My life in outer space

Androids

People Minus X – Raymond Z Gallun (1957)

acedoublepeople

‘Scientific experiments on the moon and an accidental lunar explosion that seared the earth triggers another tale from the imaginative pen of Raymond Z. Gallun.
The secret of life and the restoring to the living of victims of the holocaust initiate a conflict for Ed Dukas, Gallun’s scientific pioneer of the future. Restoring persons through scientific methods, personality records and the memories of near kin, leaves one fatal flaw. They lack one indefinable quality – a divine spark, perhaps a soul.
Gallon depicts a struggle between the restored people and the natural living. Life on the asteroids, thought machines, a journey to Mars and a star ship expedition to Sirius are woven into the plot.

People Minus X is packed with action, science-fiction style. – Detroit Times’

Blurb from the 1958 D-291 Ace Double paperback edition

The plot is straightforward enough. Ed Dukas’ Uncle, Mitch Prell, is a scientist whose creations include Vitaplasm, a synthetic but living flesh which can not only aid with repairing limbs or organs but – once one’s body has been screened – can reproduce a copy if the human original is killed.
These bodies are stronger, faster and can absorb light and radiation as fuel for the body. Prell has also developed android bodies for the same purpose. As Ed’s father is dead, but wasn’t screened, Prell collects as much information as he can with a view to having Ed’s father resurrected.
Not long after however, there is an explosion on the moon related to one of Prell’s experiments and the Moon disintegrates into a ring of asteroids around the Earth, but only after a large number of them have already hit the Earth causing mass fatalities and chaos. Everyone blames Prell for the disaster and for the fact that victims of this holocaust are returning from the dead, something to which a vocal minority fiercely object.
Ed and his mother are forced to leave and live in the asteroids for a while until she receives a message and tells her son that they have to return.
Ed’s father has been resurrected as a Vitaplast human it seems. but is not the same man. Ed decides to accept him though, as do other families whose relatives, killed by some of the moon debris, begin to return to them.
Slowly tensions rise as Human purists begin to campaign against the Vitaplast and android returnees, a campaign which escalates to the point of open warfare.
Prell is believed to be still alive and one day Ed finds the word ‘Nipper’ – Prell’s nickname for his nephew, written in ink on a blank sheet of paper.
From herein on, Ed is on a mission to find his uncle and try and put a stop to the madness that has been unleashed on the Earth. It’s a journey that takes him and his girlfriend to Mars where they are given knowledge and power that could halt the war that is about to erupt.
It’s a marvelous little buried gem, this; a colourful and thrilling story which – serendipitously- echoes the the rhetoric of the current US Christian Right in their hate-filled pogroms against people whom they believe have no right to exist.
The dialogue is a little strange, even for the Nineteen Fifties. Oddly this seems to imbue the book with its own character. The narrative packs a huge amount into a minimal number of pages and – whether consciously or not – the author manages to make a telling point about how the US deals with the problem of xenophobia within its borders. You push all those ‘different people’ onto a ship and send them off on a one-way trip to the planets of Sirius.
But hey, that was the Fifties. Sixty years later we are still seeing people doing the same thing in Syria and in Europe. These ‘different people’ aren’t wanted and are being told to move on or go back.
They’d maybe welcome a giant spaceship to Sirius.

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The Wrecks of Time – Michael Moorcock (1966)

wrecks

‘Earth zero to Earth fifteen–which was the real one?

What the inhabitants of Greater America didn’t realize was that theirs was the only inhabited landmass, apart from one island in the Philippines. They still talked about foreign countries, though they would forget little by little, but the countries were only in their imaginations, mysterious and romantic places where nobody actually went..

That was the way it was on E-3, one of the fifteen alternate Earths that had been discovered through the subspace experiments.

Professor Faustaff knew that these alternate earths were somehow recent creations, and that they were under attack from the strange eroding raids of the mysterious bands known as the D-Squads. But there were tens of millions of people on those Earths who were entitled to life and protection-and unless Faustaff and his men could crack the mystery of these worlds’ creation and the more urgent problem of their impending destruction, it would mean not only the end of these parallel planets, but just possibly the blanking out of all civilization in the universe.’

Blurb from the H-66 1966 Ace Double paperback edition.

This is a very interesting early work from Moorcock in which a Professor Faustaff (physically redolent of the similarly named Shakespearean character) is in charge of an organisation which has managed to access fifteen versions of Earth in subspace which seem to have been recently created.
The professor and his team are able to create tunnels to these variant Earths. On the human inhabited worlds the inhabitants at the same level of technological development but the populations are small and appear unable to think about foreign countries (which art from the US and small communities elsewhere) are uninhabited.
The Professor’s people also have to counter the attacks of D-squads – military attacks of unknown origin – whose aim is to destroy the alternate planets. One at least has already been destroyed.
We follow Faustaff on a journey to one of these alternate worlds where he picks up a young woman, Nancy Hunt, hitchhiking and later meets the mysterious Herr Steifflomeis at a town where they stay for the night. Steifflomeis is clearly lying when he explains where he is from which leads Faustaff to suspect that he and his colleague, Maggie Whyte, may be agents of the D-squads.
It’s a peculiar little piece which superficially seems atypical of Moorcock’s work. There are resonances of JG Ballard here and there, albeit set within a US framework, with its abandoned towns and half empty motels and diners. Steifflomeis and Maggie Whyte are ambiguous figures until the finale in which Faustaff meets the creators of the ‘Simulations’ of Earth; immortal beings who evolved on Earth and who are seeking to recreate their ancestors.
These are redolent of the Lords and Ladies of Law and Chaos who permeate the worlds of Moorcock’s multiverse and seek to control the affairs of mortals.
In a final transcendent flourish the alternate earths are transferred from subspace to orbit our sun, linked together by golden space-elevator bridges. It is a romantic if impractical idea and, incidentally, very similar to events in van Vogt’s ‘The Silkie’ from around the same time.
It’s interesting stuff and no doubt fruitful fodder for Moorcock historians.


Android Avenger – Ted White (1965)

android

‘BORN OF MAN AND MACHINE, TO WHOM DID HE OWE HIS LOYALTY?

CYBERNETIC ASSASSIN

All of a sudden, I was moving faster than usual. The other passengers standing on the subway platform seemed rooted to their places. It took me only seconds to reach the top of the six flights of stairs, and then I was out of the station and moving down Fulton Street at better than forty miles an hour!

What was happening to me? It was as though I were the helpless passenger in a runaway car. Something else has assumed control and was guiding me.

My body turned into an office building and raced down the corridor to a room where a man was sitting at a console. He’d begun to swing around in his chair when my mouth opened, and a thin blood-red ray shot out, cleaving the man from head to abdomen.

Then it was over. My mouth closed, and I stood there, stunned. Up to today I was Bob Tanner, an average sane Citizen. Now what was I, man or murder machine?’

Blurb from the M-123 Ace Doubles 1965 Edition.
A seemingly ordinary citizen of a near future USA where people pass through regular scans to pick out seditionists finds himself suddenly compelled to track someone down whom he then kills with lasers seemingly issuing from his own body.
Escaping from the scene he is involved in an accident and ends up in hospital where it is discovered that his human flesh is merely a covering for a metal framework. He then embarks upon a quest to find out who or what he is, and why someone or something is controlling him and using him as an assassin.
There is an odd noir-ish feel about this novel, which although set in the future, seems all too rooted culturally in an America of the 1960s.


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick (1968)

.Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

‘War had left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalked, in search of the renegade replicants who were his prey. When he wasn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreamed of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick got his big assignment: to kill six Nexus-6 targets for a huge reward. But things were never that simple, and Rick’s life quickly turned into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit.’

Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz SF Masterworks paperback edition

From the first page when Dick introduces us to Rick Deckard and his wife, debating what moods to set for themselves on their Penfield mood organs, we are thrown into a world where what is real and what is fake is clearly a matter of one’s own perception. Perhaps of all Dick’s novels, this is the one where his examination of the concept of ‘the fake’ works on so many levels that the meaning of the phrase itself becomes hazy.
This is a depopulated and poisoned Earth, most of Humanity having emigrated to other planets, leaving a world of empty apartment-blocks and radiation damaged humans. Animals, having suffered the brunt of the radiation which has blighted the ecosphere, are a rarity, which makes a live animal of any sort a highly desired status symbol. Consequently, businesses have sprung up which manufacture life-like electric animals such as Deckard’s sheep, the electric sheep of the title.
Deckard is a bounty hunter, part of a team which hunt down androids, originally created as ‘slaves’ to work on pioneer planets, some of which escape and, for reasons which are not entirely clear, return to Earth to live freely, posing as humans.
The androids are the product of the Rosen association, whose work has developed to such a degree that their latest development, the Nexus-6 model, although synthetic, is virtually indistinguishable from humans, and can only be detected by psychological testing of their empathic reactions.
When Deckard’s boss is injured by one of a group of six Nexus-6 androids who have killed their owners and escaped to Earth, Deckard is giving the job of hunting down and ‘retiring’ them.
This is not a novel, however, which is as simplistic as the synopsis would suggest. Dick is using the medium to explore – as is often the case – the themes and concepts which fascinate him.
Many of the characters, for instance, are concerned with their own states of mind and their place in society. Rick’s wife, one of Dick’s trademark harpies, is seen at the start of the novel setting her Penfield Mood organ, a device which allows one to dial states of mind at will. Although used as a comic device initially, the point being made is a serious one. The Mood Organ is a metaphor for drugs, a device which allows one to experience whatever mood one chooses, and if one doesn’t have the desire to choose a mood, there is an option to dial 3 which produces a compulsive desire to dial a mood at random.
There is also a spooky foreshadowing of consumer gullibility of TV via the Buster Friendly show. Buster Friendly is a TV host who somehow manages to be live on air twenty four hours a day and also simultaneously produce a separate and quite different radio show. Most of the viewing public don’t question this, although it is obvious to the reader that Buster must be an android himself, something that is pointed out to JR Isidore later in the novel. This is something that comes as a shock to JR and – even given his chickenhead status within the novel – has disturbing parallels with contemporary society’s slightly hallowed view of TV celebrities and the media.
In terms of the novel, it is merely another fake which forces the reader – if not the characters involved – to question the reality of the world in which they have become immersed.
The novel has of course been overshadowed by its cinematic adaptation, ‘Bladerunner’. Although an excellent movie in its own right it employs the shell of the ‘DADOES’ narrative, abandoning some of the weirder aspects of the novel in favour of a Gibsonesque cyberpunk superficiality. Its success has to a certain extent served to turn ‘DADOES’ into the book of the film, which it most certainly is not.
Certainly it is in the top ranking of Dick novels, but those who come to it as a new read need to divorce themselves from comparisons with the movie and see Dick’s vision fresh and weird in a world in some way very like ours, but at the same time unsettlingly strange and filled with doubts with regard to various perceptions of reality.
Highly recommended.


Brass Man – Neal Asher (2005)

Brass Man (Agent Cormac, #3)

‘On the primitive Out-Polity world of Cull, a latter-day knight errant called Anderson is hunting a dragon.

He little knows that, far away, another man – though now more technology than human flesh – has resurrected a brass killing machine called ‘Mr Crane’ to assist in a similar hunt, but one that encompasses star systems. When agentt Cormac realizes that this old enemy still lives, he sets out in pursuit aboard the attack ship Jack Ketch.

For the inhabitants of Cull, each day proves a struggle to survive on a planet roamed by ferocious insectile monsters, but the humans persevere in slowly building an industrial base that may enable them to reach their forefathers’ starship, still orbiting far above them.

They are assisted by an entity calling itself Dragon, but its motives are questionable, having created genetic by-blows out of humans and the hideous local monsters. To make things even worse, the planet itself, for millennia geologically inactive, is increasingly suffering from earthquakes…
Meanwhile, Mr Crane himself doggedly seeks to escape a violent past that he can neither forget nor truly remember. So he continues mindlessly in his search for sanity, which he may discover in the next instant or not for a thousand years…’

Blurb from the 2006 Tor paperback edition

Following on from the events in ‘Line of Polity’, Ian Cormac, and a coterie of AIs are on the trail of Skellor, a scientist fast becoming subsumed by viral Jain technology.
The Jain are an extinct Elder race whose resurrected biotechnology has proven so dangerous that the AIs controlling the Human Polity worlds are prepared to destroy entire Star Systems to contain the threat.
Skellor has fled to a world outside the Polity, colonised by humans who travelled to it in a generation ship. Also making a home for himself on this world is one of the four spheres which once made up the single entity known as Dragon.
Meanwhile, it appears that factions have appeared in AI society and certain artificial minds wish to embrace Jain technology in order to accelerate their evolution.
The central figure in Asher’s characteristically complex tale however, is the Brass Man of the title, Mr Crane, the insane android/golem who first appeared in ‘Gridlinked’. The tale of how Mr Crane came to become a big scary trophy-collecting serial killer is told in sequential flashback throughout the novel.
Crane, thought dismantled and buried, has been resurrected by Skellor to use as a tool to his nefarious ends, although the golem is constantly attempting to reconcile the fragments of his shattered mind in order to become whole and sane.
As always, Asher has produced a page-turning barnstormer of a book set within his Polity universe. Thankfully, the quality of writing and content is being sustained and he clearly leaves us with questions about this civilisation which need to be answered.
I’m also happy to see that we may not have seen the last of Mr Crane, one of my favourite literary creations.


The Hard Way Up – A Bertram Chandler (1972)

The Hard Way Up (John Grimes, #3)

Seven short stories featuring the early career of John Grimes in the Survey Service, put together in a sequential fashion. They’re light-hearted fodder, and follow a fairly standard formula in which Grimes finds himself in a bit of a scrape, not always through his own actions.

With Good Intentions (Hard Way Up 1972)

Lieutenant Grimes joins The Pathfinder to ferry a party of surveyors to a planet where a primitive humanoid race is extant. The Survey Service has a ‘Prime Directive’ rule not to interfere, but Grimes can’t help himself.

The Subtracter (Galaxy August 1969)

Grimes takes control of ‘The Adder’ and is chartered to ferry a passenger from one planet to another. the passenger turns out to be an excellent chef and becomes popular with the crew, although his real profession is somewhat darker.

The Tin Messiah (Hard Way Up 1972)

Grimes’ next passenger is Mr Adam, a messianic android, who becomes a little irrational.

Sleeping Beauty (Galaxy February 1970)

‘The Adder’, under Grimes’ command, has to transport the Queen Egg of an insect race to a colony world. Due to delays en route, the egg hatches and the truculent young queen transforms the crew into her drones.

The Wandering Buoy (Analog September 1970)

Perhaps written in response to ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ (1968), we see The Adder discovering a spherical object drifting in interstellar space, which turns out to be an autonomous machine designed to show primitive species how to make fire etc.

The Mountain Movers (Galaxy March 1971)

‘The Adder’ is grounded on a world the natives and culture of which John Grimes finds suspiciously similar to that of Australian aborigines. They even have their own version of Ayres Rock. AS it turns out, there is a reason for this.

What You Know (Galaxy Jan 1971)

John Grimes, in charge of ‘The Adder’ has to ferry a demanding female Commissioner along with her staff and robot attendants. The Adder, from lack of maintenance, breaks down in interstellar space and is forced to request help from Skandia, a ‘kingdom’ of Scandinavian humans, whose relationship with Earth is somewhat strained.
Grimes is forced at the end to resign his commission in the Survey Service.


The Werewolf Principle – Clifford D Simak (1967)

The Werewolf Principle

‘In the middle-distant future, Andrew Blake, discovered on a distant planet huddled inside a capsule, is brought back to Earth suffering from total amnesia.
Over 200 years old, he thinks and acts like a man but becomes frighteningly aware of two alien beings that lurk within his body – a strange biological computer and a wolf-like animal. With the latter in control he breaks out of hospital to look for his past…’

Blurb from the 1977 Pan paperback edition

Several hundred years hence, Man has colonised the nearer stars. A political debate is in progress in which Senator Chandler Horton is proposing to abandon long-term and expensive plans for terraforming in favour of adapting humans to fit the planets. His rival, Senator Solomon Stone is taking the exact opposite view, suggesting that standard humans would regard such adapted people as abhorrent monsters.
Into this world Andrew Blake awakens, a man with no knowledge of his past, and whose worldview seems to be two hundred years behind everyone else’s.
In this somewhat surreal future, men wear kilts and robes, houses fly about to settle in whatever plot takes their resident’s fancy and (quite annoyingly, one imagines) the various rooms have different personalities and argue with each other over what is best for their occupants.
Blake soon becomes aware of blackouts, after which he finds himself naked in the countryside. He subsequently meets a Brownie (a small rodent-like alien whose species has taken up residence in Earth’s countryside) who asks him how many of him there are.
The question only makes sense to Blake when he is exposed to the realisation that not only does he share his mind with two aliens, but that he is also a shapeshifter and can transform into their alien bodies.
These three distinct personalities are called Changer (Blake himself), Quester (a large wolf-like creature) and Thinker (an amorphic sexless entity which seems no more than an emotionless biological computer).
Unable to control the triggering of his shapeshifting, Blake goes on the run after his Quester form is seen and travels through an unfamiliar America two hundred years ahead of the background knowledge he has in his mind.
It’s interesting that Simak has chosen these archetypal personalities which seem to relate to classic views of the consciousness divided into Id, Ego and Superego, the wolf element being the subconscious, Blake being the conscious and Thinker being the level at which rational logic and calculation process facts. Quester also has the ability to ‘sense’ life on other worlds but lacks the intellect to analyse what he finds.
This is late Simak and for the time it was written, seems somewhat dated, having a flavour and style more suited to the Fifties. It is not short of ideas, however. Simak engages in the debate over terraforming versus humanforming and we are introduced to the Mind Bank, a repository of worthy human minds, which have been uploaded into a storage device and exist as both individuals and a gestalt consciousness.
Indeed, the central theme is one of identity and (in the Dickian sense) what it means to be human.
Blake ultimately discovers himself to be just a copy of a human mind, long dead. Quester and Thinker also deduce that their original bodies were destroyed since Blake is an android designed to scan and mimic alien species for Research purposes, one of only two constructed and sent out to alien worlds two hundred years ago.
Later, he finds that another copy of his consciousness exists in the Mind Bank. There is a strange anachronistic scene near the end where his disembodied self rings Blake up on the telephone. The denouement is satisfying although one suspects that Simak is trying to explore an idea which should have been introduced earlier.
The three personalities begin the process of assimilation in order that Blake can exist as one consciousness. Blake returns to space to search for something that Thinker discovered from Quester’s ‘sensing’ of space while they were (tellingly) in a country church; a thing Blake describes as ‘a universal mind’.
One cannot see that Simak is using this final chapter as some kind of Christian metaphor, although it could be read as such. Blake collapses into his Thinker form (behind a natural force field) in a church, and remains as good as dead until Elaine Horton (the senator’s daughter) comes to speak to him, generating a resurrection.
After a few days he ascends (in a ship) in search of God.
Despite its flaws it remains a book full of colour, atmosphere and wonder.


The Simulacra – Philip K Dick (1964)

The Simulacra

‘Earth in the twenty-first century was a shifting, shadowy and dangerous world. Most people were content merely to survive, and to grab what little pleasure they could. But there were others who cunningly played the game of world mastery. Among them were the outstandingly beautiful woman who had ruled the White House for nearly a century, the world’s last practising psychiatrist, a psychokinetic pianist, the time traveller, the ‘chuppers’, and the simulacra…’

Blurb from the 1977 Magnum Paperback edition

In 2041 The United States of Europe and America (USEA) is ruled by der Alte, and his ageless consort and First Lady, Nicole Thibodeaux. Despite her youthful looks, Nicole has been First Lady for about seventy-five years, although her ‘der Alte’s inevitably die and are replaced.
Elsewhere, the inhabitants of the Abraham Lincoln Apartment Building organise residents’ talent shows, competing for the honour of performing before Nicole herself at the White House. A regular performer is Richard Kongrosian, an exceptional pianist who, being a psychokinetic, has the ability to play the piano without using his hands. Nat Flieger, and two companions from the EME recording company, are on their way to see him. Kongrosian however, is psychotic and is beginning to believe that he is turning invisible.
Ian Duncan, of the AL building, decides to team up once more with his old friend Al Miller, and resurrect their musical jug act, in which they play a classical repertoire by blowing into whisky jugs.
By the use of a mechanical telepathic creature, the papoolah, the duo win the AL talent course and are invited to perform before Nicole at the White House.
Elsewhere, Bertold Goltz, leader of the political group, The Sons of Job, is employing Time Travel equipment to infiltrate the White House.
It’s a novel, much like many of other Dick’s novels, which examines large-scale lies and deception. In fact, deception of the public has become institutionalised since the populace is divided into Ge’s (Geheimnistrager – the bearers of the secret) i.e. the esoteric elite and Be’s (Befehaltrager – the carry-outers of orders) i.e the exoteric majority.
Dick’s trademark fakes are in evidence throughout the novel, since Rudi Kalbfleisch, the current der Alte, is in fact a simulacrum, manufactured by the huge corporation Karp und Sohnen Werke. Now the der Alte’s popularity is waning, a new simulacrum is being planned, a replacement der Alte with the name of Dieter Hogben.
The papoolah, once an indigenous Martian creature, is now extinct. Ironically a fully functioning replica (which includes its talent for telepathic persuasion) is employed by Al Miller to help sell interplanetary ‘jalopies’ from Loony Luke’s Jalopy Jungle. The papoolah inserts images of a homely pastoral Mars in the heads of families, encouraging them to buy a jalopy and emigrate.
The novel is not short of Dick’s trademark manipulative women, such as Julie Strikerock who, for reasons not explained, abandons her husband Vince and moves in unannounced with his unsuspecting brother Chic. Nicole herself is a strong, arrogant woman, treating with disdain the public who worship her through the medium of TV.
Nicole herself, is not, as the public assume, an ageless and seemingly immortal First Lady, but a fiction since Nicole has been nothing but a series of actresses – each one replaced when they get too old – advocating the policies of a shadowy committee who run the USEA. The administration is also being controlled to a certain extent by the interests of big business. In this case there are Karp und Sohnen Werke, the simulacra manufacturers, who are threatening to expose the simulacra der Alte to the public now that their contract has been cancelled in favour of small simulacra firm, Frauenzimmer Associates. There is also the huge pharmaceuticals company AG Chemie, who seem to be behind the McPhearson bill which makes it illegal for psychiatrists to operate, forcing people to find remedies in their drugs.
The novel suffers from attempting to fit such a large cast of characters into such a short piece, which, had Dick had the time or inclination to do so, would have worked far better as a longer, more structured work. Dr Egon Superb, for instance, provides a tenuous link between some of the characters. On the orders of Wilder Pembroke, Chief of National Police, he is the only psychiatrist in the USEA allowed to continue practising and is instructed that he must not refuse any patients since he will shortly take on one patient who he will not be able to help. Subsequently he takes on some of the main characters as patients, although this idea is neither fully developed nor utilised.
Bertold Goltz, in an odd VanVogt-ian twist, turns out to be the head of the committee running the USEA through Nicole and the simulacra presidents.
Also, for reasons which are not fully explained, Nicole has Hermann Goering transmitted through time to the present, although this particular thread seems irrelevant to the story as a whole.
Then there are the Chuppers; a community of Neanderthals born to humans as the result of mutation, and awaiting their chance to claim the Earth once Man has destroyed himself.
Thus, the meek will inherit the Earth.
It is not the easiest of Dick’s books and reads very much like a first draft, but is nonetheless interesting because of Dick’s talent for making truly absurd premises (such as Loony Luke’s Jalopy Jungle) oddly credible.


Profundis – Richard Cowper (1979)

Profundis

‘KN4/2-034-17/Jones, T. (M(AQ)C GRADE 3) is naïve, impressionable and very, very willing. His chief talent is conversing with dolphins in the Aquatic Mammals Division of HMS Profundis, a gargantuan submarine – destined to roam the ocean depths for a century following a nuclear holocaust.

Years pass and mad captain succeeds mad captain. Eventually the ship falls under the command of one Horatio Prood, a kind, understanding man who finally comes to a startling conclusion. He is God the Father. The Almighty Himself. And all he needs now is a Son to sit at his right hand.

Enter the innocent Tom Jones of the Aquatic Mammals Division…’

Blurb from the 1980 Pan edition.

Cowper, although not as prolific as some of his peers, more than makes up for his lack of output with the quality of his novels.
And this is that rare thing, a satirical SF novel which is actually funny. The novel satirises the Industrial policies of the British Government of the Nineteen Seventies (amongst other things) although it’s not really necessary to know the details in order to enjoy this.
‘Profundis’ is the brain-child of the Labour MP Mr Widgewood-Bing (a thinly-veiled reference to the late Left Wing Labour Minister Anthony Wedgwood-Benn) who, in an effort to subsidise the ailing manufacturing industry of the North West of England, commissioned the construction of a vast atomic submarine and a controlling Artificial Intelligence system, Proteus.
While Profundis is submerged deep undersea, the world erupts into brief and violent nuclear conflict, leaving the ship condemned to sail on beneath the waves until she can surface a hundred years on when radiation has fallen to a safe level.
The Captain controls a crew of eccentric androids which ruthlessly oversee the running of the ship by the lowest rung in the ladder, Humanity.
This is the backdrop against which the story is told, a story parodying, satirising, and yet, strangely affirming the story of Christ.
Control of the submarine is inherited by one Horatio Prood who is taken suddenly by the conviction that he is God. Not unnaturally, he sees the disembodied AI which controls most of the functions of the ship as The Holy Ghost, and thus now needs to complete the trinity, and sets out to locate the most likely candidate. As it happens, the most likely candidate is also the most unlikely candidate, since it is Tom Jones, the naive young man in charge of the dolphins in the Aquatic Mammals Division.
Cowper manages to create believable yet quite bizarre characters, helped by the author’s clever use of dialogue.


Pendulum – AE van Vogt (1978)

Pendulum

Allegedly new stories from van Vogt for this volume, although The Human Operators was published in F&SF in 1971 and one of them is not a story but a report of his witnessing an Apollo rocket launch. All very interesting, but not really what it says on the tin.

The Pendulum

A project to create sea-life diversity by convection inadvertently awakens eight billion humanoids sleeping beneath the sea from a previous civilisation who are also in telepathic communication with a slow-thinking Dutchman aboard the project ship. van Vogt’s attempts to inject humour are hit and miss. this is not so much SF as allegorical fantasy, since the scientific elements fall apart under the slightest degree of scrutiny.

The Male Condition

Aliens, nicknamed Tinkers, have eradicated anger from the human psyche and in the process also eradicated the concept of rape and rapists. A psychologist feels that he needs to re-experience the male urge to rape in order to be able to record it for study purposes and posterity.
NB. The Tinkers are only visible to women. Most men believe that the Tinkers have left earth and women are just pretending or hallucinating when they claim that Tinkers are present.
I’m not sure there is any point to this tale, although sadly, if there is one, it has probably been overshadowed by van Vogt’s innate sexism. He has always seen men and women to be of different species. They are described so in this tale. One could have imagined that, by 1978, he might have become aware that feminism had been around for quite some time. The settings and characters seem oddly dated, and again, van Vogt attempts to inject inappropriate humour at some points, which just does not work.

Living with Jane

Sometimes AEVV’s writing leaves one annoyed and excited at the same time. Here, the central character is a young girl, Jane, whose parents are divorced. In these circumstances, Jane explained to her grandmother, androids are employed to replace any missing parents, thus ensuring the emotional security and development of the child.
Things get complicated however, since Jane’s father is trying to defeat a takeover of the world by a cabal of high-level androids. van Vogt’s trademark logical hero is employed to outwit the androids with the help of his daughter who has evolved a technique of ‘noticing’ which achieves the same result as telepathy.

The First Rull

van Vogt returns to one of his inimical alien races from ‘The War Against The Rull’ and a time when the Rull were not known. A Rull spy has infiltrated a college on Earth in order to recover an abandoned Rull spacecraft which has been discovered by humans.
Entertaining and filled with VV’s trademark twists and turns.

Footprint Farm

The child of a divorced couple becomes obsessed with digging in a part of a farm where a meteor fell. For van Vogt this is a simple, pastoral tale, unusually straightforward.

The Non Aristotelian Detective

The practices of Null-A (Non Aristotelian thinking) are well-known to readers of VV’s Null-A novels, if not entirely understood. A Null-A detective advertises for ‘cold’ cases to solve and is given the details of an unsolved murder by a police lieutenant. As the Lt discovers, Non-A thinking is to do with semantics, semiotics, the meaning of ‘meaning’ and the concept of ‘the map is not the territory’.
Using his Null-A techniques the detective quickly solves the case and explains to the lieutenant how he did so.
In an odd way, it all makes perfect sense.

The Human Operators (with Harlan Ellison) (F&SF, Jan 1971)

One of the best stories in this volume, it tells of a group of rogue ships which have enslaved individual humans within them to take care of them and perform maintenance duties. It is quite a melancholy tale, and tinged with a certain claustrophobia, since there is no way of knowing (in common with the human slaves) what human society is like outside of this system.
Ultimately though, there is an odd yet beautifully poetic ending.