Thursday, 24 June 2010

Tully Zetford, Hook: Star City (1974)


I have an unquenchable fondness for the sort of unpretentious (and short!) adventure sf and fantasy that used to be published, to coin that ghastly phrase, "back in the day." This means I also have an unquenchable fondness for the works of the late Kenneth Bulmer, who wrote more or less a million such yarns, most famously of course the Burroughs-influenced Kregen/Dray Prescott sword-and-planet series.1

For the Hook series2, of which Star City is volume three, Bulmer is hidden behind the "Tully Zetford" pseudonym. The hero of these books, the splendidly sweary ("By Dirty Bertie Bashti!" [100]) Ryder Hook3, is not a fellow to be messed with:

If a man tried to kill Ryder Hook, that man went in peril of his own life. [7]

Although he's not without his nicer qualities:
Like any civilised man, Hook drank tea whenever he could. [12]
It would be terribly ill-advised of us to let this fondness for tea fool us into thinking Hook is basically a gentleman, though; in many other ways he is a cad of the most unscrupulous kidney:
Apart from her legs, which Hook - being the ungraceful galactic adventurer he was would call short and fat if called upon to describe them - the lady Terifa was seemingly a most nicely fitted-together representative of the female section of Homo sapiens. [34]
Most importantly, though, the proximity of a Boosted Man confers on Ryder Hook special powers, which, for example, mean that when a homicidal maniac smashes him over the head with a giant steel bar, this happens:

The steel bar bounced. For any normal man that steel bar powered by all the dark ferocity of a homicidal maniac would have shattered his skull into bloody fragments. Blood and brains would have spurted past the splintered bones. But, then, Ryder Hook was not a normal man. [16]

Bet he still had a headache, mind.

My favourite bit in this book, though, is when Hook realises what spending time on Star City, which, as the blurb puts it, is a "mighty complex housing many thousands of humanoids devoted entirely to the pursuit of pleasure", has done to his ungraceful, hard-man space-adventurer demeanor:
Hook knew he'd been growing spineless and weak and a great ninny in star city. [100]
Great ninny! Ah, they don't write them like this any more, alas....

1 I was once surprised and delighted to come across a positive notice of this sequence ("this jewel of a series") in, of all things, a set of wargames rules. The Wargames Research Group's 1991 set Hordes of the Things, by legendary Phil Barker, Sue Laflin Barker, and Richard Bodley Scott, also, marvellously, includes relevant Army Lists ["IMPERIAL VALLIA: Hero General (Dray Prescott - typically in red loin cloth and loaded down with assorted swords and longbow, mounted on a nickvove or zorca.) @ 4 A.P"] I love it that I live in a world where that sentence exists.

2 For more Hookery, not to mention Lynan Synkery, see Dave Langford's sfx magazine column on Bulmer and Robert Sheckley here.

3 For more of Hook swearing, see Dave Langford, again. (Scroll down to "God's Hooks")


  1. I found Virility Gene in a second hand bookstore, so I've now read the original four Hook tales in their NEL editions.
    The very first I read was The Boosted Man way back when it was originally published. I was 14 or 15 at the time and Star Wars was still a year or two away. The story of Hook struggling against the illusion created by the Boosted Men to keep their workers content struck a major chord with me. It's still the only one I've read more than once - kind of a guilty pleasure, I guess.

  2. Loved them all when I bought them from Woolworths in their bargain book bin in 1975. Good simple science fiction from a more enjoyable time.

  3. gregoryno6,

    God, I miss NEL! And though I know what you mean re. "guilty" pleasure, and, (though affectionate, I hope), my words above suggest a similar feeling, I think chris has it right: "Good simple science fiction from a more enjoyable time." (And, as you rightly suggest, there were deeper themes there...)

    Bulmer was a master at writing fluent adventure fiction, which remains a genuine pleasure of whatever sort, and hoorah for that!

    (And Woolworths! There's another reminder of happier, more simple times too, alas...)


  4. Ryder Hook - what a guy! I had a lot of fun reading those books back in the 1970s, and those NEL covers were incredibly well executed - especially Whirlpool of Stars; there's a truly other worldly look to that head and shoulders portrait of Hook as he gazes into an alien vista with his upturned eyebrows and widow's peak.

    As we all know Kenneth Bulmer was an incredibly prolific writer, and due to deadlines, perhaps some chancroid gonils may think the Hook series suffered a little as a result, but I still love them - and Ken seemed more than a little prescient in his prediction of our almost total reliance on plastic currency and the relentless march of the econorgs or (corporate monsters) that seem to run our lives.

    I take great pleasure in rereading these books from time to time and harking back to the days when holidaying on the moon was just around the corner and we were going to have unlimited leisure time while robots did all the work.

    By the way, does anyone know where I could get my hands on a Tonata 80 or a Delling? It's getting pretty hairy in my part of London.

  5. Jack,

    I agree -- Ken Bulmer was a very fluent writer of adventure fiction whose books can still be re-read with pleasure: no mean feat, and not meant in any way to sound like praising with faint damns...

    An image of the NEL cover for Whirlpool of Stars that Jack mentions can be found here...


  6. Hi Mark,
    I’ve had affection for Ryder Hook for almost forty years, ever since I was a boy. I know that Hook was, as you rightly say, adventure fiction, yet Kenneth Bulmer was an incredibly prolific writer and this gave him the ability to create well constructed, minimal stories without the padding prevalent in much contemporary fiction.

    Ryder Hook also had considerable depth as a character - I guess you could say he was well drawn with brief brush strokes; victim of a botched super soldier project, he becomes embittered, a strange hybrid, part man, part Nova, an outcast who belongs nowhere.

    This lifts him far above the typical pot-boiler space hero; Hook is tormented by his twilight, half-boosted status, which only gave him glimpses of the Boosted Men’s god-like powers when he’s in close proximity to them.

    Yet I think his liminal status proves his salvation, since the Boosted Men (or Nova Men as they prefer to be called) are totally ruthless and corrupt. Hook knows that had his own Boosted treatment been successful he’d probably be no better than the men he despises. Consequently his relationship with them is complex, since he both envies and despises them.

    Because he knows how ruthless they are he’s as pitiless with them as they are with everyone else - as a Boosted man dies (unusually at Hook's own hands) Hook rapidly loses his boosted powers - in The Boosted Men we gain an insight into the love/hate relationship Hook shares with this incredible curse – or gift, as he feels the these seductive powers slowly dissipate: “He could feel the shimmering change as his body relaxed into an ordinary mortal’s half-existence. As always, Ryder Hook shuddered with the evil desire to hold onto those dark powers, to let them take over his central core of will, to dominate them as they dominated the Boosted Men."

    Yet Hook, despite these conflicts is also a protagonist with a strong moral code; Orwell said that “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever". And although Ryder Hook may have the best jackboots in the galaxy he rarely looks away when a group of ecornorg storm troopers beat up on some innocent bystander; if they do you know it won't be long before they’re laid out unconscious at Ryder’s feet, their limbs entwined in an embarrassing, sexual position if he’s feeling particularly vindictive.

    The Ryder Hook novels were written back in the 1970s when CCTV was limited to just banks and, as far as I know, some government installations.
    In the year 10,000 though Hook’s being chased all over the galaxy by various police agencies and corrupt econorgs tracking him by CCTV cameras, long distance communication devices, and of course, his DNA.

    In 2011, on average we're photographed by CCTV at 300 times a day on, we can be tracked by GPRS via our mobiles, and every time someone is arrested their DNA is compulsorily tested. And each year more and more people have access to this information. So I think it's no exaggeration to a say that Kenneth Bulmer was quiet prescient.

    I’ve never found any other groups to discuss the Hook series with, so I’d just like to say what a pleasure it is conversing with people who share a similar interest in this all but forgotten series of books, and long may this site continue.

    By the way, One thing I really relished about Kenneth Bulmer was the occasional incongruent word he’d surreptitiously slip into his otherwise hard-boiled vocabulary - Hook novels like Whirlpool of Stars, when, for example, someone uses a Delling on another person – Bulmer doesn’t simply say the Delling melts him, the word he uses is deliquesce – an incredibly poetic word to describe such an horrific event, but I guess that was Kenneth Bulmer – he always had an extra card or two up his sleeve.

    By the way, I’ve got the original paperback copies of the four NEL Hook paperbacks, and I’d be happy to share them with your website as I’m sure they’re in better condition than the ones I’ve seen on Amazon.

    All the best


  7. Jack,

    Sorry it's taken me so long to get to your comment -- real life and all that, but I intend to do some more about Bulmer and (re. another comment above) NEL, as soon as I have time...

    I'll come back to this comment, but I certainly agree with you about padding in recent SF/F. (And "deliquesce" is nice, isn't it?)

    There is also a nice tribute to Bulmer in Dave Langford's Ansible newsletter here...


  8. Hi Mark,

    And thanks for getting back to me, real life, as you say has a way of interfering.

    Regarding Hook it'd be nice to get hold of some real poster size artwork as opposed to the sadly degrading paperbacks we make do with, but I guess there's not much chance after all these years.

    I'm interested in getting a Hook project off the ground - and something a little more ambitious and lucrative than fan fiction.

    If you'd be interested and would like to discuss this in a more private forum just let me know.



  9. I'm a fan of the Hook series as well. Kenneth Bulmer's ideas about a future society, where plastic outweighed actual money, and big multi-planet companies were more powerful than governments,was remarkably prescient.

    Globalisation, mass communications, the power of commerce over elected emocracies.....these are all things we are dealing with today.

    PLUS, they're rollicking good yarns as well.

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  11. I'm currently working through books 6-10 in German. Very slow going though...

  12. Books 6 - 10 in German.
    Anyone know of English Translations?

    Would love to see some Jack Kinch stories too.

  13. I saw a Ryder Hook book in a used bookstore some years back. Unfortunately at the time I didn't have the $ to get it :p and I haven't seen another one since. :p :p . I can't remember the title, either; all I remember is the first few pages, in which Ryder Hook was among the passengers of a starship forced to take to lifeboats due to some sort of accident, and then his lifeboat ends up on some planet that (I *think*) didn't want to let the survivors land...Does this sound familiar to anyone? I'd like to find this book again, if possible, but knowing the title would help.

  14. The book you remember is book one in the series: Whirlpool of Stars.
    Ryder Hook series by Tully Zetford (Ken Bulmer):
    Whirlpool of Stars. The Boosted Men. Star City. The Virility Gene. Plus a half dozen other Hook novels in German only.
    Ken's Hook series heavily influenced my own sci-fi action/adventure novel: ALF Warz: The Iron Sergeant, available as an Ebook from Amazon and other Ebook retailers.
    No intention of spamming here, just wanted other Ryder Hook/Ken Bulmer fans to know that some of us are still writing the same kind of exciting sci-fi stuff as Ken himself.
    Cheers: KL.

  15. I loved the Hook books when OI was fourteen. Still got them in the loft somewhere! I must dig them out!

    Oh and Richard Bodley Scott, co-author of the Hordes of the Things wargames rules you mentioned was a member of my wargames club