The Heritage Universe Series Critical Essays

Charles Sheffield


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although he has proven capable of writing hard science fiction, in this series Charles Sheffield adopted the conventions of adventure fiction from the 1930s. The plot, characters, and milieu do not stand up to analysis within the boundaries of hard science fiction. Scientific advances are primarily in the physical sciences, with virtually none in the biological sciences. The protagonists, though interestingly diverse, are all competent adventurers who survive by savvy, quick wits, and instincts honed by experience. All the offstage galactic authorities are incompetent bureaucrats who maintain grossly inadequate official records and refuse to believe seven eyewitnesses who say that the Zardalu are alive, rather than extinct as previously believed.

In Sheffield’s future, as in most early science-fiction adventures, problem-solving adventurers with competent scientific knowledge are the only ones who accomplish anything. Vast regions of space are known only by word of mouth and are officially uncharted. Scientific knowledge appears to have been at a standstill for millennia, despite the thousands of Builder artifacts being investigated. For example, a three-thousand-year-old spaceship is just as good as—maybe even better than—a newer model. Computers seem little advanced beyond 1960. Humans program them to solve problems, but there is no evidence of artificial intelligence, with the sole exception of E. C. Tally.

There are numerous examples...

(The entire section is 439 words.)