The novel “The Haunted Stars” by Edmond Moore Hamilton was published for the first time in 1960.
Robert Fairlie is an expert on ancient languages who thinks he’s about to start a new academic study. Only during his journey, he’s revealed that his services are needed to translate a language present in the ruins discovered on the Moon of a base dating back 30,000 years.
The work of Robert Fairlie and other experts seems impossible because they have no reference points to understand that ancient civilization. However, an intuition leads Fairlie to see similarities between the language used by the inhabitants of the ancient moon base and Sumerian. Understanding that language means rediscovering highly advanced technologies but also a war against a very powerful enemy.
Edmond Moore Hamilton was a master of classic space opera. In the last phase of his career, he reached artistic maturity, also thanks to a professional collaboration with his wife Leigh Brackett. “The Haunted Stars” is one of the works in which the author shows that maturity by offering a deeper development of themes typical of space opera based on an archaeological science fiction element.
“The Haunted Stars” is set in 1965, in what for Edmond Moore Hamilton was the near future. It mixes elements of what was the real world situation, especially the Cold War, with science fiction advances such as trips to the Moon that still show the optimism of the science fiction of that time.
The protagonist Robert Fairlie is a linguist, certainly not the spotless hero of so many classic space operas. The same goes for his colleagues and other members of the project that aims to study the ruins discovered in the Gassendi crater on the Moon. They’re normal men, with their strengths and weaknesses that Edmond Moore Hamilton uses to create a plot that goes far beyond the simple adventure.
The situation on Earth remains in the background but the Cold War and the danger that the Soviets will be the first to understand the technologies discovered on the Moon is felt a lot. At the same time, there’s a contrast between the cautious vision of project leader Nils Christensen, who wants to fully understand the consequences of his group’s discoveries, and Glenn DeWitt, who has a military background and is obsessed with the possibility of reproducing weapons that can give the Americans an advantage over the Soviets.
Robert Fairlie tries to decipher the ancient language, and his work is used by Edmond Moore Hamilton mainly to tell his emotional reactions to the events. His task seems impossible but well before finding the key to understanding the ancient language, he’s like mesmerized as he listens to a song from an ancient recording found in the ruins of the Moon base. His emotions are even more complex when he has to deal with the consequences of his discoveries, especially the ethical and moral ones connected to the technologies that are rediscovered by the project.
The set of elements of “The Haunted Stars” offers an evocative story in which Edmond Moore Hamilton also shows the dark sides of humanity, also connecting to the Cold War. The food for thought he stimulates remains perfectly valid and perhaps grows even more in importance due to the development of more efficient ways to kill other human beings. For these reasons, it’s a science fiction classic that in my opinion, is still a must-read decades later.