My brother John introduced me to this book when I was in high school. I don’t recall if he handed it to me, or I simply foraged it from his amazing book collection. In any case, I read it and was immediately captivated by the story’s stunning premise. “The Haunted Stars” is a gem of an old school science fiction story, written by Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977), a popular SF author in the mid 20th century. He wrote for pulp science fiction magazines and was known for his contributions to the Space Opera genre. “The Haunted Stars” came to him late in his career and is a timeless cautionary tale about the consequences of interplanetary space travel.
The United States sends astronauts to the Moon, who land and establish a lunar base in the Gassendi crater. To their surprise, they find the remnants of an alien base, carved into the side of a mountain. Moreover, there is evidence of a great conflict which breached the massive doors of the outpost. The astronauts find damaged machinery and a playback device which has preserved the spoken language of the Ur-men, the term given to the mysterious visitors from three hundred centuries in the past.
The momentous discovery is kept secret by the government and Doctor Robert Fairlie, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts University, is pressed into service to help decipher the Ur-men’s language. As the story unfolds, Fairlie discovers a link between the alien tongue and ancient Sumerian. Understanding the language unlocks the secrets of the advanced technology found in the shattered lunar fortress and makes it possible for humankind to journey beyond the solar system.
“The Haunted Stars” was originally published in 1960. Now, over fifty years later, the story still holds up as an entertaining and thought-provoking tale. It explores the friction between scientific inquiry and the use of technology for military ends. It raises profound questions about humanity’s behavior when confronted with an alien culture and whether “might makes right.”
It seems unlikely that we are the only intelligent species in the universe. Should we ever meet our interstellar counterparts, what will we do? Edmond Hamilton raises a mirror to our collective face and shows us a worrisome reflection. Perhaps we are the ones who will haunt the stars.