I would like to get a copy of a novel I read decades ago. I'm certain it was a paperback, not a hardback. I couldn't remember the author or title so I Googled for words I remembered from it.

I've found an online novel, and I recognized multiple scenes from the first chapters, but I'm not sure the title is correct, or the author. Google knows nearly nothing of this author or title.

Here are key things I remember, in case the link I give below goes dead:

  • It's set in the far future, and things are 3D printed in a process called "spreighforming". (I found the text by Googling for "spreighformed")

  • In the first chapter, a young man is being tortured as "art" by torturers who work for an old man in a wheelchair. There is a poster with a graphic showing which parts of the body have the most nerve endings, i.e. the best places to cause pain. The boy yells "Kill me and have done!" We later find out that he was, eventually, killed after lots of torture.

  • The most common weapon is a "thruster", which shoots kinetic energy; it's so common that "thrust" is used as a synonym for "kill" (e.g. "thrust or be thrust") But the text I found refers to "quickblades", which I didn't remember.

  • The protagonist finds an old corroded 20th Century pistol and badly corroded ammo, and with some help and a spreighforming machine he gets a working replica. He likes using the archaic weapon instead of a thruster (or "quickblade"?). The pistol is regarded as a poor weapon, as in the future everyday clothing is made out of "kefflar" (clearly, something like Kevlar).

  • There are effete nobles, protected by genetically-engineered bodyguards who are tougher than normal humans.

  • I remember on the cover there was a blurb from some other writer saying that this novel shows a deep understanding of how to write a story about piracy.

I read a couple of chapters from this link and it is matching my memory. These words seem like it's the book I remember.


This site calls the book Yvan Dragomilov and the author is listed as "Paul Robison". So I Googled the title and the author and came up empty.

Is this the correct title and author? What year was it published? Who published it?

I suspect that what I found is a site where someone is posting fiction he might not necessarily have written himself. I think the text might have been scanned in and processed with OCR to recover the text; I think I spotted some word errors from incorrect OCR. (For example, "he thought with score" must surely have been bad OCR for "he thought with scorn.") And in early chapters the protagonist's foster father is called "Yvan" but I found a place where he was called "Ivan".

It might be truly obscure, but if so I wonder how I happened to get a copy of it and read it in the 80's. I thought it was just a common DAW paperback or similar.

  • "found a place where he was called "Ivan" - What place was this?
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 8:55
  • @Valorum I was reading through the online text I found and it was in one of the chapters. But what does it matter? Some guy was hacking up the text, either to "improve" it or to file off the serial numbers and pretend he wrote it. Why should we care if he made a mistake in changing one of the character names?
    – steveha
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 6:16
  • I was more interested in where you'd seen it because that would help us to identify it
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 9:09

1 Answer 1


I think you are conflating the two novels Henry Martyn and Bretta Martyn by L. Neil Smith.

Bretta Martyn

The novel Henry Martyn starts with the torture of the youth, but it's the cover of Bretta Martyn (shown above) that has the quote: This man understands the true meaning of swashbuckling.

Henry Martyn starts with:

Wheels of spreighformed pneumoplastic rolled along the carpeted corridor beneath a pale blue perforate ceiling of acoustic insulation. Nor did the technicians, laboring by twos and threes in dozens of small bays upon either side of the corridor, look up as the wheels passed. They represented an accustomed presence in this place.

And kefflar is described as:

"That it likely would." The old man shook his silver-thatched head. "In fairness, we might allow that our clothin' be some better. Common kefflar 'u stiffen itself 'gainst any blow, but it was after bein' expensive drygood, used for armorin' warriors in yoredays. Now we dinna use nothin' else for togs, an' some say 'twas kefflar an' nothin' else put end to ancient art of weaponry called ipsic h'some practitioners, and be others gundo."

As you say there are no mentions of quickblades in either book.

I wish I could claim I identified this due my vast knowledge of SF, but as it happened there was a question about L Neil Smith just a few days ago (Looking for a sci-fi novel about a private investigator in a parallel world) and that intrigued me enough to research his other novels. I haven't read either novel but I remembered the quote from the cover of Bretta Martyn.

  • 1
    Hmm. My memory of Smith's work includes a large helping of libertarian screeds with a side order of Randian sexual tropes. Even as an undiscriminating teenager it was a bit much. If you want hard libertarian fiction I'd probably recommend Stiegler instead; his characters were less two-dimensional.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 11:17
  • 2
    @DavidW I didn't say I liked his books, only that I was intrigued by them :-) Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 11:27
  • 1
    @JMac From the little I have read of the book L. Neil Smith's literary style is a little florid. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 16:22
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    I have accepted your answer; I'm certain the book is indeed Henry Martyn. It's out of print but I ordered a used copy. You can see a picture of the cover of the paperback in this link: fantasticfiction.com/s/l-neil-smith/henry-martyn.htm I guess Tor Books really liked that quote about the author understanding swashbuckling, because they used it on the covers of both books! It's funny... when I was trying to remember the author or title of this book, one of my guesses was "maybe the author was F. Paul Wilson?" Maybe my memory dredged up his name from the quote!
    – steveha
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 5:52
  • 1
    I stopped reading after "This wing was soundproofed to three hundred decibels. It was often necessary that it be so". Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, logarithmically speaking. Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 10:12

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