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Berserker's Planet
By Fred Saberhagen

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Berserker's Planet
By Fred Saberhagen
Thorndike Press - Large Print, (2003)
ISBN: 0-7862-6017-3
Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - January 20, 2004

Berserker's Planet is the third volume in Fred Saberhagen's energy packed Berserker series. Originally published as a two-part series in the World of If, a science fiction magazine, it is at long last available in large print. The books in this series do not have to be read in order, and as such, you can easily follow the story line in Berserker's Planet without having read the previous two books.

The Berserkers are intelligent space going machines which were designed as the ultimate doomsday machine by their creators. As often happens with doomsday machines, they worked rather too well. After killing of their creators enemies, and then the creators themselves, the machines set out to traverse the universe, killing all organic life that they encountered. Five hundred years ago, the Berserkers stumbled across the outposts of humankind. A fierce battle was waged against the killing machines, and the humans won. The cost of that victory was, however, very high.

While the humans managed to kill most of these killing machines, one survived, and took up orbit around the planet called, Hunter's World. Rather than killing the inhabitants to the planet outright, it set itself up as the overlord of the planet's inhabitants, demanding one human sacrifice a year as a token of appeasement.

As time past, a cult of death developed around the Berserker and its yearly tribute. The Berserker, though damaged, is still capable of destroying all life on the planet, and it demanded more and more deaths. To satiate the machine, events are staged that pit warriors against each other in battles to the death. Not only does this serve to pacify the machine, but it also serves as a grotesque tourist attraction. Worse, those staging the events have discovered that their ability to 'give' the machine human deaths has given them a measure of control over the machine. A power that they are more than willing to use.

The inhabitants of Hunter's planet are somewhat primitive, and more inclined to use swords than computers. Yet it is the primitive nature of this world that helps to make it a prime hunting ground, hence its name. When Oscar Schoenberg, owner of the space ship Orion leads a group of hunters on an expedition to Hunter's Planet, they fall foul of the cult of death, and the priests that administer to their Berserker 'god'. When the Berserker demands the ultimate sacrifice, the death of all humankind, the hunters discover that they are the only ones with any chance of destroying the Berserker - but will they ever get the chance to try?

Berserker's Planet is a masterful tale about human nature, and man's willingness to destroy others in order to gain wealth, power, prestige, or just to ensure one's own safety. Saberhagen has interwoven his social commentary so seamlessly into the story that you never realize that the story is something more than just a diverting science fiction story - until the end.

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