The Berserker Saga

At the beginning of 2021 I decided to make a project of reading Fred Saberhagen’s entire Berserker saga, in as close to chronological order as possible. I had been accumulating the books for years already and only had a few left to find.

For those unfamiliar, the basic premise is that one of the very rare warlike species in the galaxy built a fleet of intelligent, self-replicating war machines as an ultimate weapon to overcome their bitter enemies. It worked, but random events eventually let the war machines turn on their creators. These berserker machines then proceeded to continue to eradicate all life down to bacteria around the galaxy until they ran into humans, who were the only other intelligent life violent enough and well-placed to fight back. This setting yields a universe for war and adventure stories spanning a large volume of space, and thanks to carefully balanced environmental factors around space travel, also somewhat expansive in time. It’s a shared universe too, with other authors occasionally invited to play.

Overall I enjoyed the series. It’s a similar universe in scope and wonder to Larry Niven’s Known Space, though I do much prefer Known Space.

Saberhagen’s writing style is a bit odd, especially in the early stories. He repeats bits of exposition too frequently, has some awkward phrasing and never made much headway towards having female protagonists. A friend suggested to me that this awkwardness results from editing together the originally serialized stories, and that may account for some of it but I find it had to believe it’s all from that.

He also has an unusual convention, perhaps meant to be thought-provoking, of referring to all intelligent lifeforms as “human” and our particular variety as Earth-descended human. I have a little trouble accepting this as non-accidental because I’ve seen far too much abuse of such terms in science fiction (though admittedly mostly in film). Perhaps his point is that all intelligent beings should consider themselves kin based on that property alone, which I certainly agree with. It’s just weird to abuse the term that way.

That said, the writing improved noticeably in the later (non-serialized) stories and the adventure is there and there are enough mysterious artifacts and natural wonders to fire the imagination.

If you choose to follow this path, be aware that there are lots of volumes that contain reprinted short stories. Here’s my reading order, with repeats crossed out. You might be able to find a more optimal combination of compilations than I did.

  • Berserker
    • Fortress Ship
    • Goodlife
    • In Temple of Mars
    • Mr. Jester
    • Masque of Red Shift
    • Patron of the Arts
    • Peacemaker
    • Sign of the Wolf
    • Stone Place
    • The Face of the Deep
    • What T and I Did
  • Brother Assassin (also titled Brother Berserker)
    • Stone Man
    • Winged Helmet
    • Brother Berserker
  • Berserker’s Planet
  • Berserker Man
  • The Ultimate Enemy
    • The Smile
    • Pressure
    • The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron
    • Inhuman Error
    • Some Events at the Templar Radiant
    • Starsong
    • Smasher
    • The Game
    • Wings out of Shadow
  • The Berserker Wars
    • Stone Place
    • The Face of the Deep
    • What T and I Did
    • Mr. Jester
    • Winged Helmet
    • Starsong
    • Some Events at the Templar Radiant
    • Wings out of Shadow
    • The Smile
    • The Adventure of the Metal Murderer
    • Patron of the Arts
  • Berserker Base
    • Itself Surprised (Roger Zelazny)
    • Teardrop Falls (Larry Niven)
    • With Friends Like These (Connie Willis)
    • Deathwomb (Poul Anderson)
    • What Makes Us Human (Steven R. Donaldson)
    • Pirates of the Twilight (Ed Bryant)
    • Prisoners’ Base
    • Friends Together
    • The Founts of Sorrow
    • The Great Secret
    • Dangerous Dreams
    • Crossing the Bar
    • Berserker Base
  • Berserker Throne
  • Berserker: Blue Death
  • The Berserker Attack (all stories duplicates)
  • Berserker Lies
    • Introduction
    • The Machinery of Lies
    • Masque of Red Shift
    • In Temple of Mars
    • Brother Berserker
    • Smasher
  • Berserker Kill
  • Berserker Fury
  • Shiva in Steel
  • Berserker Prime
  • Berserker’s Star
  • Rogue Berserker
  • Berserker Death (all stories duplicates)
  • Berserkers: The beginning (all stories duplicates)
  • Berserker Man (anthology) (all stories duplicates)
  • Berserkers: The Early Tales (all stories duplicates)
  • Berserkers: The Later Tales
    • Berserker’s Prey (alternate title: Pressure)
    • Starsong
    • The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron
    • Inhuman Error
    • Wings Out of Shadow
    • The Game
    • The Smile
    • Smasher
    • Some Events at the Templar Radiant
    • The Metal Murderer
    • The History of the Galaxy
    • Introduction to The Machinery of Lies
    • Machinery of Lies
    • The Bad Machines
    • Servant of Death (co-author Jane Lindskold)
  • Earth Descended
    • The Adventure of the Metal Murderer
    • Patron of the Arts

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