A Plague of Cowards

Another retro review, this one from October 8, 2008, of another William Barton work. This one is recommended only for Barton completists.

Since I hadn’t seen mention of a lot of new Barton work, I thought maybe he had abandoned writing. However, I see from his Amazon page, he most definitely hasn’t. His new output looks to be self-published, so it looks like the job of reading his corpus just got bigger.

And, yes, you can buy an e-book version of this title. Barton says his first three novels were the Starover Universe trilogy. The e-book version has material originally edited out for this version. The third novel, This Dog/Rat World, never published through conventional channels, is now available. I have not read the first in the trilogy, Hunting on Kunderer, which was half of the last original Ace double.

Review: A Plague of All Cowards, William Barton, 1976.A plague of All Cowards

This is Barton’s second novel. After it was published, he took 14 years off from being published and returned a much better writer.

The plot of this short novel has Captain Tharkie hired to track down and apprehend the assassin who almost killed the legislative body of the Terran Colony System. Tharkie is a Starover, sort of privateer and bounty hunter rolled into one. Helping Tharkie are his shipmates and fellow Starovers, most veterans of bitter war. And the assassin also fits that bill. Wrapped up with this is a 1000 year old police robot, an amalgam of a telepathic human and “psychic incongruity” seeking transcendence, a plot to expand the human sphere of space, and a pointless subplot involving an aristocrat and his wife.

The novel has far too many inane conversations and descriptions of characters and clothings, an air of pseudo-sophistication in the talk of cocktails, many descriptions of switches being flipped, and lengthy descriptions of starflight.

There are hints of the future Barton in the incoherently expressed idea of soldiers and lovers banding against the universe, finding comfort only with each other – even if it’s merely the comfort of a polite execution. As with some of his later work, one can detect a bit of the influence of Cordwainer Smith and H. Beam Piper.


More reviews of science fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.