Dancers in the Afterglow (Jack Chalker – 1979)

I’ve only read a few Jack Chalker novels so far, but I’m already dismayed that I’ve neglected reading him all these years. While not overwhelmingly complex or tackling grandiose stories, his scope is limited to good old SF adventure stories that have reasonably interesting characters and, more importantly a neat gimmick of some sort that propels the tale.

Dancers in the Afterglow is about a stalemated battle between humanity and an alien race called the Machists. The stalemate is breached one day when the Machists inexplicably attack a remote ‘vacation’ leisure planet, Ondine, and immediately cut off the few millions of tourists on the planet at the time. The humans only hear of odd stories about how the aliens seem to ‘change’ the captives of newly conquered planets, but initially there are few worries as everyone knows there is no way the Machists can hold onto their newly acquired planet.

While some of the humans on the Ondine manage to evade capture and create isolated settlements in remote caves, most of the tourists are rounded up and segregated into small groups of about 50 prisoners. Thousands of these groups are herded up and are forced to create mini villages throughout the planet. The Machists then have the captives go back to a rustic living style, providing just enough to ensure survival. Well at least enough for those willing to make the effort. The interesting thing is how both the captive settlements and the free settlements each fall into their own societies with very unique traits due to their respective unique situations. But before it all comes to inevitable retaking of the planet by humans that have had time to regroup and battle the Machists, the Machists have one more surprise for the captive humans.

The hero of the story, if the term really applies here, is a Daniel, an ex-figther pilot whose brain is kept alive after great damage to his body in an accident under unique circumstances. Because of the unique situation, his ‘brain’ was experimented on and it was discovered that he could control a number of robotlike bodies simultaneously. The military then ask him to help them out by placing his brain on a fake asteroid near the planet, which he can then use to infiltrate the planet by controlling a number of robot bodies on the planet. In this way he can infiltrate the free human rebel settlements and hopefully unite them all until the return of the human military forces can recapture the planet.

But the real story is all about what constitutes humanity for the captured humans, the roaming rebels, and even Daniel in his disembodied state. It “Lord of the Flies” on many levels.

I would compare Chalkers stories to a writer like Clifford D. Simak. Not from a content point of view, but from the fact that these writers each have their own very distinct style and these use recurrent familiar storyboards. Once you read one of their novels, the next novel, while different, will fit right in with their other stories. An immediate sense of familiarity and more importantly, enjoyable stories.


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5 Responses to “Dancers in the Afterglow (Jack Chalker – 1979)”

  1. Joachim Boaz Says:

    This sounds interesting! I love 70s sci-fi…. I’ve not read anything by Chalker. Which do you suggest I start with? The earlier in his career the better.

  2. lazaruslair Says:

    As I mentioned, I haven’t read all that much of his, so I would not be a good authority on recommendations. I’m sure you can find that information from other Chalker fan sites.

    But for what it is worth, here is a review I posted of his novel “Moreau Factor” a few years ago:

  3. Joachim Boaz Says:

    Thanks. What’s the best OF the ones you have read? Maybe I’ll just randomly procure some of his earlier works 😉

  4. lazaruslair Says:

    If you like more character development and a bit of mystery, I would go with Moreau Factor. This was one of, if not the, last books he wrote and his writing skills was more refined. If your more interested in classic SF, I would go with Dancers.
    But by all means your best bet is probably to just pick out something from your nearest used book store.

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