My life in outer space

Broderick – Damien

The Dreaming Dragons – Damien Broderick (1980)

The Dreaming Dragons

‘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.

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New Writings in SF 1 – John Carnell (Ed) (1964)

New Writings in SF-1

‘New Writings in SF’ was an experiment of sorts, in that the hardback/paperback would take over the role of SF magazines, publishing original short SF on a quarterly basis, but in book format. The aim of the series, as stated by original Editor John Carnell, was to be “a new departure in the science fiction field,”. The first volume was hardly that, featuring, with perhaps one exception, a fairly dated selection. Nevertheless, the series was fairly popular and kick-started a limited trend for anthology series of new work. This series ran until 1977 under three editors with an intermittent publishing schedule.

Contents

Key to Chaos – Edward Mackin
Two’s Company – John Rankine
Man on Bridge – Brian Aldiss
Haggard Honeymoon – Joseph Green & James Webbert
The Sea’s Furthest End – Damien Broderick

Key to Chaos – Edward Mackin

A low-key comic piece featuring a wise-cracking opportunist and a cowardly con-man who, in an attempt to fleece a wealthy businessman, unwittingly create a device which mass-produces portable rejuvenation machines. It reads rather more like an unstructured and rambling first draft than a polished final piece and in style is very traditional.

Two’s Company – John Rankine

A variation on the theme of Tom Godwin’s ‘The Cold Equations’ in that two scientists on a planet which is in the process of being terraformed find themselves stranded and have to use the male’s ingenuity and the female’s mathematical prowess in order to return to their base before their oxygen runs out. The romantic element comes over as stilted and unrealistic, leaving the story itself with little of interest other than the terraforming details.

Man on Bridge – Brian Aldiss

This tale, in comparison to its fellows in this collection, stands out like a sharp and polished gem. In a future totalitarian world, Cerebrals (ie, intellectuals or naturally intelligent humans) are segregated in concentration camps but allowed to engage in scientific research. It is a testament of Aldiss’ skill as a writer that this rather improbable scenario is made chillingly plausible. One of their experiments features Adam (a name chosen possibly for both its biblical connotations and its connection with Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, a book which Aldiss was later to explore in more depth.)
Adam has had half his brain removed and has become the ultimate Cerebral, the future of Humanity, an intellect driven only by logic and devoid of emotion.

Haggard Honeymoon – Joseph Green & James Webbert

At the lowest end of the quality spectrum in this anthology we have this story of a Uranium mine on Canopus 37.
Miners sent to work here began having nightmares and became psychotic unless it was discovered that not only are women immune to this malady, but newly-wed men are far less susceptible. Subsequently only young newly married couples are sent to Canopus 37 for six month stints. It obviously begs the question why they didn’t employ only female miners. As it turns out, the devolved race of aliens living on the planet are beaming visions of their racial memory into the miner’s heads. The solution: Kill the aliens responsible for the broadcasting. Happy ending, apparently.
A story with no redeeming features whatsoever.

The Sea’s Furthest End – Damien Broderick

A competent but otherwise unremarkable Shaggy God Story (as Brian Aldiss might put it). The heir to the throne of a Feudal Galactic Empire challenges his father’s claim in order to usher in Galactic Federation & Democracy, although it’s not quite as simple as that and things are not what they might at first appear. An immortal figure is at work behind the scenes.
It’s too short a piece to do justice to the basic premise and Broderick does not explore (as many writers do not) the mechanics of running a Galactic Empire.
Of the six writers in this book, Aldiss and Broderick are the only ones whose names might be recognised by today’s readers, although John Rankine did go on to produce many novels.
As the first book of a series which ran to some twenty-odd volumes it’s a weak start, and apart from the Aldiss piece, of dubious quality.