Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eric Frank Russell's "The Ultimate Invader" aka "Design for Great-Day" (novella, space opera): Intergalactic supercops enforcing new laws of spaceways

Quote from short story titled The Ultimate Invader aka Design for Great-Day by Eric Frank RussellThis is Russell at his very best. While space opera is the right classification, much of the story feels like one of the Russell's favorite themes - a single smart alec making a planetful of bureaucracy squirm. We know he's not alone or powerless, & rulers are not quite the despots, but it's still very entertaining.

Story summary.

Somewhere in a neighboring galaxy (not Milky Way), there are two star-faring empires - an unnamed one & Nileans. Former is headed by Great Lord Markhamwit; Nilea's war effort is headed by Glastrom. Much of this story is set on on the capital world of former. These two empires are at war, with former a little heavier of the two.

That's when a mysterious ship lands near the capital city of unnamed one. All defensive systems of the planet have been helpless against it. Out comes our smart alec named James Lawson - a biped alien (human) of a kind no one has ever heard of, & he claims to be from a mythical star faring setup called Solarian Combine from neighboring galaxy (Milky Way). Totally contemptuous of the local security & apparently alone (we will slowly learn he's not alone). He knows local language & customs, & wants to meet Markhamwit!!

He's not manhandled only because of his daring & ability to defy planetary security. But we will see the bureaucracy in action, & have quite a bit of fun. After much fun, & some display of magical powers as local security found itself impotent entering his apparently empty ship, he will get to meet Markhamwit.

Markhamwit has in the meantime consulted Alemph, an expert of the myth of Solarian Combine. According to myth, a once very powerful military empire of race called Elmones had killed two of their visitors. Then a third & bigger ship came, just hung around in space around the planet & went away. No apparent damage. They learnt years later that the entire species had been sterilized - no more children! Powerful race of Elmones vanished after that generation! Further, there are rumors of "small, biped-operated and quite uncatchable ships occasionally visiting the smallest systems and loneliest planets in our galaxy."

During the talks, visitor gives the ruler an ultimatum: he can fight all he wants, but he must confined his armed ships to his own planets. No movement of armed ships in open space - only peaceful traffic allowed there.

So Markhamwit is both fearful of visitor (because of myth), & skeptical too. If the rival Nilea wanted to harass him, this would be a perfect trap. Only the visitor tells him a counterpart has landed on rival's capital world too. But how to be sure?

Eventually, Lawson is imprisoned to buy time. We also learn that Lawson is part of a hive entity ("multi-kind") comprising of all kinds of living things of Sol - humans, insects, birds, beings from Venus/Mars/elsewhere, ... And they can stay in touch with each other telepathically. We will eventually learn the hive entity is out to expand into cosmic scale, & this war is coming in the way. Parts of the story have racial rivalry between constituents - supposed to be funny, but kind of goes against the idea of hive entity. And I couldn't figure out the reason for Solarian Combine's interest in neighboring galaxy when they haven't even covered Milky Way beyond Sol - but that's a nit picking.

Anyway, during the imprisonment, there is conference of hive. They conclude the ruler is buying time. So they will issue an ultimatum - at the conclusion of "one time-unit", Solarian Combine will take unspecified action.

We again get some fun with jail guards, jailer etc before the visitor is electronically connected to ruler. Ruler orders bombing of his ship. But he has his multi-species friends, & hive behind. Escape from jail is no problem. His ship takes off before bombers can take action.

Then some action in space. As ships of Solarian Combine telepathically take over the minds running armada of the two sides, make them land on nearby planets, make the crew wreck the ships beyond hope - before releasing telepathic control. War is quickly over - both sides' ships are either grounded all over space or headed back home.

After a cooling off period, our friend will revisit Markhamwit. Of course, no problem meeting him now. Markhamwit has already been given information on where the soldiers are stranded. Lawson will confirm the myth here during final conversation with Markhamwit, & also about plans of cosmic hive. And that, eventually, both the warring sides are going to be part of hive.


  1. "intelligence has nothing whatever to do with shape, form or size."
  2. "Pleasure is for today. Regrets are for tomorrow."
  3. "Can you tell me how to conduct a war between systems without sending armed ships through space?"

    "We aren't the least bit interested in that problem. It is your own worry."

    "It cannot be done".

    "That's most unfortunate... It creates an awful state of no-war."
  4. "War is a serious matter... It cannot be ended with a mere flick of the finger."

    "The fact should be borne in mind by those who so nonchalantly start them".
  5. "by great daring one creature could defy a world of others."
  6. "tactics are more important than instruments, wits are better than warheads."
  7. "wars are not caused, declared or willingly fought by nations, planetary peoples or shape-groups, for these consist in the main of plain, ordinary folk who crave nothing more than to be left alone. The real culprits are power-drunken cliques of near-maniacs who by dint of one means or another have coerced the rest."

Collected in.

  1.  "Major Ingredients" (ed Rick Katze).

Fact sheet.

First published: Planet Stories, January 1953.
Rating: A
Related: All stories of Eric Frank Russell.