‘The Sleepless dominate the world. But are these expert genetic engineers about to create a new one?
Ordinary mortals think so: after a revolution in the twenty-second century, the Sleepless have spawned a new elite – a handful of people called the SuperSleepless. Miranda Sharifi is their leader; a revolutionary with superintelligent followers, unimaginable technology, huge amounts of money and passionate ideals.
But what is the feared and fabled Miranda up to in her island hideaway of Huevos Verdes? is she trying to find a cure for the mass starvation, catastrophic accidents and viruses plaguing the world? Or is she doing something altogether more sinister?
Diana Covington, an intelligence agent, is sent to investigate. It’s her most challenging mission. It may also be her last…’
Blurb from the 1996 ROC paperback edition.
Kress’ sequel to ‘Beggars in Spain’ is a far more focused affair, narrated in turn by three characters, Drew Arlen, The Lucid Dreamer (who featured in BIS), Diana Covington, (a young woman who is recruited as a GEAS agent to follow Miranda Sharifi, one of the genetically engineered ‘SuperSleepless) and Billy Washington, a sixty-eight year old man who lives in a ‘Liver’ community with a ladyfriend, Annie, and her daughter Lizzie.
The SuperSleepless have created their own island though nanotechnology and are conducting mysterious experiments there. With the Sleepless confined to their satellite world Sanctuary, humanity on earth is divided between Donkeys (who study and work) and Livers, who never have to work and who are provided with homes, food and clothing by the government.
However, technology is beginning to break down around the world in devices which use duragem components. A nanovirus has been released that eats duragem.
Drew Allen has been performing his hypnotic performances of ‘The Warrior’ a piece that has been subtly altering the attitudes of the Livers in order to make them more proactive and self-reliant.
Against this backdrop Diana Covington is recruited to shadow Miranda Sharifi, leader of the SuperSleepless. Diana attends a government hearing where Miranda is attempting to have a nanotechnological ‘Cell Cleaner’ trialled. This would live in the human body and destroy cancer cells, bolster the immune system and keep people healthy. For her own reasons, Miranda sabotages her own case and when she leaves court is replaced by a double. Diana is the only person who sees Miranda leave some time later and follows her to the East Olenta Area.
Meanwhile Drew gets kidnapped by redneck human separatists who consider all genetically engineered humans to be ‘inhuman’ and who, it appears, have been the ones releasing the nanovirus.
Diana gets involved with a family, having saved a little girl’s life, and thus meets up with the third narrator, Billy Washington whose loyalties are constantly torn between Annie (the little girl Lizzie’s mother), Diana and Miranda Sharifi whom Billy met out in the woods. Billy’s friend had a heart attack when the villagers were hunting for rabid raccoons, and Miranda provided rugs that kept him alive until he could be given proper medical assistance.
Billy knows that the SuperSleepless have a base in the woods, but does not trust anyone else with this secret.
As society begins to collapse due to technology breakdowns Diana has to piece together what is happening, and work out how much the SuperSleepless have to do with the collapse of society.
Kress should be applauded for going in a different direction with this sequel and keeping the Sleepless (for the most part) completely off the page. Also, ‘Beggars in Spain’ was written against a sweeping timescale which went from Leisha Camden’s conception through decades of change in society, whilst this novel covers only a few months and concentrates on a very restricted number of characters who have major parts to play in the narrative. This, I think, makes it a more successful novel, one which revolves around the actions of a very small number of people which affects the entire world.
The result of this three-voiced narrative is that sometimes one gets the same event from two very different points of view. Conversely, things happen off-page of which the narrators have no direct knowledge and it is up to the reader to determine the truth of the matter.
Where for instance, did the leader of the rednecks get the duragem-dissembler in the first place? He claims that his people had stolen it from the Sleepless, although it seems unlikely that they would be so careless with their security, and as it is shown that they later knew who had the dissembler, it seems possible they allowed it to be stolen.
This is presumably a deliberate literary device to demonstrate the unfathomable thinking of the SuperSleepless who are capable of playing infinitely complex strategic games.
The author mischievously leaves the reader almost in the position of someone flung unprepared into ‘The Moral Maze.’
The SuperSleepless (since a new biological virus has been released via genemod rabbits which is fatal to humans and very contagious) end up distributing hypodermics of Miranda’s ‘Cell Cleaner’.
Diana, Lizzie, Billy and Annie had already received injections to save them from the virus.
The contents of the hypodermic however are far more than at first described. Humans thus augmented can now absorb nutrients directly through the skin by, for instance, lying in in mud or a pile of leaves. Famine will theoretically never be an issue again.
There is a scary question at the heart of this which is ‘Should a substantially more intelligent community be allowed to decide what is best for Homo Sapiens?’. Most rational humans would immediately say ‘no.’ I suspect, but Kress makes a good case for the ayes and I find it a difficult question to answer. So far, we haven’t done very well deciding things for ourselves.
Tepper’s ‘The Fresco’ addresses the same point in a different way, as did ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ back in the Fifties, although Michael Rennie did at least have the decency to give Earth an ultimatum.
‘Earth is real,’ Dumarest insisted. ‘A world old and scarred by ancient wars. The stars are few and there is a great, single moon which hangs like a pale sun in the night sky.’
In the quest for his legendary birthplace, Earl Dumarest has traversed galaxies. Now, at last, he reaches Ourelle, a planet close to Earth – out along a far arm of the Milky way. there he finds Jondelle, a boy who may hold the key to Earl’s search.
But then Jondelle is kidnapped. And Dumarest’s pursuit of the imperilled boy leads him to a city of paranoic killers – madmen whose terrible violence is always on a hair-trigger.’
Blurb from the 1977 Arrow paperback edition.
As a bit if a change, Tubb’s title character is not a busty femme-fatale but a young blonde boy on the planet Ourelle.
Someone is going to a lot of trouble to kidnap Jondelle. They have been thwarted by Dumarest once, but succeed on the next attempt, and Dumarest promises the dying mother of the boy that he will get him back.
He assembles a team which heads to a remote valley where tribe of psychotic inbred sadists may hold a clue to the boy’s location.
One gets the impression that Tubb realised he’d spent far too much time in the kidnappers’city as the boy is found and rescued with almost indecent haste.
The explanation as to who kidnapped the boy and why makes a kind of sense, although the whole thing falls apart a bit if one begins to examine the logisitics.
As Dumarest escaped from the Cyclan in the last volume via an unpredictable route, the evil cybers have not yet tracked him down, so there are none in this story.
Dumarest does get some more information about The Original People though, and info about how he might go about identifying Earth’s sun.
There’s a bit of a mystery thrown in at the start as Jondelle tells Dumarest (who was injured protecting Jondelle) that his mother had been giving him medical attention, although Weenek helped. Jondelle says that Weenek visits occasionally but Jondelle does not know if Weenek is male or female as Weenek is not human. Who or what is Weenek?
‘BEWARE THE ONE-OF-A-KIND WORLD
To the crew of the exploratory vessel Alpha Tauri, Krado 1 was a planetary paradise waiting to be taken. But had nature gone wild? Was evolution non-existent there? No one could understand why, of all the forms of life that might have populated Krado 1, only one species of bird and one species of rodent existed.
The explorers could not have known what lurked behind the thousands of bright, beady eyes… what manifested itself to the telepath Roger Keim as a soundless roar in the corridors of his mind… what was waiting to be released…’
Blurb from the 1970 76096 Ace Doubles paperback edition
This is a very workmanlike variation on the ‘alien loose on the ship’ story, with echoes of Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There’ and van Vogt’s ‘Black Destroyer’
An exploratory vessel of The Empire, Alpha Tauri, lands on an uncharted habitable world. Apart from vegetation, the planet seems empty of life apart from one species of bird and one species of rodent. The T-man (telepath), Keim, becomes increasingly nervous as he is hearing a constant roar of mental static.
This is because a castaway is already on the planet. Its name is Uli, a virtually immortal being from the edge of the galaxy, and the last survivor of nine who set out to escape an apocalypse in their region of space.
Uli – a small egg shaped beast with an eye at one end – has the power to project portions of his being into other creatures, such as the birds and the rodents. His plan is to infect the crew one by one, and to use the ship to take him back to the Empire of the humans where he can begin his conquest of the galaxy.
There’s a definite van Vogt-ian influence here. The mysterious ‘Empire’ is mentioned in passing but we are given scant details. Keim is the paradigm of a van Vogt hero, logical and alienated from his peers, but who is eventually proven right.
Keim is helped in his battle by Lara, a young crew member who has had to admit her own burgeoning telepathic powers.
The major flaw in the structure is that Uli is revealed and explained to the reader immediately in a massive bit of info-dumping which is, one would think, unnecessary.
There is an exciting ‘battle of wits’ denouement in which Keim and Uli both push their powers of cunning to the limit in order to destroy the other.
‘Dunne was a crystal miner among the stars until he discovered the biggest strike in space.
Drifting through the rings of Thothmes with a mysterious lady stowaway, the lonely hunter soon realised that every miner in this golden mist was out to get him – and the treasure.
Even as bloodshed spreads across the sky, eyes both inhuman and unseen watched, waiting to close in…’
Blurb from the Sphere 1968 paperback edition.
The Unobtainium in this novel is Abyssal Crystals, found in the rings of gas giants and created under such pressure that they are strong enough to rip diamonds apart. They are immensely valuable and – amongst other things – are used as power conductors in space vehicles.
Dunne is a miner of the rings of Thothmes and has just discovered a rich vein on one of the rocks that drift through the rings. Returning to Outlook, the mining post and leaving his partner behind to guard the find, he discovers that his partner’s sister has turned up demanding to see her brother. When Dunne’s ship is blown up he deduces that someone is after his claim. Borrowing a lifeboat he sets off to rescue his partner, not realising that the sister has stowed away on board.
Someone is trying to kill them. Is it because the other miners suspect they have discovered the legendary Big Rock Candy Mountain, a semi-mythical rock packed with Abyssal Crystals? Or is it the Gooks, the never seen aliens of the miners’ tales who kill the unwary or take them off into the depths of the gas giant?
Leinster conjures up the setting of the Rings very well and manages to establish a sense of scale in a system of rings where a mountain sized rock can be easily lost and never found again.
Presumably based on the lawless American West in the days of The Gold Rush, complete with a rather quaint attitude to women, it’s a short but workmanlike novel with an intriguing setting.
‘Sword and Swordsman… but which was master?
STORMBRINGER, the might runesword, hung far away in the city’s armoury. ELRIC, haunted albino warrior-king, had sworn never again to touch the enchanted blade. But now he needed it as never before. Evil supernatural beings had abducted his lovely wife Zarozinia. he would sacrifice the world itself to rescue her. But would STORMBRINGER, seemingly endowed with a mind of its own, allow it?
He was fated to ride out again over spectral landscapes, with the sentient blade he both loved and hated… which had slain enemies – and claimed comrades!’
Blurb from the 1974 Mayflower paperback edition.
You know you are in Moorcock country when there’s a short preface to each section. This generally contains a quote from a long-lost Tome and is moribund in tone, telling of the downfall of some civilisation or other in High Gothic vernacular. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Elric books were the equivalent of Smiths albums to teenagers of the late Sixties and Seventies, and in comparison with some other books that were being printed in the name of Fantasy at the time, came out rating very highly indeed.
Mayflower books, whose covers boasted the author’s surname alone, seemed to print Moorcock almost exclusively; a man whose prolific output was probably only exceeded by Lionel L Fanthorpe.
This volume is the final (in chronological terms, although the definition of chronological in a Moorcock universe is somewhat fluid) in the Elric saga and contains three consecutive tales; ‘The Coming of Chaos’, ‘Sad Giant’s Shield’ and ‘Doomed Lord’s Passing’.
In ‘The Coming of Chaos’ Elric awakens to find his wife Zarazinia in the process of being kidnapped by malformed beasts.
By summoning the spirit of one of the creatures he has killed, Elric learns that he must seek his kinsman, and Mournblade, the twin to his sentient black sword ‘Stormbringer’ in order to rescue his wife and prevent the powers of Chaos from taking over the world.
In ‘The Sad Giant’s Shield’, Elric, Moonglum, Rackhir the Red and Elric’s cousin, Dyvim Slorm, have to take the shield of the Sad Giant Margada. It has been prophesied that the giant will be killed and when Elric spares his life, Moonglum follows the giant and slays him, since he does not wish to alter anything which is fated to happen.
The book, in fact, is bound with concepts of predestination and fatality, in contrast to the fact of Elric’s fealty to the Lords of Chaos, a fealty which finally crumbles when his wife is transformed into a white worm and she is impaled upon his soul-drinking sword.
‘Doomed Lord’s Passing’ continues in this vein, culminating Elric’s long journey in a tragedy well beyond Shakespearean proportions.
‘Davy is set in the far future if our world, in the fourth century after the collapse of what we describe as twentieth-century civilisation. In a land turned upside-down and backwards by the results of scientific unwisdom, Davy and his fellow Ramblers are carefree outcasts, whose bawdy, joyous adventures among the dead ashes of Old-Time culture make a novel which has been hailed as “a frightening, ribald, poignant look at an imaginary future,” as “this chilling and fascinating book,” as “superb entertainment… unique,” as “so unusual as to make it both refreshing and thought-provoking.”’
Blurb from the 1976 Star Books paperback edition.
Several hundred years after nuclear war, Davy begins to write the story of his life.
After accidentally killing one of the guards in the village compound in which he grew up, Davy flees, narrowly avoiding getting involved in a territorial war, and joins up with various travellers – including a mutant, a man who claims to be his father, a travelling carnivale and finally some seafaring wanderers with whom he finally settles on an island in the Azores.
Initially illiterate, Davy is taught to read and write by an old lady in the travelling circus, and thus defies the controlling Church’s prohibition on reading texts from before the Apocalypse.
In some ways this is a nostalgic look at an America in pioneering times, since society has regressed to that level, and confines itself to an area between Philadelphia and the Catskill mountains. The leader of the group that Davy joins makes some of his living by selling a universal panacea, ‘Mother Spinkton’s Home Remedy’, which is claimed to cure more or less everything.
The Church is portrayed as a restrictive and anachronistic force and there are signs that its power and influence are in decline.
Although not as powerful and original as ‘A Mirror For Observers’ this is a thoughtful and idiosyncratic work, very redolent of Simak in its yearning for a pastoral America, but at the same time critical of religious political control.
Overall it is a compelling portrait of a teenager’s passage into adulthood and his changing attitude as he learns and experiences conceptual breakthroughs.
It is to be noted that the human mutations in this work are simply that. Refreshingly the ‘Mues’ that are encountered show no signs of fantastic powers but are merely severely brain-damaged and/or physically deformed.
It is perhaps too romantic a vision of a post-nuclear world, but then, the novel is not about that. It is about characters and their lives, all of which are beautifully portrayed.
‘Time Out of Joint’ begins by leading the reader into a sense of false security, since we appear to be looking at the lives of characters from a somewhat idyllic US of the Nineteen Fifty Nine. Vic Nielson, for instance, is the manager of a local store and lives with his wife, Margo, her brother Ragle Gumm and their son, Sammy. Their neighbours and friends, Junie and Bill Black, often come round to play cards, more often than Margo is comfortable with.
One begins to suspect that all is not what it seems when it is discovered that there are no radios in this world, not since World War II, and Ragle Gumm makes a living by consistently winning a local newspaper competition ‘Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next’, the result of which he guesses via a complex analysis of past results and arcane measurements.
It is on an evening when Junie and BIll are visiting that Vic Nielson, trying to turn on a light in the bathroom, is hunting for a cord to pull when he realises that the bathroom light is powered by a switch, and always has been.
Later, Ragle, having persuaded Junie Black to go swimming with him (Ragle is attracted to Junie, Bill’s wife) goes to a drinks stand to buy drinks at which the stand disappears, leaving only a printed slip of paper saying ‘SOFT DRINK STAND’. Ragle is shocked, but keeps the slip of paper as this is not the first time this has happened and it turns out he has several of the slips with the names of various objects which he keeps in a tin.
As in most Dick novels, all is not what it seems. Vic’s son Sammy, although having been warned not to play in the ruins at the edge of town, comes back with a telephone directory, several slips of the mysterious typed paper and a magazine featuring an article on a beguilingly beautiful actress named Marilyn Monroe, an actress no one has heard of.
The reader is then made aware that Bill Black and Mr Lowery (an employee of the newspaper which runs Ragle’s competition) are fully aware of the greater reality. The year is in fact 1998, and Earth is at war with Moon Colonists (the lunatics) who have been bombarding Earth with missiles. Ragle, it appears, has an innate facility to predict where the missiles will land, which is what he is actually doing in his complex calculations to determine where the little green man will be next.
The great genius of this novel is that Dick has been careful to blur the edges of where the subjective realities of the Nineteen Fifties residents begin and end. Vic Neilson, Margo, Sammy and Junie have all been living with false memories, since Vic and Margo are not married and Sammy is not their son. This opens a whole other moral and ethical can of worms, since it raises the question of how far a government would go to safeguard a project which is helping to save thousands of people who would otherwise be killed in bomb strikes.
What, in real terms, is the nature of the Soft Drink Stand hallucination and the printed slips of paper? Why ‘Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?’? It is these odd flourishes, however, that pushes this novel head and shoulders above most other SF novels of the late fifties.
‘THE WORLD WAS COMING TO AN END…. but only the toti-potents knew it. They were the instruments of the alien invaders.
Once they had been ordinary men. But when the invaders from space took possession of their bodies, they became immortal and perpetually young; able to read minds and predict and change the future; possessors of weapons infinitely more powerful than any Earth had known. And they began to hate men.
But because, outwardly, they still looked and acted like everybody else, there was no way to tell who they were – until they attacked!’
Blurb from the 1969 Macfadden books paperback edition.
This is a piece originally published in Astounding in 1944 which features a future world in which, for one thing, the sexual divide has become polarised. Many women have a drug that makes them the equal of men (although what exactly that entails, apart from increased strength is kept a little vague). The consequence of this is that no one will employ them and no man will marry them. To solve the problem President Jefferson Dayles has recruited them all as a personal Amazon Army.
The novel begins however with Lesley Craig, a man who is questioning his own memory. He has the conviction that he has been working at his current job for longer than seems to be the case, and when he decides to go home to question his wife on the matter he eavesdrops on her discussing him with a group of men.
He has also been kidnapped by a team of Amazons and taken to see Jefferson Dayles who questions him obliquely before Craig is returned home.
This would appear to be typical ‘stream of consciousness’ work from van Vogt, who presumably had no idea where the story was going when he started out. It would appear, however, that the story – then called ‘The Wonderful Man’ – was rejected by JW Campbell twice. Campbell noted ‘”I think you’ve been straining for something new and strange and different in this ‘Wonderful Man’ yarn. But my gut reaction is that while you’ve achieved that in part, you’ll do better without these particular strangeness.” [The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. 2]
The basic premise is a little odd; that humans under extreme stress become ‘toti-potents’, gaining initially extended longevity and the ability to regrow limbs. When they enter the final toti-potent phase however, the brain begins regenerating all its cells, which means that all previous memory is lost. They gain however powerful mental prowess and the ability to absorb the contents of others’ minds.
It’s a minor van Vogt piece but nonetheless interesting for its sheer oddness and van Vogt’s singular and long-maintained attitude to the difference between the sexes. His depictions of women have always been somewhat disappointing. Indeed, more than most authors of his generation, van Vogt seems to go out of his way to emphasise how inferior women are in both intelligence and physical strength. Women here, with the possible exception of Craig’s wife, can not take on roles traditionally carried out by men unless they have been treated with drugs. Perversely, van Vogt seems quite fond of the dominant female here and elsewhere. Here, Craig is kidnapped by the Amazons and held hostage by them for a while, until Craig’s superior logical male mind manages to outwit them and escape.
Having said that, it has the usual surreal charm and ‘particular strangeness’ that marks van Vogt’s work, along with the recurring theme of the pacifist logical hero.