I’ll just say it straight out: Star Bridge is, hands down, the best science fiction novel you’ve probably never heard of.
Written by James Gunn and Jack Williamson, two of the old masters, and published in 1955, it is a classic example of space opera.
The primary players:
One man, Alan Horn, one of only a hundred surviving mercenaries and assassins in all the populated star systems, standing against the empire, Eron, that controls all those star systems through a network of mysterious golden transportation tubes.
An almost-immortal Chinese man, Wu, and his constant companion, Lil, the sole remaining member of a race of living diamonds that can assume any shape—possibly allies or maybe enemies of Horn.
The most powerful and beautiful woman in the empire, Wendre Kohlnar, daughter of the man Horn was hired to assassinate, caught in a dangerous conspiracy from which only Horn can rescue her—if he can escape from a prison planet from which there is no escape and single-handedly bring down Eron.
And someone, something, behind it all with an even greater plan.
Did I say “classic”? You bet it’s classic.
Mind you, it got mixed reviews right from the beginning and is still obscure. According to Wikipedia, Anthony Boucher dismissed the novel as “pretty lifeless fiction, in which both prose and characterization emerge directly from the machine, untouched by human hands.” P. Schuyler Miller, on the other hand, found Star Bridge to be “a grand, old-fashioned razzle-dazzle yarn” and “unabashed action-adventure.” More than twenty years after it first appeared, a New York Times book review raved that it reads like a collaboration between Heinlein and Asimov.
I come down firmly in the enthusiastic camp, though I must confess that I may be prejudiced by the fact that Star Bridge is the first “grown-up novel” I ever read. I would swear that I still vividly remember seeing it on the paperback book rack in our local market in Evansville, Indiana, when I was ten years old. (The cover you see here is what I saw then; I still have that 1955 paperback.) I carried it over to where my mother was choosing fresh produce and begged her to buy it for me. She was a little dubious, but she finally agreed.
I know I remember reading it that day, snugged in a big old plush rocking chair. I read it straight-through, cover to cover, then immediately turned back to page one and read it again. I could see the golden tubes of the Eron empire stretching from star to star. I could see the mysterious Wu and the alien Lil and the great interplanetary revolution provoked by Horn in pursuit of his love. And, believe me, I’d never seen anything like that in the young adult books I’d been checking out of the library. I think I may have become a writer that day.
I have good company, it turns out. Both Samuel R. Delaney and Edward Bryant cited Star Bridge as the book which turned them on to science fiction.
Bottom line: If you enjoy good old-fashioned space opera, you should read this book. The good news is that it’s back in print after all these years and, as of just a month or so ago, even available from Amazon for your Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Star-Bridge-James-Gunn-ebook/dp/B00J1E7HQQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1417186334&sr=1-1&keywords=star+bridge.
I hope you love it as much as I do.