The Berserker Series Critical Essays

Fred Saberhagen


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although the stories all occur against the backdrop of human-berserker conflict, the humans are always the center of attention. Typically, berserkers are reduced to an inscrutable menace, and the contrast between human and machine is usually sharply drawn. One of the principal themes of the stories derives from this contrast: Humans can defeat berserkers not because of superior science or superior physical ability but because of their essential human nature. This usually is illustrated by presenting a character without love, concern, or much desire to live, then bringing him or her into contact with the single-minded destruction of a berserker and confronting the character with the pain it causes in fellow humans. The character then fights the berserker and rediscovers his or her soul after discovering that the most ruthless methods are unsuccessful.

A corollary theme in the series is that there is something about humanity that transcends the physical. Few characters in the stories profess religious or spiritual views beyond atheism or agnosticism, yet the most alive and human among them have some inner spirit that transcends physical boundaries. Saberhagen’s carmpan— passive, friendly telepathic aliens that frequently function as distanced observers in the stories—regularly speak of the soul as the major difference between human and berserker. Human thought is regularly stated to occur faster than neuromuscular or electronic reactions, giving...

(The entire section is 438 words.)