Trying to jog my memory about the book title and author of an old space opera book I read back in the day.

Story elements as best I can remember (pretty much spoilers):

  • Aliens make contact with humanity. IIRC the aliens are pretty much human except some might have unusual hair color.
  • There's a massive interstellar war going on between these first aliens and some other foe alien group about to overrun human space.
  • The initial contact aliens are short of personnel but have plenty of ships to give humans for self defense.
  • Humans end up mastering the use of these massive (spherical?) battleships to fight the oncoming enemy (no single person attack craft). They have to fuel them up with water (possibly obtained from comet mining).
  • The foe aliens show up and humans put up a fight, but things go badly. The foe are far superior.
  • The protagonist's ship uses a bold strategy: They get everyone into their ship's water tank in space suits and crash their ship into one of the enemy ships at maximum speed. Then they climb out, board the enemy ship and take over.
  • It turns out the ship they hit was the enemy command ship, and they score a decisive victory.
  • It also turns out that the "foe" are actually the aliens that contacted them initially. They apparently staged this war so that the rebellious youths of their planet would have something to do other than run amok at home. The ships they gave the humans to use were outdated models.

At least that's how I think the story went. I keep thinking the title was "Them", but even if that's right it's such a common word that my searches are not going well.

I probably read this in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but it may well date a decade or more earlier.

Any help in figuring this out is appreciated.

  • Sounds like it was somewhat inspired by the Romans' tactics using their corvus in the First Punic War. That might be somewhat of a clue. Either way, sounds intriguing!
    – Null
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 17:52
  • I guess the tactic is vaguely similar, although if the author was alluding to ancient Rome, the reference must have been pretty heavily veiled.
    – Peter K.
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 4:14
  • I think the ship boarding in this case was more of a spontaneous last ditch effort than something planned well in advance. Thanks for the suggestion though.
    – Peter K.
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 4:28
  • I'm pretty sure I remember this book. Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 15:32
  • Up to about the half way point of your description, particularly the Massive Spherical Battleships and aliens who look human, I was thinking it sounded a lot like the Dahak trilogy by David Weber.
    – smithkm
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 4:28

2 Answers 2


I remember reading this book, and I can add what I believe is some more details.

  • THEM - the title, was also the name used for the alien foe, but it was actually an acronym. I don't remember the words that made it up, except that I think the 'M' was for "menace".
  • After the Terrans score their decisive victory, they visit the nearby planet where, as the victors, they are expected to engage in "raping and pillaging" - except that they are welcomed by the planet's inhabitants and the main character spends the night with one of the local women.
  • The alien foods are all laced with birth control drugs
  • At the end of the book, Earth starts to add birth control drugs to all of its foods as well

I'm pretty sure the title was Them. As you noted, this title is quite difficult to search on, so I went to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which lists several novels with that title. My best guess is one from 1979 by Robert French, however, finding a copy may prove difficult as various searches on inter-library loan, used book dealer, etc. have been fruitless so far.

  • It should be possible to buy a copy from a book dealer.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 19:37
  • Yes, it should. I tried several such sites and didn't find any copies, but I have ordered one so we should know in a few weeks. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 20:37
  • I remember the part about shacking up with a local, but completely forgot about the the birth control aspects. And now that you mention THEM as an acronym, I think this book was the first place I read reference to a "Friend or Foe" identification system. Eager to hear what you find out from the ordered book.
    – Peter K.
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 0:51
  • 1
    @Donald.McLean I've not been able to confirm yet, but now suspect this book is: T.H.E.M. by G.C. Edmondson
    – Peter K.
    Commented Jan 1, 2016 at 6:41
  • 1
    I suspect you are correct. Commented Jan 2, 2016 at 15:56

A relative got me a used copy of the book for Christmas this year. Even has the same library binding I remember from my youth.

The book is definitely:

T.H.E.M. by G.C.Edmondson Thanks to @Donald.Mclean for pointing out that as a possibility.

So far re-reading it is exactly as I remember.

Incidentally, "T.H.E.M." is an acronym for "Theriomorph Hellbent Enemy Mission", referring to the would-be antagonist fleet.

  • :) You can accept Don's answer by clicking on the checkmark by the voting buttons.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 1:57
  • @FuzzyBoots Reading through the thread, I see that although Don was instrumental in finding the book, he never posted the correct one. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 3:48
  • @ImaginaryEvents: You are right. He got the title, but not the right author.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 4:46
  • I guess I answered my own question but Don's feedback was certainly very helpful, so I've accepted his answer.
    – Peter K.
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 2:49
  • @PeterK., accepting an answer is an indication that it is correct. It would probably be more appropriate to upvote his answer for being helpful and accept your own.
    – cjm
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 18:30

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