The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Before humans appeared on Earth, two interstellar races, known to humans as “the builders” and “the red race,” fought a war of extermination lasting for centuries. Hoping finally to win the war, the builders created an ultimate doomsday machine, a spacefaring, intelligent, self-replicating weapon programmed to destroy any life it encountered. The weapon, called a berserker by humans because of the intense and chaotic violence of its attacks, was a success and wiped out the red race.

Unfortunately for the builders (and humans), the ber-serkers realized that the builders also were life and exterminated them as well. Now berserkers roam the galaxy searching for life in any form. They especially seek intelligent life such as humans because these are the only life-forms likely to provide any resistance to the extermination program. Berserkers have no inherent urge toward self-preservation (they are urgeless) but seek always to achieve the maximum destruction of life in expenditure of their resources.

Because berserkers are self-replicating and intelligent, they can build themselves in different shapes as required by a particular mission. The originals were space-going battleships, but in the stories they appear as everything from imitation horseshoe crabs to androids dressed in preserved human skin. In all cases, they are bent on destroying any intelligent life they find, with no regard for their own survival, and they are usually well equipped for that mission.

The books are divided into two types, anthologies and novels. The stories in the anthologies vary in length and are usually supplemented by some amount of linking text. In all cases, the stories and novels tell the human side of the ongoing berserker-human war. The anthologized stories usually focus on the resolution of a single human-berserker encounter, whereas the novels pursue the principal characters through several such encounters, usually culminating in a major victory for humanity.

In the short story “Smasher,” which appears in The Ultimate Enemy and Berserker Lies, for example, a human space force successfully defends a populated water world against a berserker fleet attack. One of the ber-serker ships crashes on an almost unpopulated neighboring (and equally watery) planet still carrying a portion of its cargo intact. The cargo is small berserkers resembling horseshoe...

(The entire section is 985 words.)