FFB: Berserkers: The Beginning

by Fred Saberhagen, © 1967, 1979 – Baen 1998 mass market paperback – the berserker series – science fiction short story collection

this is the 49th in my review series of “forgotten” books

This paperback contains the contents of two previously released books: Berserkers (1967) and The Ultimate Enemy (1979). This a fine collection of hard SF space opera stories, and with the basic premise that the Berserkers are doomsday weapons left over from an interstellar war between two races of extraterrestrials some 50,000 years ago, the plots range from intimate, on-planet character portraits to galaxy-spanning chases and war. The machines all have machine intelligence, and their sizes range from that of an asteroid, in the case of an automated repair and construction base, to human size (and sometimes shape) or smaller. This gives Saberhagen lots of room for stories ranging from puzzles in the nature of how to fool a computer brain to what happens to people so in fear that they become accomplices.

There is no information in this paperback about publication of the stories elsewhere, heck there isn’t even a table of contents! However  a quick search gave me the contents, broken down by the original books (initial publication, if known, shown in parens ):

Berserkers (collection, 1967)

  • – “Without a Thought” (first appeared as “Fortress Ship” in Worlds of If, Jan 1963)
  • – “Goodlife” (first appeared in Worlds of Tomorrow, Dec 1963)
  • – “Patron of the Arts” (first appeared in Worlds of If, Aug 1965)
  • – “The Peacemaker” (first appeared as “The Lifehater” in Worlds of If, Aug 1964)
  • – “Stone Place” (first appeared in Worlds of If, March 1965)
  • – “What T and I Did” (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1965)
  • – “Mr. Jester” (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1966)
  • – “Masque of the Red Shift” (first appeared in Worlds of If, Nov 1965)
  • – “Sign of the Wolf” (first appeared in Worlds of If, May 1965)
  • – “In the Temple of Mars” (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1966)
  • – “The Face of the Deep” (first appeared in Worlds of If, Sep 1966)

The Ultimate Enemy (collection, 1987)

  • – “The Smile” (first appeared in Algol, Summer/Fall 1977)
  • – “Pressure” (first appeared as “Beserkers Prey” in Worlds of If, June 1977)
  • – “The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron” (first appeared in Galaxy, Feb 1977)
  • – “Inhuman Error” (first appeared in Analog, Oct 1974)
  • – “Some events at the Templar Radiant” (first appeared in Destinies, May-Aug, 1979)
  • – “Starsong” (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1968)
  • – “Smasher” (first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aug 1978)
  • – “The Game” (first appeared in The Flying Buffalo’s Favorite Magazine, May–June 1977)
  • – “Wings out of Shadow” (first appeared in Worlds of If, March–April, 1974)

This would be an excellent place for the reader wanting to try Saberhagen’s SF to start, just as Empire of the East is the best beginning point for his fantasy works. Highly recommended.

~ ~ ~ ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott is away from her desk, so this week Kerrie Smith is hosting Friday Forgotten Books. See other FFB reviews at Abbott’s blog Pattinase, and (hopefully) a list of this week’s participating blogs at Smith’s blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

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16 Responses to FFB: Berserkers: The Beginning

  1. Dan Luft says:

    Sad to say, Empire of the East was also his best fantasy work. I read the Berserker novels when I was a kid (the Ace editions) but I never knew about the short story collections. Thanks.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    Either “Smasher” or “Masque of the Red Shift” (though possibly also “Fortress Ship”) was the first Beserker story I read…and of them, “Smasher” made the strongest impression.
    “Yes, I could,” she said.

  3. Evan Lewis says:

    Great to see you back in the saddle, pardner.

  4. I think I’ve read BERSERKERS, but not THE ULTIMATE ENEMY. I loved those back in the day.

  5. Carl V. says:

    “This would be an excellent place for the reader wanting to try Saberhagen’s SF to start”

    That would be me, so thanks for this. Your description of the stories makes them sound like they would be in the same general vein as Asimov’s “I, Robot” stories and Keith Laumer’s “Bolo” tales in the sense of having intelligent machines. Cool!

    Though Baen isn’t my favorite book company, primarily because they manage to provide about 1 out of every 100 book covers that is NOT a combination of mediocre and garish artwork, but I give them props for two things:

    1. They are keeping many classic books/authors in print and on bookstore shelves, and that is a BIG DEAL.

    2. They are putting together these collections where you get a little more bang for your buck.

    I’ll be looking for this one.

  6. Carl V. is right: Baen Books does give you bang for your buck. I bought all of their Keith Laumer reprints (even though I had the originals) and I may have to buy this omnibus volume, too. I read the original collections long, long ago and, like, Todd, was deeply influenced by machines whose Prime Objective was to kill every living thing. The Cylons and the Terminators are the Berserkers’ grandchildren.

  7. Richard says:

    Dan, I liked the swords books pretty well, though the early ones were better, I think: Woundhealer’s Story, Sightblinder’s Story and Stonecutter’s Story.

    Todd – yep, “Smasher” is a good one. Cute little shrimp…

    Evan – Thanks!

  8. Richard says:

    George – this is an older one, not recent. All I was able to find was a used copy.

    Carl – I agree with you, keeping the oldies in print is a big deal. Between Baen, NESFA and others it’s a little easier to find the classics. Yes, this would be a good place for you to start with Saberhagen. See my note to George, above. Also, I did wish for at least a table of contents!

  9. Richard says:

    It was nice to squeeze in an FFB, one I got not too long ago and was at hand. I had read a couple of these stories way back when, but most of them were new to me and I enjoyed this collection a lot.

  10. Carl V. says:

    I meant to comment on that. No table of contents is weird and you would have to think it was left of in error, wouldn’t you? Very odd.

    I need to get more Laumer from them if I cannot track it down through used bookstores. I enjoyed the taste I got with Bolo: The Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade and want to read more Bolo and Retief stories.

  11. Fence says:

    That reminds me, must check out the Baen site for some of these old SF books. I’ve read very few. No Saberhagen at all.

  12. Richard says:

    One of the aspects of these stories, or some of them, is the puzzle. IN one of them, a ships captain has to decide which of two small space vessels is manned by humans and which is a Berserker death ship, and he has to make up his mind before either of them can get close enough tot he planet to harm it.

  13. Kerrie says:

    Hello Richard. This week’s Friday’s Forgotten Books is now up on MYSTERIES in PARADISE. Thanks for participating.

  14. Richard says:

    Thanks, Kerrie, I did notice you have Evan Lewis (real name Dave Lewis but he blogs under Evan Lewis) listed as “Dave Evans” in the link for his DARK MEMORY FFB. Easy enough mistake to make! Maybe a quick edit would be in order. ;)

    Thanks for hosting! Richard ====

  15. Stan says:

    Is “Sign of the Wolf” the story of the sheepherder who enters a cave looking for sheep and encounter an old anti-Berserker outpost?

  16. Richard says:

    Yes, Stan, that’s the one, and I liked it a lot.

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