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Legacy of Lehr

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue.

Legacy of Lehr. Katherine Kurtz.
Edition reviewed: 1989 (Arrow Books Ltd.)
Current availability: Kindle, Google books, second hand market.

I suspect many of you have heard of Katherine Kurtz, well known for her historical fantasy. I have to admit that I have only ever read one of her books—her only foray into science fiction, Legacy of Lehr, which she wrote in 1986 for a range of what would today be called young adult fiction.

In it, the two main protagonists are trying to complete a mission for the Emperor by returning four rare creatures, the Lehr cats of the title, to the imperial capital in order that they can be handed over to the ambassador of another power in ongoing negotiations to avoid a possible war. I say returning because the book starts with them having completed an expedition to capture the animals and requisitioned a space liner to take them back to the capital. Problems ensue on the way home, almost all of the book taking place aboard the space liner en route. I can understand the plotting of the book this way, but I do feel that not including the expedition was a missed opportunity to make a more balanced narrative. I’m not going to say more about the plot as such, since I dislike book reviews that give away too much, but you can read the first couple of chapters via Amazon if you are interested.

It is a fairly short novel, especially by modern standards, with a straightforward plot, let down a little by a somewhat rushed climax, in which the science is definitely more pulp era than modern hard SF (but nothing egregious). Where it shines, I think, is in the characterisation (which I hear is one of her strengths), from the viewpoint characters to the minor bit part ones there is a lightness of touch describing each economically but well, woven into the plot and dialog. There are a few characters whose motivations aren’t entirely clear, but that is because the viewpoint characters do not know enough to be sure, so you have to decide for yourself.

Why am I mentioning an old, probably little known, novel here? What relevance does this have to Traveller? Well, I’ve read it several times over the years and it is probably easier to itemise the things about it that aren’t like Traveller than those that are. Partly that is because things are shown rather than said, and much is brushed over as unimportant to the plot, but very little jumps out as not being Traveller; the vast majority of it feels like Traveller.

They appear to have FTL communication (although it is of little importance to the plot), the FTL drive they use appears to be one using several instantaneous transfers to move between systems (but is only mentioned in passing and never really explained), they have some kind of localised force field which blocks physical movement and scrambles energy transfer (but which is only important for delaying the revelation of a plot point). That’s it, really. Oh, and the heaviest firearm is a low-penetration anaesthetic needle gun (lethal, though, if someone is shot enough times).

What is like Traveller? Pretty much everything else. From the two main protagonists who are agents for the emperor of an interstellar power of unspecified size, at least one of whom is effectively the holder of an imperial warrant, to the practice of dimming the lights to signal an imminent jump, via a recent interstellar dark age (this one is hinted at as being caused by an alien race, but no real details given), apparent routine use of artificial gravity and (small scale) anti-gravity.

The plot could easily be pulled out entire for a Traveller adventure, with very little modification; a number of the characters could easily be written up as independent NPCs; or the book could just be read as inspiration for a referee about to run an adventure aboard a large luxury liner.