I ought to put in a brief proviso in case anyone had the idea of reading one these books - please do, but bear in mind they are of a different age. Even the greatest Dickens fan would admit that to the modern eye he can sometimes be dull and ludicrously wordy. Similarly, these books use much more exposition of the main character's thoughts than would happen now. The technology also, inevitably lets them down. Interestingly the biggest failing in both is IT. They are set hundreds of years in our future, yet Gather Darkness! uses tapes to store information, and Sundog has computers as massive mainframes where information is punched in and output is on printed tapes. But this doesn't make either of them unreadable.
|This one cost 95p new|
Along the way our hero is mentally programmed by the bad guys to change his behaviour, but manages to escape his conditioning. As well as the rather fun pseudo-magic, there's a bit of biology thrown in: the witches have 'familiars' that are creatures made from their cells but relying on them to provide blood.
This isn't the only science fiction book to cover pseudo-religion as a cover for superior science. Robert Heinlein, for instance, had a cracking little number where the (US) locals fought off an (Asian) invasion using advanced technology posing as religious/magical power. I can't remember the title off-hand, but it suffered from rather advanced racism, I think. But Leiber's book is the daddy of them all and does it very well.
|Set me back 3/6d (17.5p) new|
In one sense this book is a classic 'rebellion against the empire' book, the sort of thing Asimov was doing years before - but there's more to it, and here's where the similarities with Gather Darkness! come through. Our hero turns out to be mentally programmed by the bad guys to change his behaviour - previously a brilliant scientist he is now a thick pilot. But the conditioning starts to crack when suddenly he is endowed with a halo. (This proves to be a result of contact from the aliens, but that comes much later.) Bizarrely, halos also feature in the other book as part of the priests' uniform.
So imposed on top of the rebellion against empire story is our hero's gradual discovery of who he is (decidedly Bourne Identity), plus some mental frippery that eventually enables him to contact the aliens. It is actually a much more layered book than it first appears. There is also a slight link to Heinlein here too. Heinlein's later books almost all featured a character that seemed to be a thinly veiled version of himself. This guy would be old, incredibly wise and rather cynical. The Gompertz character in Sundog is just such a person - all he lacks from the Heinlein clones like Jubal Harshaw (the only name I can remember offhand) is he's not obsessed with sex.
I enjoyed both books, but Sundog was the more gripping. Gather Darkness! isn't a bit too wordy to really pull you in, and flits around in focus rather than staying with the main character. Sundog, which would make a great movie now we've got the technology to do the space battle scenes justice, has a better balance of action and thought. I'd recommend either, though, if you fancy taking a peek into the history of science fiction. Be gentle, though. You will be treading on my childhood.
(I ought to emphasize I wasn't around to read Gather Darkness! when it was new. I just encountered it as a youth. But Sundog was pretty well new out when I got it.)