts, making him a target for the raiders – and a Trojan horse.
Which would be an interesting story in its own right, and the initial phase of the book is a very good story of a deepcover agent rediscovering who he is a bit at a time, while in the middle of the most dangerous job he’s ever done. But Kapp takes it to a new level, as Bron comes to understand that the hellburner was aimed at him. Specifically him, personally. And that it’s been on its way for 700 million years…
This is a solid piece of 1970s space opera, with a plot on the grand scale combined with some fascinating details to flesh out the universe, and some well-realised characters. It’s short by modern standards, but that’s all to the good, as it’s a tightly written story. An entertaining way to pass a few hours.