The Palace of Eternity – Bob Shaw (1969)
‘The planet Mnemosyne, surrounded by a lambent shell of tiny moon-fragments, was known throughout the Federation as the Poets’ World. It was a beautiful planet far inside the frontiers of Man’s long war with the alien Pythsyccans, and it was to this quiet world that Mack Tavernor retired when he resigned from the Federation forces.
But suddenly the peace of Mnemosyne was shattered; the Federation was moving its military headquarters here. Man’s forces were in retreat – and now that Mnemosyne had become Earth’s military centre, it became also the target of wave after wave of alien attacks, in a continuing onslaught that could not fail to break through Man’s last defences.
Tavernor was caught up in that battle, and he knew that neither he nor humanity would ever again find the peace they sought… unless, perhaps, in death.’
Blurb from the 1969 Ace Paperback Edition
Bob Shaw is one of the unsung heroes of British SF. Outside of SF readership his name is virtually unknown and much of his generally excellent work is sadly out of print.
The war with the Pythsyccans has been raging across space for forty years. The aliens are elongated, spindle-shaped monstrosities who seem determined to wipe Mankind from the galaxy and show no desire to communicate or seek a peaceful solution.
Mack Tavernor, retired Army Colonel turned engineer, has settled on the planet Mnemosyne, ‘The Poet’s Planet’ which boasts an orbital shell composed of fragments of a long-destroyed moon.
Tavernor’s history has, to a certain extent, been dictated by the Pythsyccans, since his parents died saving him during an attack by the aliens when he was a child. He subsequently dedicated himself to engineering and specifically to the design of weaponry capable of defeating the aliens.
Tavernor discovers that the military have chosen to use Mnemosyne as the Central Control for War Operations when his house is destroyed to make way for a military headquarters.
Suspicious of the military’s true intentions – particularly after several demonstrators are killed by military forces – he joins the rebelling artists who are hiding out in forests outside the city.
Later, hearing that his girlfriend Lissa, is planning to marry one of the military leaders, he returns to persuade her to change her mind, but is captured. Realising that it is only a matter of time before he betrays the other rebels he engineers his own killing whilst being interrogated.
Death, however, is not the end, for Tavernor finds himself reborn as an Egon.
Egons are particles of life-essence which connect to every life-form at conception and are basically – a copy or back-up of the life-experiences of the organism. At the moment of death, the Egon returns to the Mother mass which surrounds every life-bearing planet and whose influence is responsible for flashes of creative or scientific brilliance.
A foretaste of what the Egon masses actually are is sensed by Tavernor at the start of the novel as he stands alone in the forest, witnessing the results of a man-made supernova whose light has just reached Mnemosyne after seven years.
‘Tavernor found himself gripped by the ghastly stillness, reduced to the level of one of Mnemosyne’s forest creatures, virtually mindless, yet he had in that moment a sense of being aware of Life’s relationship to the space-time continuum in a way that men no longer understood. The vast and transparent parameters of the eternal problem seemed to parade on the surface of the gestalt mind of which he might suddenly have become a part. Life. Death. Eternity. The numinous. Panspermism. Tavernor felt a tremendous elation. Panspermism – the concept of ubiquitous life. Justification for believing that every mind in existence was linked to every other mind that had ever been? If so, then novae and supernovae were only too well understood by the quivering inhabitants of the dark burrows and shielded nests around him. How many times in this galaxy alone had a star gone berserk? A million times? And in the eternity of galaxies? How many civilisations, how many incomputable billions of lives had been blasted out of existence by the star death? And had each being, intelligent or otherwise, in that last withering second, fed the same message into the panspermic all-mind, making it available to every sentient creature that would ever exist in the continuum’s dark infinities? Look out, little brother, whether you walk, crawl, swim, burrow or fly – when the sky suddenly floods with light, make your peace, make your peace…’ (Page 11)
Egon individuals are virtually immortal, but, unbeknown to living humanity, the Egon masses are being decimated by the effects of the Bussard Ramjet butterfly ships which Man employs to travel between the stars.
Tavernor is sent back, grafted to the consciousness of his unborn son in an effort to persuade Humanity that the only way to avoid extinction at the hands of the Pythsyccans is to abandon Ramjet technology. (It becomes clear that the Pythsyccans are aware of Egons and the damage that Man’s ship are doing to the sentient masses)
Although oddly structured, it’s a well-characterised work, with quite a few of what Shaw used to call his ‘wee thinky bits’, such as the telepathic batlike creatures which Tavernor employs to great effect in one of his guerrilla attacks on the occupying military. Where other writers would be satisfied with merely introducing a telepathic species, Shaw provides – if not a scientific explanation for telepathy – at least a solid evolutionary basis for why such a talent should have developed and a plausible description of how they mesh into their ecosystem.
Above all, this a story about real people relating to real events and significantly, given that it is a novel of the sixties, a very anti-establishment work in which the military are untrustworthy and pursuing the wrong course.