The Ring of Ritornel – Charles L Harness (1968)
‘A THRILLING SPACE SAGA BY A MASTER FANTASIST
“The Deep is the Beginning and the End, at once the womb and the coffin of time and space, the well-spring of life and death, the mother of nodes”
James Andrek, brilliant young lawyer in the Great House of Oberon, mighty tyrant of the twelve Galaxies, has two obsessions: finding his Poet Laureate brother, Omere, and unravelling the mystery of his father’s death many years ago at the Node, perilous birthplace of the Universe.
Did Andrek’s quest end at the Node? or in the Great House, peopled by the beautiful and the sinister? or did the answers lie in the subtle mind of the arcane Master Surgeon?
A weird, mind-expanding thriller containing every element to delight the SF fan and newcomer alike.’
Blurb from the 1974 Panther paperback edition
James Andrek has spent years searching for his brother Omere, unaware that all the time Omere has been in the palace of his employer, Oberon, ruler of the twelve galaxies. Years before, Oberon had his Master Surgeon remove Omere’s brain and implant it into Oberon’s music and poetry machine so that (ostensibly) Omere’s genius for composition may never die.
James is also searching for information surrounding his father’s death in The Node, the area at the centre of the Universe where space is constantly being created, a perilous place at best.
Also at the palace are Kedrys, a highly intelligent centaur-like creature who may or may not be the future of the human race and Amatar, Oberon’s daughter. Amatar has had conversations with the Omere/music-machine since she was a child although she does not know his real nature, and Omere has often attempted to persuade her to turn him off and destroy him.
Like most of Harness’ work this is an exquisitely structured piece. The chapters are numbered and titled up to 12 and then back down from 11 to ‘x’ (which replaces 1) and the titles are reflections, distortions or reversals of the original 11 chapters.
James is sent out to the Node by Oberon to present the defence in a historic case. The planet Earth has been towed to The Node and stands accused of crimes against the galaxy. It will be destroyed. James’ part in this should be merely a formality, but he feels he can make a case to save the planet, to stop it from being hurled into The Deep. Attempts have been made on James’ life and each time, a grey-robed man called Iouve, glowing with a faint blue aura, has saved him.
In Chapter 12, James reaches the Node and discovers from Huntyr (one of Oberon’s soldiers and the man who tried to kill him) the details of his father’s death. From this point on, the present has some relationship with the past – as in the chapter headings. 12 is also the number of Oberon’s galaxies and is significant to the religion of Alea, whose die has twelve faces.
Brilliant and complex.