Eric Frank Russell
The Great Explosion (1962)
Reviewed: 2003-03-10

Four hundred years ago, mankind spread from Terra into the galaxy in a Great Explosion. After a long period of benign neglect, the primordial world of humanity decides to have a look at what those lost colonies are up to and to forge them into a grand Terran empire. To this purpose, a huge spaceship is sent on a mission of reconnaissance, diplomacy, and intimidation. Carrying a large crew, a contingent of soldiers, and a staff of bureaucrats, led by a potbellied ambassador, she sets out to visit four worlds shown in old records as having been settled by various exiles, eccentrics, and dissidents. The mission to bring back the colonies into the folds of an Earth-dominated empire will fail miserably.

A thin book and a quick read, The Great Explosion is not an adventure story but a socio-political satire. Depicted as suffering from varying degrees of stupidity, the Terrans run into a series of foreign societies that simply refuse to co-operate in one way or the other, turning each encounter into a hilarious failure. For all their sheer power, the haughty Terrans fail to gain any purchase on their slippery adversaries who don't take the same things for granted as the would-be invaders. You land near a town, contact the natives, ask for their leaders. Makes sense? If you think so, you may be making too many assumptions. What if there is no such thing as a government? What if the natives don't even care to talk to you?

The satire isn't very sharp and relies too much on the crudest stereotypes. Overall, the novel feels old-fashioned and is only mildly amusing.

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