There isn’t a lot I can add to the no doubt inexhaustible amount of analysis and dissection that this novel has engendered since its first publication.
Quite rightly considered one of the best Dystopian novels of the Twentieth Century, Orwell’s chilling vision of Britain under a totalitarian regime has become one of those odd iconic social phenomena which has lodged itself within the public consciousness. There is apparently a sizeable percentage of the population who claim, or even believe, that they have read the book without actually having done so, and there are many more who are familiar with the name Winston Smith and the phrases ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Room 101’ both of which became the titles of successful TV programmes, although only bearing a very loose connection to the original work.
I have not read this since 1976 when, as I recall, it was recommended reading in my O Level English class. Apart from the 1984 film starring John Hurt as Winston Smith which I saw on its release, I have had no experience of the narrative since. However, the novel seems to seep into us all as if by osmosis via public media and it is therefore perhaps not surprising that so many believe erroneously that they have actually read it.
For a novel of the late Nineteen Forties it has dated very little and is a tribute to Orwell’s writing and his characterisation. Whether the author planned it or not, the fact that the Powers That Be seek to halt social change and development gives contemporary readers an odd view of what life may have been like if a socialist revolution had occurred in the Nineteen Fifties and social development halted. It still reads as fresh and as powerful as when it was first published and is undeniably a brilliantly observed textbook of political control.
Having said that, although ‘Animal Farm’ was a direct analogy of the Soviet Revolution and its consequences, Nineteen Eighty Four is a far vaguer concept and looks to the future of what an authoritarian regime may eventually become. What is slightly chilling about this is how much our so called democratic governments are employing the techniques that Orwell so concisely explains. A ruling body does not have to be a left wing socialist dictatorship to seek to control the population through a reduction in levels of education and control of the media.
That’s been standard practice in the UK for at least the last twenty years, and one can see from looking at the actions of individuals such as Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch how adept the PTB have become in controlling what information is disseminated to the ‘proles’ and in what form.
Others have pointed out that if the society of Nineteen Eighty-Four exists anywhere, it is within the intolerant theocracies and religious dictatorships of the Middle East where victimless crimes such as Atheism or Blasphemy will have you up before the thought police before you know it, excommunicated from your family and very likely executed. Indeed, Winston’s society tends toward the religious model with Big Brother as its eternal Messiah. Like most fundamentalist sects for instance, The Party is against sex, and not content with merely restricting copulation for reproductive purposes, seek ultimately to eradicate the practice altogether and have the process automated by machines.
One wonders if Orwell considered that what he was writing was actually Science Fiction, or indeed if he cared. It’s an extraordinary work made more so by its lack of comparison to other genre works of the time. It’s hard to say however without further research what subsequent level of influence Nineteen Eighty Four had on the genre as a whole. Certainly it is fascinating to see so many ideas that we may refer to today as Dickian, such as the majority of the population of the world being unaware of the true nature of things (as in ‘The Penultimate Truth’) or the delightful and very Dickian concepts of machines that construct novels or pornography, or the versificator, which composes popular songs. ‘Thoughtcrime’ however, is the most Dickian idea here, and indeed, Dick did explore the idea of police who arrest people for crimes they have not yet committed.
Wingrove’s ‘Chung Kuo’ also owes a lot to Orwell, particularly in the ruling oligarchy’s policy to halt the ‘Wheel of Change’ and their rewriting of World History.
What most struck me about this book however, coming to it relatively afresh after forty years, was that it was not what I had expected. There are elements of the surreal and the absurd, such as the Party manufacturing pornography to be illegally sold on the black market. There are complex characters such as Julia, whose inexplicable declaration of love for Winston immediately raises suspicions, but which, given her later conversations with him, seems logical given their twisted emotional development under this repressive regime. Winston himself, is an extraordinarily complex character with very few redeeming features and not at all likeable to any degree, but yet is a far more real human being than any of the numberless fearless heroes that have infested our bookshelves since.
I can’t say I was that impressed back in 1976, but then, I did not know a great deal about the world. Now, I see it as a dark twisted mirror of our political world. It speaks to me all too clearly with a wonderful clarity.
If you haven’t read it, read it. Be enlightened.
I suspect that Engine Summer was, for its time, quite a revolutionary piece of work. It bears comparison with later works such as Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun‘ and Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker‘ both of which it predates only by a year.
This is a novel set in a US a thousand years after some unspecified apocalypse. Earth at that time was technologically advanced with – it is suggested – AIs and the capability of digitising one’s consciousness. Scoutships had been sent to the stars, some of which had returned with cargo.
Our main character, Rush Who Speaks, lives in Little Belaire, the interior of a huge plant that sprouted from a seed brought back from another star.
There is an element of fantasy, or at least Extreme Romanticism here, although Crowley does not take it to the level of Wolfe. Crowley manages to justify his fairytale style by presenting the narrative through the eyes of young Rush, who is telling his tale to an unknown listener. In this sense it is a very clever novel since the only view of this world is through a growing boy’s eyes. He describes what he sees and encounters, some of which may be familiar to us and some of which may be a product of a later technological period.
Crowley indulges himself in some linguistic conceits here and there where the language has become corrupted and phrases develop alternate spellings. It was only when I had finished this book and completed my notes about it that I read another review which revealed that the title itself was a linguistic conceit, and is a corruption of Indian Summer, which becomes Injun Summer in some parts of the US and is translated here into Engine Summer.
This is, it seems, an idyllic time for Humanity. There are no incidents of violence (although the men of another tribe do initially discuss killing Rush when they first meet him). Rush never has to go hungry in Little Belaire. Nevertheless he is curious and restless; curious about the tales he has heard of saints and flying cities where angels live.
Some time back his friend, a girl called Once a Day. had left with another tribe calling themselves Dr Boots’ List. Rush misses her and hopes he can one day bring her back, along with ancient treasures for Little Belaire.
Rather like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Rush sets out on a journey across a post-apocalyptic USA, meeting a selection of diverse characters until he reaches his own ‘Emerald City’.
For a while he lives in a treehouse with a saint called Blink. Blink can read but has little conception of the nature of the literature he has collected.
‘This? This is my crostic-words. Look’
On the table where the morning sun could light it lay a thin sheet of glass. Below it was a paper, covered minutely with what I knew was printing; this took up most of the paper, except for one block, a box divided into smaller boxes, some black and some white. On the glass that covered the paper, Blink had made tiny black marks – letters, he called them – over the white boxes.
The paper was crumbled and yellow, and over a part of it a brown stain ran.
‘When I was a boy in Little Belaire,’ he said, bending over it and brushing away a spider that sat like a letter above one white box, ‘I found this paper in a chest of Bones cord’s. Nobody, though, could tell me what it was, what the story was. One gossip said she thought it was a puzzle, you know, like St Gene’s puzzles but different. Another said it was a game, like Rings, but different. Now, I wouldn’t say that it was only for this that I left Belaire to wander, but I thought I’d find out how it was a puzzle or a game, and how to solve it or play it. And I did, mostly, though that was sixty years ago, and it’s not finished yet.’
Having found the camp of Dr Boots List, where the tribe live in harmony with genetically engineered giant cats, and being reunited briefly with Once a Day, Rush moves on.
It is perhaps stretching credulity a little that, with the help of another eccentric denizen of this future US, Rush discovers one of the lost treasures of the Saints for which he has been searching
I can not discuss much that happens beyond this point without perhaps ruining the experience for those who have not yet read this complex and original novel.
It is poetic, beautiful and perhaps teaches us more than anything else that to live in Paradise we need also to live in ignorance.
One of a quartet of books which seem to reflect the Alchemical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, this being the Water section.
In a near future Earth, solar flares have set a process of extreme climate change in motion which has resulted in the sea level rising and displaced silt forming new and unpredictable land masses. Lagoons are formed where the upper parts of hotels and office buildings rise from the waters.
Kerans is part of a scientific team studying the ecological effects, since animal and plant life appear to have been forced into a rapid phase of devolution, reverting to forms common in the Triassic. Reptiles such as iguanas, alligators and monitor lizards are particularly prevalent, and seem to have displaced humanity to become, like their dinosaur ancestors, masters of the world.
Kerans has set up camp in one of the upper floors of the Ritz hotel, as has the enigmatic Beatrice who spends her days devolving into the persona of a former guest.
Indeed, devolution is the major theme here, since Humanity is also being affected, psyches accessing the race memory of an ancient age and drawn inexplicably to the South and the murderous heat.
This is Ballard at the start of his writing career, finding his feet and already displaying many of the hallmarks of his later work.
Already Ballard’s characters are intriguing and complex with motives that are difficult to determine. Kerans from the outset is affected by the devolutionary malaise that has changed many people and progresses through the narrative, his ancient race memory taking him back to the conscious state of the Triassic era.
Kerans colleague, Dr Bodkin, has been charged with investigating and monitoring this condition, although he himself seems more fascinated with the nature of the phenomenon than in seeking a means to cure it.
Conflict arrives in the form of Strangman, a peculiar almost vaudevillian character, who brings with him a team of black followers, and who appears to have the power to control the monstrous alligators who have thrived in this new world of steaming heat, jungles and lagoons.
Apart from Kerans and Strangman vying for the attention of Beatrice Dahl, a contest which appears to have motives other than a sexual one, Strangman hosts an evening on his ship, exhibiting paintings and other memorabilia which he has rescued from the flood and promising a surprise.
At the conclusion of the evening Strangman smugly reveals that pumping machines have been draining the local lagoon, slowly revealing the silt-covered buildings and streets which had been previously submerged. This has a marked effect on Beatrice, Kerans and Dr Bodkin who are horrified by the intrusion of the human world they had abandoned.
It is a flashpoint which appears to polarise the affected and the non-affected, forcing them into a fight for the survival of their states of mind.
Ballard’s work often examines the nature or the effects of time, and here it is a central theme. In other work and short stories we find him referring to time either directly or obliquely near the start of the story or chapter.
Chapter One – ‘Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel balcony shortly after eight, Kerans watched the sun rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperm…’
Chapter Nine – ‘ During the next two weeks, as the southern horizon became increasingly darkened…
Chapter Eleven – ‘ Half an hour later, Beatrice, Kerans and Dr Bodkin were able to walk out into the streets.’
Chapter Thirteen – ‘By eight o’clock the next morning Riggs had stabilised the situation and was able to see Kerans informally.’
These are random samples but the pattern is there. It’s not clear if this is merely a feature of Ballard’s writing style or whether the constant references to time hold a deeper meaning for him, as this is apparent in other works.
‘Rogue Moon’ is one of those rare SF ‘proper novels’ that could very easily transcend SF boundaries. Indeed, one could argue that the SF elements are merely devices to explore the themes that lace the novel.
It is also one of those novels that says a great deal about the protagonists (of which there are only a handful) merely by their actions.
The basic premise is that an alien structure has been found on the Moon. Entry into the structure, however, appears to be lethal since the structure, for whatever reason – has been designed rather like a videogame. If one can work out the traps and snares built into the machine then one may be able to walk through the device and emerge on the other side. One wrong move, however, and one is dead.
Dr Edward Hawks until now has been using volunteer studies. Their bodies are scanned. being destroyed in the process, and transmitted as duplicates, both to the moon site and to a receiver station within the laboratory. The moon-based copy is then in telepathic contact with the copy on Earth who makes notes of what movements and actions their double takes before being killed.
Most of the volunteers have to be replaced as the trauma of experiencing death causes severe psychological problems. There is also the added trauma of the volunteer knowing that their whole physical being is an exact copy, and not the actual body that existed the day before.
The hunt is on then for someone who actively seeks out the stimulation of near death experience. And this is where this extraordinary novel begins. The next subject is suggested as Al Barker, a man who courts death in various ways, such as driving at breakneck speeds along the edge of a precipice. Is Al, an antisocial and arrogant figure, truly suicidal or merely addicted to dangerous activity?
Barker has been suggested by one of the directors of the company managing the analysis of this alien device. He, it appears, is obsessed with Barker’s girlfriend, Claire Pack, who in turn flirts with Connington and Hawks, although Hawks is more interested in recruiting Barker than in any romantic entanglement with Claire.
Claire however in her own way is addicted to the danger of Barker himself, a dysfunctional attachment which is not fully explored. One would be justified in pointing out that the two female characters in the novel are underused, but having said that, one of the themes of this novel is the male psyche in some of its various forms, mostly in men’s relationships with each other.
The main theme of the novel would appear to be Death. Apart from the events of the main narrative, where copies of volunteers die attempting to map a path through the artefact, the subject creeps in elsewhere
at various points.
Just over a quarter of the way into the novel, Hawks’ chief asssitant, Sam Latourette, is angered by Barker’s flippant insolence toward Hawks and lashes out at him. Barker remains ‘deathly calm’ and Latourette is told to go off and attend to other duties. This results in an ensuing conversation between Hawks and Barker.
‘ ‘How about your boy over there, Latourette?’
‘Sam’s a very good man,’ Hawks said.
‘And that’s his excuse.’
‘It’s his reason for being here. Ordinarily, he’d be in a sanatorium under sedation for his pain. He has an inoperable cancer. He’ll be dead next year.’
They had passed the low wall of linked grey steel cabinets. Barker’s head jerked back around. ‘Oh.’he said. ‘that’s why he’s the standard man in there. Nothing eating at the flesh. Eternal life.’
‘No usual man wants to die,’ Hawks said, touching Barker’s shoulder and moving him gently towards the suit. The men of the Navy crew were darting covert glances at Barker only after looking around to see if any of their teammates were watching them at that particular instant. ‘Otherwise, the world would be swept by suicides.’ ‘
Justifiably listed in Pringle’s ‘Science Fiction: The Hundred Best Novels’ this was a somewhat revolutionary piece for 1960. As Pringle points out it was anticipating or perhaps sowing the seeds of the New Wave later in the decade with its emphasis on psychology rather than technology.
It’s an underrated novel and one that should be more widely appreciated.
In his witty moments, Heinlein could be very funny. Certainly this is one of his lighter works which he apparently wrote within the space of a few weeks.
The title and the story were suggested by Heinlein’s observations of the family cat who, on snowy days, would go to every external door in the house and look out, before moving on to the next. Heinlein’s wife quipped that the cat was ‘looking for a door into summer’.
The cat in the novel is called Pete (short for Petronius) the faithful pet of Daniel Boone Davis, a talented engineer and inventor.
Danny and his partner have set up a business specialising in household cleaning robots. However, Danny has been hoodwinked by a femme fatale who has arranged for him to unknowingly sign over his stock and patents. She has hooked up with his partner and Danny is elbowed out of the business. Having already been signed up to be cryogenically frozen until the year 2000, Danny decides to confront the pair.
There is a showdown which ends up with Danny getting drugged and being taken to the deep sleep tank before he can take legal action against his partners.
Then he wakes up in the year 2000 in a strange new world where he discovers it just may be possible to travel back in time to get his revenge.
The oddest thing about this book is Danny’s relationship with his partner’s daughter, a young girl of about twelve who is determined that she will marry Danny when she grows up. That’s all very well but Danny ultimately seems just as keen. Because of the effects of time travel and cryogenics they end up at around the same age but the initial premise is a tad creepy.
Heinlein’s vision of the year 2000 is good in parts. We are still using typewriters and Danny has designed a mechanical ‘Autocad’ – to all intents and purposes – which draws plans, as well as a spellchecker and various other useful machines. Sadly he has not envisioned a world where women have any level of equality.
Cousins Len and Esau Coulter are two young boys living in a family community in a post-nuclear war US. The States has sunk to the point where a theocracy has taken over, opposed to the scientific excesses of the past and with a strict ruling that communities can not hold more than a thousand people.
Len and Esau however, fueled by their semi-senile grandmother’s tales of prewar cities and glamour, yearn to learn more. They have also been infected with tales of a forbidden town, Bartorstown, where people still live as they did before the bombs fell.
Comparisons can be drawn between this and John Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ where, in a post-nuclear Canada, a group of telepaths have to hide their true nature from their Christian fundamentalist community. Both novels feature a Christianity adapted for circumstances, and both feature young people desperate to escape the straitjacket of their lives.
Perhaps wisely, Brackett chose to avoid the SF clichés of mutations and consequent psychic powers and focus on the question that Len has to ask himself which is, put bluntly ‘Is it better to live in ignorance and be happy, or be knowledgeable and depressed?’
Ultimately, what is learned can not be unlearned, as is reiterated to Len in various ways by his father, by the mysterious Mr Hostetter, and by a pastor with whom Len was lodging.
Brackett has, quite elegantly, taken the national paranoia of the time with its fear of communists-among-us and nuclear destruction and converted it to a fear of knowledge itself. The ‘aliens-among-us’ who, in other works of the time such as The Puppet Masters, are a metaphor for un-American outside influences are replaced here by the people of Bartorstown; ordinary humans who have a deal more knowledge than the rest of the country and no doubt practise forbidden science.
In one of the early sections, the boys sneak away from their Amish-esque village to visit a fair. It is a turning point in their lives as they witness a preacher rousing a congregation against the ideals of Bartorstown. A man is pointed out, denounced and duly stoned to death.
Because Brackett avoids proselytising from either viewpoint and concentrates on letting her characters express themselves within this strange world it becomes a work far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s about people, society, happiness and the perennial battle between technology and religion. It’s also one of the finest novels about the best and the worst of America that one is likely to read.
I was about fifteen years old when I first read this trilogy, and don’t recall it being as funny as it is. In other of his more serious fantasies, Moorcock occasionally refers to our Earth of thousands of years past, whose history has been twisted and fantasised to an absurd degree. In ‘The Runestaff’ for instance, the ships of the Granbretanians are decorated with the figureheads of ‘terrifying ancient gods of Granbretan – Jhone, Jhorg, Phowl, Rhunga, who were said to have ruled the land before The Tragic Millennium.’
There is much of that here, in the second volume of Moorcock’s acclaimed ‘Dancers At The End of Time’ trilogy, such as when Jherek Carnelian discovers a group of children held in a time-loop by a robot nanny, stashed away to protect them from the Tyrant Director Pecking Pa.
It’s not just a device to add humour or show the End of Timers as a decadent civilisation with no conception of the reality of their past. It also makes the point that we believe only what we know from history books, and that the truth may be far removed from what we think may have happened.
The End of Timers would not spend much time worrying about such things. This is a world where emotion is a fashion; the civilisation of the ultimately decadent. Although this world lacks any concept of malice or guilt, it also lacks the concept of compassion.
Moorcock pre-empts any comparison between his far future denizens of Earth and the Eloi in HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ by introducing it himself. When Jherek finally manages to get back to Eighteen Ninety Six to search for his lost love, Mrs Amelia Underwood, he meets HG Wells himself who helps Jherek get to Bromley, home of the Underwoods.
Wells thinks Jherek is being merely flattering and amusing when he tells him he is from a far future Earth, while Jherek believes that Wells actually built a time machine.
At one point Jherek tells Wells that the time machine in which he first travelled to Eighteen Ninety Six broke, but was thought be from two thousand years before Wells’ time, so that it was probable that Wells has merely rediscovered Time Travel.
‘What a splendid notion, Mr Carnelian. It’s rare for me to meet someone with your particular quality of imagination. You should write the idea into a story for your Parisian readers. You’d be a rival to Monsieur Verne in no time!’
Jherek hadn’t quite followed him. ‘I can’t write,’ he said. ‘Or read.’
‘No true Eloi should be able to read or write.’ Mr Wells puffed on his pipe, peering out of the window. ‘
(Chapter Eleven – A Conversation on Time Machines and Other Topics)
It wasn’t really clear back in the Seventies how much of a divergence this was from Moorcock’s usual style. Certainly, he produced many experimental pieces before this, but most of his work was serious, if not dour, with only the occasional humourous moment or in-joke being manifest.
This is a joyful rollercoaster of a comedy of manners, filled with grotesques and caricatures, exquisitely assembled for the edification of all.
The first volume is ‘An Alien Heat‘
Based upon Anderson’s short story “To Outlive Eternity” (Galaxy 1967), this is a marvellous exercise in exploring the concepts of Einsteinian physics, and one which surprisingly is for the most part character based. The interstellar ship ‘Leonora Christine’ is carrying a cargo of colonists and scientists to Beta Virginis. Anderson does a marvellous job of describing the ship which uses the Bussard Ramjet principle of capturing loose hydrogen atoms in flights and converting them to energy, gradually increasing acceleration toward the speed of light.
Not long into the flight, however, the crew discover that a cloud of interstellar gas has drifted between the ship and its destination. The ship is moving too fast to change course and must therefore risk damaging or destroying itself by flying through.
The ship survives but the crew soon discover that the deceleration unit has been crippled, which means that the ship and its passengers will continue to accelerate toward the speed of light.
Anderson manages to balance the mind-numbing complexities of the science with the human dramas being played out inside the ship. There the effects of time dilation mean that time is passing increasingly faster in the outside Universe than for the humans in the tin can.
Some of the characters such as Lindgren, are Scandinavian, since Poul – although born in the US – was of Scandinavian parentage. He also spent some time in Denmark it seems and employs his background to good effect here. Refreshingly, the crew are multinational, including Japanese, Russians, Canadians and one particularly obnoxious American, although it’s not known if this reflected Anderson’s personal views on the country of his birth.
There is an interesting situation on Earth at the outset, where Sweden, who were in charge of a worldwide nuclear disarmament programme, have become effectively rulers of a worldwide Swedish Empire.
It is interesting to note that current American SF, particularly the mainstream novels, tend to be somewhat insular, what I have elsewhere described as Americocentric. Jack McDevitt, Geoffrey A Landis and to a certain extent Greg Bear (coincidentally Poul Anderson’s son-in-law) to name but three, tend to write SF which postulates a future seemingly dominated by American culture or a near future in which everything happens in the US and the rest of the world is not really considered. Anderson was never that lazy.
For its time it’s an amazing piece of Hard SF in which the backdrop – measured by time and space – expands exponentially throughout the novel as the small dramas of the crew are acted out.
The denouement – which probably wouldn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny today, if indeed it was able to in Nineteen-Seventy – is an uplifting joyful moment and brings the book to a satisfying if somewhat improbable conclusion.
‘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.
‘TO THE PLACE WHERE SECRETS LIE SLEEPING…
Alf Dean, an aborigine trained as an anthropologist, knew that his tribesmen, for centuries beyond memory, had warned of a dreadful secret in the mountains of Australia.
His ‘slow-witted’ nephew led him to the secret spot – the same spot where men were claimed by deaths that were secret to the world.
As secret as the knowledge the scientists now share which compels them to press deep under the mountain… deep where the aborigines never go… through the nuclear shield, through the collective unconscious, deeper and deeper toward the center of the earth, closer to exploding the myths of time and space, closer to rousing THE DREAMING DRAGONS’
Blurb from the 1980 Pocket paperback edition.
It is often refreshing to read SF that is written in, and for, a different society. British and American SF, although springing from different roots, have come together by a process of convergent evolution. Eastern European SF, by contrast, existed in isolation for quite a while and one can see, from the work of the Strugatsky brothers and Stanislaw Lem, that stylistically, thematically and symbolically it is a sometimes quite alien, if beautiful, kettle of fish.
Australian SF is something of which I’ve not had a lot of experience. Damien Broderick’s work therefore comes as something of a pleasant surprise.
Alf Dean is an adopted aborigine, and is now an anthropologist. He and his white autistic nephew, Mouse, out on a field trip, discover a passage in an ancient cave which leads to another chamber. Here they discover a shimmering rainbow screen in a metal frame, settled in the dust of millennia. The frame turns out to be a teleport gate leading to an even more mysterious site, a vast white sphere underneath Uluru (known to the rest of us by the less exciting name of Ayers Rock).
This area, known as ‘the Vault’, turns out to be a top secret discovery already being investigated by an international team of scientists and the military. Proximity to the sphere causes madness or death and when Alf collapses he is rescued by Mouse who, unaccountably, seems to have some sort of affinity with the Sphere. When Alf describes an out-of-body experience, the controversial British scientist Bill DelFord is called in.
Between Alf, DelFord, Mouse and the astronaut Hugh, links are discovered between the ancient alien vault, the rainbow serpent of Aborigine mythology and the origins of Humanity itself.
It is oddly structured, setting itself in the present, and then we are taken off into a section where the child Mouse – who is in some kind of psychic rapport with the vault and is writing out information which the vault has somehow accessed. stored and is now retransmitting – transcribes the diary of a Russian scientist who has been infected with a sample of Soviet biological warfare.
Later, we travel to Deep Time to discover how and why the original feathered serpent aliens get here.
It’s a very complex but enjoyable novel, slightly flawed by some improbable dialogue here and there and an unaccountable dearth of female characters. The few that do appear on the page in the initial sections disappear pretty quickly once the novel gets underway. Certainly Alf and Bill leap off the page as fully-rounded characters and as Pringle points out in his ‘100 Greatest SF Novels’ it is a very Australian novel, steeped in the traditions of the Aborigines and very honest about their history and treatment in a white-dominated Australia.
There are some beautiful descriptive passages too, particularly in relation to the land around Uluru, and the novel is a breath of fresh air in a genre sometimes badly in need of it.