Eye of The Queen – Phillip Mann (1982)
‘AN EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL WAY OF DEATH
When legendary linguist Marius Thorndyke visits the bizarre planet of Pe-Ellia, he is inexorably sucked into the local way of life… of sex… of death.
Nearly twice our size, powerful, intelligent, skin-changing yet roughly humanoid, the alien Pe-Ellians are vulnerable – and deadly…’
Blurb from the 1984 Panther paperback edition
Mann’s astonishing debut novel tells the story of linguist Marius Thorndyke’s visit to the planet Pe-Ellia, accompanied by his assistant, Thomas Mnaba.
Interestingly, Mann uses the rather archaic device of providing an introduction by Thomas Mnaba, explaining that the following comprises of extracts from Professor Thorndyke’s diary, occasionally supplemented with additional material from Mnaba. This was a practice favoured by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs in order to provide a sense of verisimilitude to the work. For some reason it sits particularly well with this novel since there is a dated feel to the style, which is not meant to suggest that the work suffers in quality. On the contrary, this is a complex and poetic work, painting a picture of a world which is, in contrast to the worlds of a large number of authors in the genre, truly alien.
The Pe-Ellians are a race of large humanoids, covered in a skin of tessellated scales. Each individual’s scales and markings are unique. They periodically, it appears, go through a transformation when they shed their skins, moving on to a new higher phase in their life, a new set of scales, often quite different from the previous one, and a new name.
Each district of Pe-Ellia is ruled by a Mantissa, a vast immobile creature which may be a Queen to the Pe-Ellians as a Queen may be to a hive of bees.
Slowly, as Professor Thorndyke spends more time with his hosts, Winter Wind, Jet, Cook and the strange and mysterious Menopause, learning the language and translating Pe-Ellian poetry, it becomes clear that the humans are affecting the natives and their culture more drastically than could have been imagined.
One cannot help but feel that there are similarities, or at least resonances, between this and CS Lewis’ ‘Out of The Silent Planet’. The Pe-Ellians are very Sorn-like in description and the Mantissa, in essence, can be compared to the Oyarsa of Lewis’ Mars. In both cases irrational Man has intruded on their society and brought death and disruption. The comparisons end there, however, as where Lewis’ work was an allegory of comparative morals and a model for a Christian society, Mann’s work is far more complex and raises questions not only about whether we would be able to communicate with an alien race (see also ‘Solaris’, ‘The Sparrow’), but whether we should do so at all. The union is likely to transform both parties, but would they be improved or diminished by the process?