SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper
Written by the late Piper in 1962, Space Viking is on the surface a story of vengeance. Lucas Trask's bride is murdered and his raiding ship stolen by a madman. Trading his fiefdom for a second ship, he vows to hunt down killer Andray Dunnan in the ruins of the Old Empire.
In order to find Dunnan in the vastness of space, Trask must raid, both for materiel and for information. But he must also build a settlement to attract other Space Vikings to bring him information, attract more people, ships and machines from his home Sword Worlds, and make alliances with worlds that have survived the darkness. Soon, his singleminded drive for revenge has kindled a new dawn in the Old Empire, and by drawing the best and brightest from his home worlds has hastened their decay.
Piper's fascination with history shines through in the politics and the economics of the story, while his fatalistic, Toynbee-inspired cyclical view of human civilization gives every achievement a transient, autumnal flavor. With faster-than-light travel and contragravity coupled with nuclear missiles and repeating cannons, the space battles read like World War II dogfights. The technology feels grittily appropriate for Vikings of the future, as does the emphasis on seizing and reusing property from ruins and settlements; however, the concept of raiding ships as venture capital investments, and the beneficial and baneful effects of raiding to come more from the conquistadors and their booty's depression of the Spanish economy.
All in all, a most worthwhile novel from the Silver Age of science fiction.
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