Cardinal Rule
by W. Greg Henley

"Even though we could have defeated them, our selfishness and anger burned within, and many of us died from the sickness."

Far in the future, an exploratory spaceship named Cutty Sark approaches a planet denoted as Galton III. A lander ship is sent down, only to have its entire system become disrupted, forcing it to make a crash landing. The human explorers find a highly contaminated and decaying earthlike civilization that has undergone some major upheaval, throwing it back into an almost pre-industrial condition. The lander crew, once they have re-established contact with the orbiting ship, establish contact with a small village after altering their appearance to resemble the aliens. They find a strangely passive and utterly leaderless society where initiative and survival skills have atrophied into almost nothing. Slowly, evidence of great war in the past that was neither nuclear nor chemical is revealed. But why do these aliens now die from a mysterious sickness caused by simply defending themselves or feeling resentment and anger?

This science fiction tale is ably told, with a flowing style that keeps the suspense sufficiently engaging. The author’s characters, while subservient to the plot, emerge as individuals, with the aliens perhaps exhibiting more personality than the human crew—who are more stock spaceship types. The theme is an over-arching examination of the role of aggression and even warfare in the development and growth of societies. The alien society has somehow developed a fatal response to such aggression. While some kind of war has indeed reduced them to this status, is it possible to thrive and grow without any sense of self-defense based on anger? In the action-packed interaction between the humans and aliens, these themes are explored, and a resolution is worked towards by the intervention of the humans. A plot-driven examination of an alternative societal development, this relatively short science fiction novel is a highly readable gem.

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