Berserker (Saberhagen)

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Berserker
Beserker Saberhagen Ace 92.jpg
July 1986 Ace 13th printing features cover art by Boris Vallejo.
Author Fred Saberhagen
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Ballantine '67, Penguin '70/'85 (UK), Ace '78/'79/'80/'84/'92
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
ISBN 0-441-05495-1 (Ace '92 edition)

The Berserker series is a series of space opera science fiction short stories and novels by Fred Saberhagen, in which robotic self-replicating machines strive to destroy all life.

These Berserkers, named after the human berserker warriors of Norse legend, are doomsday weapons left over from an interstellar war between two races of extraterrestrials. They all have machine intelligence, and their sizes range from that of an asteroid, in the case of an automated repair and construction base, down to human size (and shape) or smaller. The Berserkers' bases are capable of manufacturing more and deadlier Berserkers as need arises.

The Berserker stories (published as novels and short stories) depict the fight between Berserkers and the sentient species of the Milky Way Galaxy: Homo sapiens (referred to as "Earth-descended" or "ED" humans, or as "Solarians") is the only sentient species aggressive enough to counter Berserkers.

First appearances[edit]

The first story, "Without a Thought" (1963), was basically a puzzle story, whose protagonist must find a way to simulate intelligence to fool an enemy trying to determine whether there was any conscious being present in a spaceship.

Saberhagen came up with the Berserker as the rationale for the story on the spur of the moment, but the basic concept was so fruitful, with so many possible ramifications, that he used it as the basis of many stories. A common theme in the stories is of how the apparent weaknesses and inconsistencies of living beings are actually the strengths that bring about the killer machines' eventual defeat.

The second story, "Goodlife" (1963), introduces human traitors or collaborators who cooperate with the Berserker machines to stay alive for a little longer.

Backstory[edit]

The original Berserkers were designed and built as an ultimate weapon, by a race now known only as the Builders, to wipe out their rivals the Red Race, in a war which took place at a time corresponding to Earth's Paleolithic era. The Builders failed to ensure their own immunity from Berserker attack, or they lost those safeguards through an unknown malfunction that changed the Berserker programming, and they were exterminated by their own creation very shortly after the demise of the Red Race. The Berserkers then set out across the galaxy to fulfill their core programmed imperative, which is now, simply, to destroy all life wherever they can find it.

Human allies[edit]

Allies of the Earth-descended humans include:

  • The Carmpans, a subtle and mysterious telepathic species incapable of direct aggression. The first stories in the series are related by an individual Carmpan, the "3rd Historian", who seeks to chronicle life in the Galaxy and the struggle against the Berserkers.
  • The Qwib-qwib, an anti-Berserker berserker (in later stories).

Berserker allies[edit]

The Berserkers are known to cooperate with each other, most of the time. They sometimes spare the lives of human (or other organic) traitors or collaborators, known as goodlife.

List of species[edit]

The Berserker stories features many different characters originating from many different species, human and alien.

These species include:

The Berserkers[edit]

The Berserkers are intelligent machines, created by an organic race in the past as a doomsday weapon, a group of robots with one goal: to destroy all organic life.

Berserkers exist in a multitude of shapes, sizes and forms. The most common Berserkers are large spherical interstellar spacecraft, heavily armed and armored, equipped with self-replicating factories, and capable of producing numerous scout craft, foot soldiers, and other weapons of war.

Little is known of the Berserkers' history other than that they were created to destroy the Red Race, who are now extinct. The creators of the Berserkers are known as the Builders, who were also later destroyed by the Berserkers.

The Builders[edit]

The Builders were a precursor race, of whom little is known other than they created and were later destroyed by the Berserkers.

"And of the Builders themselves, their own all-too-effective weapons, the berserkers, had left nothing but a few obscure records—video and voice recordings. Those videos had recorded slender, fine-boned beings, topologically like Solarian humans with the sole visible exception of the eye, which in the Builder species was a single organ, stretching clear across the upper face, with a bright bulging pupil that slid rapidly back and forth." [1]

"In most of the ancient Builder graphics, no matter how elegantly enhanced, the berserkers' creators showed as hardly more than stick drawing of orange glowing substance. Now for the first time in history it was plain to Solarian eyes that that orange color and brightness were the result of some kind of clothing, the exposed skin being a dullish yellow where it showed on the face, the four-fingered hands, and across part of the chest." [2]

The Builders created the Berserkers in a genocidal war with the Red Race, which ended in both races' extinction by the Berserkers.

The Carmpans[edit]

Little is known of the Carmpans. Their culture is one of logical reason, pacifism, and philosophy. They lend what support they can to the Humans, but in non-martial forms. They are a patient and peaceful species, incapable of direct aggression, but they do possess one special power, a telepathic ability to speak to other sentients across the stars, a method of communication that the Berserkers cannot spy on.

The Carmpans have humanoid bodies very similar to baseline "Earth-descended" or "ED" Humans.

The Carmpans are also a biological lifeform and thus a target for the genocidal programming of the Berserkers. As such, they have allied themselves with the Solarians also known as the ED Humans.

The Humans[edit]

Homo sapiens, referred to as "Earth-descended" or "ED" Humans, or as "Solarians," are the only sentient species aggressive enough to counter Berserkers.

Humans have a standard baseline physiology and exhibit known physical capabilities without cybernetics or trans-humanistic traits.

The Berserkers have severely threatened human civilizations and wiped out millions. The remnants of human civilization have learned to be wily in order to survive. Berserker technology is much more advanced than that of any known human society. The survivors are disparate and lack the ability to act as a united foe to the Berserkers.

Qwib-qwib[edit]

Later stories involve the Qwib-qwib, an anti-Berserker berserker.

The Red Race[edit]

The Red Race was a precursor race, of which little is known other than that their extinction was the Builders' purpose in creating the Berserkers millennia ago.

Adaptations[edit]

Related concepts[edit]

Other examples of science fiction stories containing replicators (self-replicating machines) bent on the destruction of organic life include:

See also[edit]

  • Starweb, a game featuring Saberhagen's Berserkers

Bibliography[edit]

Berzerker Bibliography (1963-2005) [Some of the collections (anthologies) have duplicate stories]
Pub. Date Name Lit. Type Author Notes Short Stories
1967 Berserker Anthology Saberhagen Collects the original stories
  • "Without a Thought" (first appeared as "Fortress Ship" in Worlds of If, Jan 1963)
  • "Goodlife" (first appeared in Worlds of Tomorrow, Dec 1963)
  • "Patron of the Arts" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Aug 1965)
  • "The Peacemaker" (first appeared as "The Lifehater" in Worlds of If, Aug 1964)
  • "Stone Place" (first appeared in Worlds of If, March 1965)
  • "What T and I Did" (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1965)
  • "Mr. Jester" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1966)
  • "Masque of the Red Shift" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Nov 1965)
  • "Sign of the Wolf" (first appeared in Worlds of If, May 1965)
  • "In the Temple of Mars" (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1966)
  • "The Face of the Deep" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Sep 1966)
1969 Brother Assassin Novella Saberhagen Novella developed into a full-length Novel. A shorter version first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction (1967) n/a
1975 Berserker's Planet Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1979 Berserker Man Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1979 The Ultimate Enemy Anthology Saberhagen Anthology
  • "The Smile" (first appeared in Algol, Summer/Fall 1977)
  • "Pressure" (first appeared as "Beserkers Prey" in Worlds of If, June 1977)
  • "The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron" (first appeared in Galaxy, Feb 1977)
  • "Inhuman Error" (first appeared in Analog, Oct 1974)
  • "Some events at the Templar Radiant" (first appeared in Destinies, May-Aug, 1979)
  • "Starsong" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1968)
  • "Smasher" (first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aug 1978)
  • "The Game" (first appeared in The Flying Buffalo's Favorite Magazine, May–June 1977)
  • "Wings out of Shadow" (first appeared in Worlds of If, March–April, 1974)
1981 Berserker Wars Anthology Saberhagen Anthology
  • "Stone Place" (first appeared in Worlds of If, March 1965)
  • "The Face of the Deep" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Sep 1966)
  • "What T and I Did" (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1965)
  • "Mr. Jester" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1966)
  • "The Winged Helmet" (excerpt from Brother Assassin, 1969, a shorter version of which first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, 1967)
  • "Starsong" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Jan 1968)
  • "Some events at the Templar Radiant" (first appeared in Destinies, May-Aug, 1979)
  • "Wings out of Shadow" (first appeared in Worlds of If, March–April, 1974)
  • "The Smile" (first appeared in Algol, Summer/Fall 1977)
  • "The Adventure of the Metal Murderer" (first appeared in Omni, Jan 1980 )
  • "Patron of the Arts" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Aug 1965)
1985 Berserker Throne Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1985 Berserker Blue Death Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1985 Berserker Base Anthology Various Multi-author anthology. With several guest writers. Saberhagen wrote the connecting interludes.
  • "Prisoners' Base" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "What Makes us Human" by Stephen Donaldson
  • "Friends Together" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "With Friends Like These" by Connie Willis
  • "The Founts of Sorrow" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "Itself Surprised" by Roger Zelazny
  • "The Great Secret" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "Deathwomb" by Poul Anderson
  • "Dangerous Dreams" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "Pilots of the Twilight" by Ed Byrant
  • "Crossing the Bar" by Fred Saberhagen
  • "A Teardrop Falls" by Larry Niven
  • "Berserker base" by Fred Saberhagen
1987 Berserker Attack Anthology Saberhagen Limited edition collection (anthology)
  • "Masque of the Red Shift" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Nov 1965)
  • "In the Temple of Mars" (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1966)
  • "Brother Berserker" (excerpt from Brother Assassin, 1969, a shorter version of which first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, 1967)
  • "Smasher" (first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aug 1978)
1991 Berserker Lies (collection) Anthology Saberhagen Anthology
  • "The Machinery of Lies"
  • "Masque of the Red Shift" (first appeared in Worlds of If, Nov 1965)
  • "In the Temple of Mars" (first appeared in Worlds of If, April 1966)
  • "Brother Berserker" (excerpt from Brother Assassin, 1969, a shorter version of which first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, 1967)
  • "Smasher" (first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aug 1978)
1993 Berserker Kill Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1997 Berserker Fury Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
1998 Shiva in Steel Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
2003 Berserker's Star Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
2003 Berserker Prime Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a
2005 Rogue Berserker Novel Saberhagen Full-length Novel n/a

See Also[edit]

Gettysburg Address, the "...shall not perish from the earth" text recited in the first story to prove someone had returned to sanity after being struck by the berserker's mind-scrambling beam

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fred Saberhagen, Berserker Kill. 1st mass market ed. New York, USA: Tor, 1993, p. 282
  2. ^ Fred Saberhagen, Berserker Kill. 1st mass market ed. New York, USA: Tor, 1993, p. 428
  3. ^ http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1779
  4. ^ http://bellsouthpwp2.net/h/r/hrfgf1219/berserker.html

External links[edit]