Message from The Eocene – Margaret St Clair (1964)
‘Was Earth ready for knowledge from the stars?
LEGACY OF A LOST RACE
His name was Tharg, but he was not of any life form we know today. He lived so long ago that the planet Earth had not yet shaped itself. Lava seas roiled and churned, volcanoes spouted and grew, and heavy clouds hung in the hydrogen atmosphere, leaving the planet’s surface dark and dangerous.
On that world Tharg met his death, or something very much like it. He became a disembodied, totally nonphysical intelligence, cut off from all contact with the life he had known. He ‘slept’ for hundreds of millions of years, unconnected with the world, unthinking, hardly existing.
But then he began to awake – for there was a new life on Earth, creatures called ‘human,’ and Tharg, knowing an ancient promise from the stars, had to tell them of it. But… how?
Margaret St. Clair has had her stories published in such leading magazines as Galaxy, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Esquire etc, and a good many of them have found their way into anthologies here and abroad. As often as not, she is likely to be using the pseudonym of Idris Seabright for a by-line.
A resident of Richmond, California, she is the wife of the well-known writer of children’s stories, Eric St. Clair. Typical of science fiction personalities, she lists a great many interests among her hobbies, and includes among them such varieties as sports cars, amateur astronomy, cooking, classical antiquity, gem cutting, and mandolin playing.’
Blurb from the 1964 M-105 Ace Doubles edition.
Eons before life emerged on Earth, the Vaeeans, an inimical alien race, took members of an intelligent race from their home planet and left them on Earth to fend for themselves.
Tharg has been charged with the task of transporting an important package across the planet. This is an ellipsoid which contains an important book. Tharg, finding himself pursued by the Vaeeans, opens the capsule and reads some of the book.
He is then captured and interrogated. The book it seems is a work of philosophical and mental enlightenment. The Vaeeans aim to destroy it but Tharg manages to grab the ellipsoid and throw it into a volcano before he himself dies.
As it turns out, Tharg does not die, but remains as an incorporeal entity. Meanwhile the Vaeeans set up an unmanned base on Pluto which contains a deflective device designed to prevent any more ‘books’ entering the system.
Tharg remains bound to the planet until, millions of years later, a new intelligent race emerges; humans.
Tharg makes it his mission to make contact with them so that they may find the book and release him.
In 19th Century America, he centres himself around a large house owned by The Proctors, a Quaker family, but his efforts at communication only give rise to the house being labelled as ‘haunted by an evil spirit’. Much later, he finds himself attuned to a young lady with special ESP gifts and manages to plant a message in her mind, since the book is buried very near a mine where her fiance is working.
The book is discovered but its long confinement has left it prone to oxidisation and it spontaneously combusts once the capsule is opened.
Tharg’s last chance is to outwit the machine which the Vaeeans left on Pluto, since the human race is receiving mental signals that the books will soon be delivered to Earth.
Tharg realises that by diffusing his consciousness through the world he can confuse the machine and temporarily turn it off.
It’s in some ways a very odd novel and its three sections do not sit easily together. We never learn why the Vaeeans brought Tharg’s people to Earth, or where the books are coming from.
There are obvious pseudoreligious elements, as when Tharg sacrifices his soul (essentially) for the good of the world and is then (with a somewhat weak scientific explanation) resurrected in a second body.
The books will apparently bring some kind of enlightenment to the world, so they stand as a kind of religious revelation, like the tablets being brought down from the mountain. (NB The original ellipsoid was indeed buried inside a mountain)
It is interesting to compare this with Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ which also has humanity led to a point of transcendence and contains its own religious iconography but from very different motives, and in an effort to debunk standard religious beliefs rather than provide obscure metaphors.
St Clair, one imagines, would be a Christian, but it seems that she is a Wiccan, so one may need to look into Wiccan practices to get any mileage from the religious metaphors.