After a painstaking process that apparently consisted of determining from which movie/comic books they wanted to lift a name, members of the US Space Force have officially been dubbed “Guardians.” Whether this is in reference to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy or the interfering blue dome-heads from Green Lantern is unclear. Either way, please enjoy five exciting stories about space patrols patrolling… SPACE!
(Note: I’m not going to mention E. E. “Doc” Smith and his Lensmen books or the Andre Norton novels about the Patrol. They’re canonical and I’m sure you’ve all read them.)
Crashing Suns by Edmond Hamilton (1965)
One hundred thousand years in the future, humanity is but one race among many providing officers to the Federated Stars’ Interstellar Patrol. Although little inconvenienced by plausible science, the Patrol bears a weighty responsibility, for the Milky Way and the other Island Universes are realms subject to entropy’s harsh rule. Again and again the Patrol encounters desperate civilizations endangered by the impending demise of their homes—from dimming solar systems to comets losing their charge to nebulas short on angular momentum—and again and again the Patrol ushers the unfortunates they meet into final extinction whenever their efforts to survive endanger the members of the Federated Stars. Which it seems they always do.
Of course, when one thinks “mid-1960s science fiction television program about a space patrol,” the first example that comes to mind are the adventures of the Schneller Raumkreuzer Orion and its crew as they patrol the star lanes. Major Cliff Allister McLane leads a multinational (and gender egalitarian) crew, protecting a united humanity against the dangers of the Milky Way. McLane and his crew’s bravery in the face of diverse challenges from natural disasters to technical malfunctions to the machinations of the alien Frogs is matched only by their talent for getting the Orion destroyed and replaced by a newer, shinier model—the seven-episode TV series made it to the Orion VII, whereas the novels mention an Orion X-C.
The Erinys Incident by Tani Kōshū (1983, trans 2018 by Simon Varnum)
As bold as it was unsuccessful, the Outer Planet Revolt of 2099 was crushed by TerraLune’s AeroSpaceForce. A generation later, the Outer Planets Alliance launches a daring scheme to overthrow the government of the Uranian moon Erinys. It’s the first step towards an OPA takeover of the outer worlds! Key to the plan is the fact that Uranus and its moon are distant worlds, too far away for the ASF to mount a timely response. Alas for the freedom fighters, down towards the Sun, a mysterious space craft catches the attention of the ASF combat vessel Aquarius. If Aquarius can work out to which outer world the mystery vessel’s sun-skimming orbit will take it, then perhaps the revolt on Erinys will suffer the fate of the 2099 Revolt. If not, Erinys is only the first stepping stone in a grand plan to liberate the outer solar system!
A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright (1988)
There are but three powers of note—the Old Empire and the New Empire, both ruled by their respective immortal emperors, as well as the Guild of Webbers that supplies both sides with starship crews—but the simmering conflict between empires, not to mention basic human cussedness, means an endless need for the services of patrolships like Bhattya to deal with raiders and the like. Being short-staffed, Bhattya’s Commander Rallya grudgingly hires Rafe. Rafe’s service record and qualifications are exemplary…enough so that Rallya is forced to overlook the alarming fact that Rafe was previously mind-wiped for reasons unrecorded. It is only once Rafe is a member of the crew that Rallya belatedly becomes aware of a fact that would have been nice to know before Rafe came on board: someone appears to want Rafe dead and to achieve this goal, they are quite willing to sacrifice everyone in Rafe’s vicinity. Including the crew of the Bhattya.
The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds (2009, later retitled Aurora Rising)
The ten thousand habitats orbiting marginally habitable Yellowstone in the Epsilon Eridani system, habitats comprising the Glitterband, are diverse to a fault. However, they do acknowledge that peaceful coexistence requires someone to manage the inevitable conflicts. Thus, the Panopoly, which combines a vital role with legal powers that are highly constrained. Other law enforcement organizations might have weapons an army would envy and sovereign immunity protecting them from consequence: the Prefects of the Panopoly are essentially unarmed and require the active consent of the public they serve. Thus far, these limited powers have been sufficient for the Panopoly to effectively perform its duties without infringing overmuch on the civil liberties the Glitterband values so highly. Whether they will able to save the Glitterband from the existential threat even now bearing down on it is an interesting question.
No doubt you all have your favourite examples of space patrols and may even now be looking at me as if I were some sort of dim space cadet for failing to mention them. The comments are below!
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.