Fourteen year old Dick Murdock leaves Venus to join his father at an observatory on Luna. But on the way, they find signs of dreaded space pirates, and Dick soon finds himself enmeshed in far more than he planned for.
Very unusually for Jack Vance, the book begins with a note from the author predicting the future (including space pirates). Sadly for all of us, Vance gets much of it wrong (though he’s pretty close with the moon landing).
The book is also unusual in being one of Vance’s early works, before he found his distinctive voice. The story is young adult (juvenile, as they were then called) adventure novel, reminiscent of John Christopher and early Robert Heinlein. There are intrigue and excitement, and of course Dick is the unquestioned star.
The plot is relatively simple, as is the language – none of the later flourishes. The characters are also fairly standard for this sub-genre, with only hints of Vance’s later norms. Most of the characters are fairly flat – the focus is on the action. Much of that action is only marginally credible, and some aspects are brushed past so fast that there’s not even an effort at handwaving.
All in all, a fairly fun and readable adventure, but not really distinctive. It’s interestingly mostly as a literary trace. If Vance had stuck with this style, he might have improved at it, but he’d not have developed into the startling writer that he became. If you’re looking for some light reading, pick this up. If you’re looking for the more famous Vance, there are better places to start.