by Lyn McConchie.
William R. Burkett was born in 1943, has written three genre books and has also written several non-fiction/technical works. He’s been a State Representative, U.S. Attorney, District Judge, and Presiding Judge of the Oklahoma Temporary Court of Appeals. His first, and by far the best, of his three genre books, THE SLEEPING PLANET, was published when he was only twenty.
He then became a journalist, left journalism in 1978 for public relations, and moved on again to return to writing as well as his other legal interests. I am unfamiliar with his two linked novels, Bloodsport and Bloodlines, but I am told that in order to appreciate them they MUST be read in that order, and that even so, they have plot gaps, and too many characters that are never fully explained.
But it is for his first book that I have included him in this series. The Sleeping Planet is quite simply a wild SF military romp. Earth is going about its usual business when almost everyone falls asleep and stays that way. Orange-skinned invaders have used the fumes of an alien plant to render Terrans incapable of fighting back but here and there are The Unaffected who remain awake and fight the invaders with all their abilities – and utilizing some very vivid imaginations.
The plot was novel, and the writing so good that at the time I found this book and first read it – in the early 1970s – I wondered if it was not by Eric Frank Russell under another name. The style is similar to his, as was the ability to handle words, and the type of character and as well, there were nuances that continually reminded me of one of Russell’s works. The book ended up on my bookshelves and for some years I kept an eye out for more work by this author.
It was not until I obtained a computer in the late 1990s and while casually chasing up something else on-line one day checked that, that I discovered this author was definitely not Eric Frank Russell under another name. However about that time while rereading both authors I tracked down why his work had reminded me of Russell, and found that the work of which this book reminded me so strongly came out quite some time before Sleeping Planet.
That work was Eric Frank Russell’s brilliant Next of Kin. It originally appeared in Astounding in 1956 as a story entitled PLUS X. It appeared two years later as one half of an Ace double entitled, The Space Willies, and finally from Mayflower in 1962 as Next of Kin. So why did Sleeping Planet remind me of Next of Kin so strongly? Because the central theme is similar in each. In both works a human in the hands of hostile aliens convinces them that invisible ghosts/spirits will take revenge on the aliens- who are superstitious. And the humor, the smart comments and the wisecracks of human to alien also ring the same note.
I am not saying there was plagiarism, but I do think it possible that Burkett as a boy had read one of the incarnations of Next of Kin and was unconsciously influenced. If so it only improved the work. I see from the reviews of Burkett’s two more recent genre works, that he should have continued in that style. The Sleeping Planet was and is a terrific “military space opera” book. And I recommend it to those who enjoy good quality ‘space opera’ of the wild adventures type of tale.
The Sleeping Planet - assortment of publishers and times of publication. Originally published in sections in Analog in 1964 when Burkett was twenty, in hardcover from Doubleday in 1965, the copy I have is a hardcover from the UK SFBC 1966. The book is also available in a free Torrent download.
Bloodsport 1997 Eos
Bloodlines 1998 Eos