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Buy from IndieBoundThe Avengers of Carrig, taken on lightweight escapist terms, is enjoyable and well executed. This early Brunner adventure — first published in shorter form as an Ace Double in 1962 under the title Secret Agent of Terra — is set on a remote world colonized by Earth generations before. The colonists have since reverted to the kind of quasi-medieval society of which SFF fans and authors are so fond. At regular intervals, everyone comes to the city of Carrig for the “king-hunt,” a ritual in which all the noble houses choose a champion to battle a large pterodactyl-like flying creature called a parradile. The parradile symbolizes notions of kingship to the Carrigians. The noble house whose champion wins the king-hunt reigns until defeated by some future challenger.

It happens that this world is being monitored from space by both the government of the Earth, which seeks to protect developing worlds from intrusive offworld technology, and a group of rapacious pirates, who look to little backwater worlds like this for slave labor. When the pirates infiltrate the king-hunt, winning it by zapping the parradile with a nasty — and unheard of to the pre-technological natives — energy weapon, and then set up their own tyrannical rule, a brash young female marine named Maddalena is assigned to the planet as a spy to help the Earth government figure out how to save the colony. 

As Maddalena approaches the planet, her ship is shot down by a pirate vessel and she finds herself stranded in a refugee camp in the icy north, where — keeping her cover as a native — she meets Saikmar, the beaten and dispirited champion of the clan who was the odds-on favorite to win the king-hunt before the pirates showed up. There she learns some surprising secrets. Saikmar and Maddalena then forge an alliance in the hopes of overthrowing the usurpers for good.

Sometimes good things come in small packages, and, as slight as this story is, it’s a satisfying afternoon’s read. Perhaps its slightness contributes to its success. In the era before editors cut the brake cables on word counts and allowed novels to plow on for hundreds upon hundreds of indulgent pages, science fiction writers had to learn to get the job done in an efficient space. The Avengers of Carrig demonstrates Brunner’s a pure pro at that kind of efficiency. In a brisk 150-odd pages, characterizations are deftly handled, a fascinating premise is established, and suspense is serviceably if not heart-stoppingly delivered. Though the plot contains odd moments of author’s convenience, overall it’s quite appealing. The way in which Brunner handles its resolution is particularly satisfying. Better than many of Brunner’s other efforts from this period, which ranged from rote to oddball, The Avengers of Carrig showcases the virtues of storytelling economy.