"Checkers!" - by the way - is the silly code word chosen between Galactic Adjuster Kyrie Fern and the great and powerful Hooli the Pug-Boo. That pretty much sums up their relationship.
First, a paragraph about A World Called Camelot, the first volume in Arthur H. Landis's very entertaining sci-fi/fantasy trilogy. It introduced Galactic Adjuster Kyrie Fern to the medieval world of Fregis, the second planet in the Fomalhaut star system and peopled by furry, blue-purple eyed humans. Fregis, called Camelot by the observers of the Galactic Foundation, is a place in which magic works and knighthood reigns. Kyrie Fern, equipped with fake fur and blue-purple contact lenses, had been tasked with staving off the advances of the Kaleen, called the Dark One, a strange, otherworldy being who had plagued the planet for all of five thousand years. And still the Kaleen is bent on asserting insiduous influence on all of Fregis. After a massive battle which rocked the planet's two continents, the Kaleen is at last turned back. So, then, happily ever after?
Um, not quite.
As it turns out, all it was was a temporary setback for the Kaleen. CAMELOT IN ORBIT picks up six months later as Kyrie Fern, known to Fregis as Sir Harl Lenti, and also as the legendary Collin of Marack, comes to suspect that the Dark Lord is once more beginning to stir. Several things happen. First, key members of the Marack kingdom's royal court are being possessed. Then Kyrie deliberately springs a trap set by the distant Kaleen and has a run-in with a frightful monster. On the heels of that encounter, the kingdom of Marack receives shocking word that the undead once more walk the earth.
Kyrie Fern, too, then makes a bold move, thinking it high time to take the fight straight to the Kaleen. With a trusted, battle-hardened few - which includes his bethrothed, the warrior princess Murie Nigaard, and his shieldman, Sir Rawl Fergis - he ventures into the continent of Om, into the darkest heart of the Kaleen's purview. And, this time, Kyrie will need the full might of his galactic science (and a bit of that Pug-Boo goodness) to best the Dark One's overwhelming forces and daunting brand of "sorcery." And, everyone must agree, it's hard damn work orchestrating an insurrection in the land of the enemy.
In the end, the whole ball of wax will hinge on a desperate race against time and a storming of the Kaleen's impregnable fortress. Ouch.
It's corrupt wizardry and dark science versus Terran technology and the flower of knighthood. And, after six months of no contact, the wiseacre Hooli and the other Pug-Boos return to lend subtle assistance to Kyrie Fern. Now, don't get it twisted. These aren't the regular dumb-as-a-doorknob, leaf-eating Pug-Boos (Fregisian animals who resemble koala bears), but rather the Pug-Boos who serve as hosts to the almighty universal powers, who are themselves Adjusters on a totally different level than Kyrie's. As always, Hooli is a blast! His banter-filled relationship with Kyrie remains a consistent highlight of this series.
Must have been more than two decades now since I first read CAMELOT IN ORBIT, and, having just finished re-reading it, the thing hasn't lost its luster. Written way back in 1978, it in no way has become dated or lost its ability to entertain the reader. Arthur H. Landis melds the genres of fantasy and science-fiction into a stirring and rollicking sword & sorcery adventure, an action-packed epic crunched into a mere 175 pages. To be precise, it's actually a science-fiction story masquerading as a fantasy, not that it matters. What the reader gets into is that Kyrie and his tiny band are hard pressed against it as, isolated in enemy territory, they must contend with the Kaleen's countless minions, dread wizards, mutants, and lethal giant monsters. Yes, there's even a dinosaur. Kyrie's bag of Terran tricks, I'm pretty sure, doesn't have anything to remedy a dinosaur, never mind one that's being controlled by the Dark One. Kyrie, in A WORLD CALLED CAMELOT and for the most of CAMELOT IN ORBIT, is nothing but bold and audacious. But there's a key moment here in which the big, bad, brave Collin just about wimps out. Nice to see the guy's human.
The odds are terrifying, the stakes are ridiculously high, and the spectacle is grand as armies numbering in the thousands viciously engage. Then there are the many do-or-die clashes done on a smaller scale, with the Collin carving a path to the top of the Fregisian food chain, and this done with a certain panache. I'd definitely put Kyrie Fern on the fantasy hero pound-for-pound list, there with John Carter of Mars, Conan the Cimmerian, Elric of Melnibone, Corwin of Amber, and Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom. If you're into Arthurian fantasies and medieval adventures or into exploits involving an earthman doing his thing in strange worlds, then try on CAMELOT IN ORBIT for size. This is a novel which, for my money, lives up to its intriguing title. And, remember, there's a dinosaur.
The closing entry in this trilogy is Magick of Camelot, and you should check that one out, too.