Grainger – he has no first name – was half of a two man trading team who bought and sold goods through the human settled and alien worlds of the galaxy.
Encountering problems in the Halcyon Drift – a nebula where gravitational forces distort the laws of physics – Grainger crashlands on an unknown planet, killing his partner, Lapthorn and wrecking the ship, ‘The Javelin’.
He is eventually rescued but not before his body is invaded by a sentient alien parasite. His rescuer, Axel Cyran of the Cradoc Company, having been pulled away from his mission of finding a legendary lost ship for the rescue, lands Grainger with costs of twenty thousand. Twenty thousand what is never made clear.
The lost ship ‘The Lost Star’ is the Maguffin in this novel, a semi mythical wreck believed to be carrying priceless cargo.
Grainger then gets an offer by which the company who wish to hire him will clear his debts if he agrees to pilot an experimental ship for two years.
The ship is a hybrid of alien and human technology, an odd reflection of Grainger and his alien mindrider now fused into one body. The ship is called ‘The Hooded Swan’.
Its test, and its first mission, is to beat Cyran to ‘The Lost Star’ and claim the cargo.
From this summary one would assume a fairly standard bit of space opera of the time, but it is far more than that.
The setting is an interplanetary culture, bound by the Laws of New Rome, where Earth is becoming a backwater as other worlds become the centres of trading and industry, carrying out business with at least two other alien cultures. Stableford’s aliens, if humanoid-ish in physiology, are suitably alien in other senses, although the crew of the Hooded Swan do encounter truly alien life during their search for ‘The Lost Star’.
Grainger himself is a fascinating psychological study. There’s possibly a little of the sociopath about him since his frequent memories of his dead partner, with whom he spent fifteen years in close quarters, are resisting any emotion, any grief.
He has an awkward meeting with his partner’s parents who tell Grainger – to his surprise – that their son worshipped him.
Indeed, it is the alien presence in Grainger’s mind, from which no secrets can be hidden, who forces Grainger to face some of his self-deception issues.
There is a solid reality with Grainger that one seldom finds in genre novels of the period and particularly within Space Opera.
Stableford, a very important figure within the SF world, is paradoxically very under-recognised by SF readers in general in my view which is a terrible injustice.
If you have never read Stableford, give this series a go.
The sequel to Smith’s cult novel ‘Night of The Crabs‘ begins when a Norwegian captain – ruminating on the problems he has with his angina – is awakened by a fierce banging on his cabin door.
Suddenly we are whisked away to an Australian island whose fishermen are suffering the predations of Japanese poachers with superior fishing technology and weapons.
Klin, a fit but antisocial fisherman, decides to strike back at the Japanese, shooting at their boat and killing one of the crew.
On his way back he sees, to his disbelief, a crab the size of a car.
News of this sighting reaches the British authorities and Professor Cliff Davenport sets off for Australia, leaving his wife Pat at home. This is probably just as well since their unwholesome and highly detailed sexual shenanigans in the first book were rather more than one needed or expected in a giant crab adventure.
Smith’s sexual scenes are confined to the exploits of a rich nymphomaniac who manages to seduce Klin, plus a big game hunter and a bank robber on the run.
Smith seems to be slightly less graphic with the sexual narrative in this, although just as surreal. Klin spends a great deal of time, for instance, wandering the island attempting to hide inappropriate erections in his fisherman’s pants.
Inevitably the crabs invade the island and attack the hotel, during which Smith throws literary caution to the wind and introduces a sub-plot involving a murder and a suitcase full of stolen money.
It only remains for the Professor and Klin to try and discover the spawning ground of the crabs before the next full moon when mating and egg-laying will begin.
The denouement is perhaps a tad rushed, and the murder is quickly solved and dealt with.
I’m a little disappointed that the crabs did not return to the Welsh coast. There was something quite profoundly fascinating about Wales being invaded by man-eating giant crabs. It’s one of those juxtapositions of two diverse concepts that often works really well. Transferring the action to Australia lessens the impact since Australia already has its quota of deadly predators. The most dangerous thing Wales can offer is probably a vexed sheep.
On the whole though, I loved it. Smith deals in complete stereotypes and is a forerunner of the current fad for giant/mutant shark movies and their ilk.
As for the Norwegian fishing captain, we never hear from him again. I hope his angina passed off. It’s worrying me.
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.
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‘
‘WANTED: ONE ENGINEER
FOR MANAGERIAL POSITION IN IRUNIUM.
WAGES HIGH. DEATH BENEFITS SUDDEN.
“I am the Contessa Perdita di Montevarchi. Here in Irunium the only law is my will.
“I shall seek out another engineer. But this time he will be a real engineer from a dimension that understands these things, from Slikitter, probably from Earth. He will be treated with respect because his function is valuable to me. Almost inevitably he will terminate as this offal terminated, but that is to be expected of imperfect tools.
“He will not at first see the slaves in the mines and I do not wish him treated as a slave. My mines must continue to produce gems for my trade across the Dimensions. An engineer is needed so I shall find one….” ‘
Blurb from the 1970 76096 Ace Doubles paperback edition.
The Contessa Perdita di Montevarchi (an evil but beautiful ruler of worlds in several dimensions) is on the lookout for a new mining engineer and finds one trapped in an American mine. As she has access to portals between the dimensions she manages to tunnel through to the engineer, JT Wilkie, and his friend Polak, and takes them back through the portals of various worlds to her palace.
JT is unaware of the Contessa’s true nature or that her diamond mines are manned with slaves, and becomes even more devoted to her when his beloved Polak is killed in an attack by the Contessa’s enemies. Polak is in fact, ‘pubicked’ (1), a phrase which Bulmer seems to have invented and which is employed several times in this series of books.
Wilkie is then dragged into a mission to obtain a Porvone Portal of Life which would effectively provide the Contessa with a mobile portal to anywhere.
Some characters from ‘The Wizards of Senchuria’ turn up but are not vital to the plot.
With a handful of pages to go, Wilkie is persuaded that the Contessa is evil after all and decides to go roaming the dimensions.
Possibly because these books were very speedily written, one gets the impression that Bulmer was never sure where he was going with the plot. Wilkie never seems to get anywhere near an actual mine and yet his work is done about halfway through and he’s packed off on a mission to Durostorum for no apparent reason.
Despite the lack of attention to characterisation and plot development the ‘Keys to the Dimensions’ series is still surprisingly popular and all seven of the novels are available for digital download to the Kindle or other e-book readers.
(1. ‘The Honshi keep trophies cut from the bodies of their fallen victims; they have a tradition of “pubicking” their enemies, which means cutting off the scrotum of a fallen or captive warrior. These trophies are usually dried and worn on the helmet spike of the victorious Honshi.’ (http://www.drpetrov.com/1889/planets/…))
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.
‘The Very Slow Time Machine arrives on Earth in 1985. Its sole inhabitant is old and mad. Soon it becomes apparent that for him, time is going slowly backward. With every day, he is getting younger and saner. The world, and its whole concept of time, science and philosophy, must wait for him to speak. But while the world waits, it changes…’
Blurb from the 1981 Granada paperback edition
There aren’t many authors who master the art of short story writing, but Watson is definitely in there with the greats. I remember reading a couple of these stories in their original publications and it is to Watson’s credit that the memory of the essence of the tales still remains. Watson is also one of the most inventive and creative writers around and a more diverse collection of ideas and subject matter from one author will be a tough order.
He is also particularly prolific, and has several collections of short stories available. They are all highly recommended.
Ian Watson exhibits a prolificacy and breadth and depth in theme, subject and setting in his short stories, something unusual in SF writers since their short forms on the whole tend to fall within certain parameters.
Furthermore, each story is exquisitely constructed, its brevity belying the wealth of concepts employed.
The title piece for instance examines not only issues of causality and paradox, but also looks at religion’s relationship with the media.
The stories here are a selection from the Nineteen Seventies, covering a period of about five years.
The Very Slow Time Machine (Anticipations – Christopher Priest (Ed) 1978)
Thy Blood Like Milk (New Worlds Quarterly 1973)
Sitting on a Starwood Stool (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Agoraphobia AD 2000 (Andromeda 2 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1977)
Programmed Love Story (Transatlantic Review 1974)
The Girl Who Was Art (Ambit 1976)
Our Loves So Truly Meridional (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Immune Dreams (Pulsar 1 – George Hay (Ed) 1978)
My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl (Magazine of F&SF 1978)
The Roentgen Refugees (New Writings in SF #30 – Bulmer (Ed) 1978)
A Time Span to Conjure With (Andromeda 3 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1978)
On Cooking The First Hero in Spring (Science Fiction Monthly 1975)
Event Horizon (Faster Than Light; an original anthology about interstellar travel – Jack Dann and George Zebrowski (Eds) 1976)
The Very Slow Time Machine
A beautifully crafted piece where the themes are paradox and causality. A capsule appears from nowhere in 1985 containing a mad and incoherent old man whose life appears to be running backwards. The capsule appears to have been sent back in time from the near future and is impregnable, but the highly efficient recycling system inside the allows its occupant to sustain himself. As he grows younger and saner he begins to deliver a message.
Over the years the time-traveller begins to assume a Messianic status with the general public.
Ironically it would appear that the media storm around the capsule and its passenger has ensured that we build such a ship and send it back in time and has also ensured that that the occupant – who has grown up somewhere outside the capsule knowing of his destiny – will be compelled to come to the launch site, believing that he is destined to be God.
Thy Blood Like Milk
An ecological tale in which gangs roam the highways searching for sunspots; moments when the sun breaks through a permanent cloud layer caused by pollution and global warming. One of the leaders of the gang, who has revived the Aztec cult of the sun god, is being punished for a death he caused on the road . Having his blood milked for hospital use is paying his penance. The story however focuses on his relationship with his nurse who happens to be the girlfriend of the man he killed.
Sitting on a Starwood Stool
Watson is adept in packing several extraordinary concepts into a deceptively short story. Every 1.23 years aliens appear at a certain point in space to trade a few small cuts of the rare Starwood for valuable products from Earth; a Botticelli or even a group of humans.
Starwood is the product of trees grown on an asteroid with an eccentric orbit about its sun, and absorbs the energies of trees. When turned into something such as a stool, it will leak its stored star energy into whomever it comes into contact with, rejuvenating or curing the subject.
A cancer victim hatches a plot to steal the stool form a Yakuza boss, but things do not go according to plan.
Agoraphobia AD 2000
Watson again demonstrates his fascination with Japanese culture in this surreal tale in which an astronaut is required to enter a virtual environment in order to commit hari kiri.
Programmed Love Story
A highly stylised Japanese tale of a businessman who is requested to abandon his bride as she is rather too complaint to be a corporate wife. When she becomes a hostess at the Queen Bee they meet again, but in her work she has been endowed with the persona of an aggressive and ruthless Imperial Consort, and it is this with which he falls in love,
Beautifully written and beautifully structured.
The Girl Who Was Art
A story which examines Art and Japanese culture in which a young girl undergoes muscle training in order to reproduce three-dimensionally the work of a twentieth century photographer in tableaux forms. But Art, it appears, is fickle and transient.
Our Loves So Truly Meridional
The world becomes divided into segments along the meridians by immense glass-like forcefield walls. Two people in separate segments attempt to reach the poles to find out what happens at the nexus of the barriers. It’s in the detail where Watson excels, envisioning societies where a globe of the world has been reduced to a single bowlike segment with a steel string connecting the poles.
A man who may or may not be suffering from cancer believes that dreams are the body’s way of correcting errant DNA, He elects to become part of an experiment in which the part of the brain which suppresses volitional control during sleep is turned off.
My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl
A rather weak tale in which a man is convinced by his wife that the amoebic creature he has coughed up is his soul, and keeps it alive in a goldfish bowl
The Roentgen Refugees
Following the unexpected supernova of Sirius, the world is blasted by the resultant flux of Gamma radiation and only a fraction of the world’s population are saved, mainly in the Western World. Set in South Africa (and written during the time of apartheid) it’s a philosophical piece about third world issues, faith and racism on various levels. Like most of Watson’s short fiction it is brief, yet complex.
A Time Span to Conjure With
A scheduled inspection of a young colony world finds the colonists childless and oddly philosophical. It appears that an indigenous species (spoken of as ‘fairies’ due to their apparent transparency and elusiveness) exist in Time in a different sense to ourselves.
The aliens appear to be very alien, made more so by the fact that Watson keeps them at arm’s length. We see them briefly on the page, but realise through the narrative that they are always around.
On Cooking The First Hero in Spring
Three human anthropologists examine an alien tribe who show little signs of intelligence and seemingly have only one word in their vocabulary, although a Buddhist member of the team looks at them from a different perspective.
Initially it is thought that the creatures had built an aisle of statuary, depicting themselves or their ancestors, but it transpires that every ‘dawn’ one of their number is chosen to be baked alive in a shell of clay, and then put in position among the statues forming a strange highway to nowhere.
Maybe the least accessible of the stories, this features a black hole which may or may not have a mind trapped with it, and some investigators, who achieve telepathic union by the use of drugs and tantric sex. It’s very much a tale of its time and seems – unlike the other pieces – oddly dated.
‘DAWN OF A NEW DOOMSDAY
It was in the light of the swift star ‘God’s Eye’ – said to have been thrown aloft by the Ancients before the Desolation – that Beatra was captured by raiders from under the Earth.
Armed with only a psi-kinetic sand-sword and a Dire Wolf’s eyes, Jeremy Wolfhead followed, and found a strange city ruled by the descendants of an ancient government that had escaped the Desolation – a city that was preparing to emerge and bring to Earth a second, even more horrible, Doomsday!’
Blurb from the 1978 Berkley paperback edition
Jeremy Wolfhead lives with his grandfather in a Post Apocalyptic America, three thousand years after an atomic war. Life is good for Jeremy. He lives in a large house with his grandfather and his beautiful wife, Beatra. One morning the couple rise early to see the Gods Eye which we realise is the light of a satellite which orbits the earth.
However, a group of pale-skinned strangers appear and Jeremy’s dog, Goro, is killed, his wife kidnapped and Jeremy himself knocked unconscious.
He awakens under the care of a quasi-scientific brotherhood, and is able to hear their thoughts. He can also, it is soon discovered, use the power of his mind to create vortices of whatever matter is available. Thus a whirling disc of dust can be used as a weapon to cut wood or slice a man’s throat.
The Brotherhood have not taught Jeremy this out of the kindness of their hearts. There is a prophecy that says that a man with a Wolf’s Head will go amongst the people who live underground and destroy the Gods Eye. The descendants of the US President’s emergency bunker have remained underground and learned to live in darkness. Rather like Wells’ Morlocks they have evolved pallid white skin and large eyes. It is they who have kidnapped Beatra in order to discover information about the people of the surface.
In order for Jeremy to see underground, the brothers have grafted part of his brain into the brain of the she dire wolf, Virgil, a creature whose species mutated due to the radiation and evolved infra-red vision.
And so, Jeremy sets off to the underground city of the President to destroy the Gods Eye and rescue his wife.
It lacks the verve and creative flourishes of Harness’s early work and invites comparison with similar novels such as Pangborn’s ‘Davy’, Galouye’s ‘Dark Universe’ and the brilliant ‘Riddley Walker’. These other books are richer in ideas and characterisation. There is little of the detailed and colourful societies of ‘the Ring of Ritornel’ and ‘the Paradox men’ or indeed, the complex plots and structure.
Comparisons also have to be drawn with Star Wars which premiered a couple of years before this book came out and which exhibits certain plot parallels.
Jeremy (like Luke Skywalker) is an orphan who meets a mentor in the form of a robed man (Father Arcrite) and is taught how to employ his mind powers before being sent off to face the President (Emperor) and rescue the princess (Beatra).
This book has a Gods Eye, Star wars has a Death Star. Jeremy’s father is also revealed to be still alive, while Jeremy thought he was dead.
Whether or not Harness was influenced by these films is not clear. It’s unlikely he can have been unaware of them, although it also has to be pointed out that by the time ‘Return of the Jedi’ was released, this book may have already been in print.
Another theory may be that Harness (presumably like George Lucas) was merely following the Campbell structure of narrative, of which films like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ are perfect examples. The hero is taken out of his/her environment and sent on a quest, facing challenges on the way, meeting allies and mentors, until eventually they must face the great enemy, be it Darth Vader, the Wicked Witch of the West or (in this case) the US President.
The hero then returns, having gained the prize, but more importantly, wisdom.
Harness has some interesting points to make about how some species have evolved to fit particular niches. The Dire Wolf, for instance, as has been said, has developed infra-red vision, while crocodiles and humans have adapted themselves to life underground.
Hallmarks of Harness’ work are the prophecy, and the final twist which didn’t come as a great surprise since most astute readers would have worked out that Jeremy’s father was the returner, sent back by the Undergrounders, although maybe not that he is also father Phaedrus.
It’s also a relief that that Harness did not opt for a sentimental ending, which is again typical of his work. One gets the impression that life is moving on, rather than being halted by the emotional full stop of a happy ending.
A round-up of some of the best writing from the movers and shakers in the genre as of 1971.
James Tiptree Jr is featured, before she came out to the world (or at least the SF world) as Alice Sheldon. Interestingly, there are two stories which deal with environmental issues. There three tales of pilots being forced to man ships, two dealing with the Catholic Church and two dealing with lovers being separated by time, space or other factors.
The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World – Philip Jose Farmer (New Dimensions 1, 1971)
Interesting idea of a world where the huge population share the planet by a seventh of them having one day each, while the rest remain in stasis in transparent tanks, but what happens when one is living on Tuesdays and falls in love with someone from the Wednesday world?
Good News From The Vatican – Robert Silverberg (Universe 1, 1971)
This story, of the first robot Pope, has subsequently won awards and been reprinted countless times.
I’ll Be Waiting For You When The Swimming Pool is Empty – James Tiptree Jr (Protostars, 1971)
A light-hearted tale by Tiptree.
A young man visits a primitive planet and brings them the gift of western-style democracy. One wonders whether there isn’t a tinge of savage irony at the heart of this story. One also wonders what the relevance of the title is.
The Power of The Sentence – David M Locke (F&SF, April 1971)
A cleverly structured tale in which a lecture on grammar becomes a battle fought in words between extra-dimensional entities.
The Wicked Flee – Harry Harrison (New Dimensions 1, 1971)
Harrison seldom disappoints and here provides a beautifully atmospheric piece in which a renegade from a Catholic dictatorship of the future escapes into the past, pursued by an agent of the Church.
An interesting take on alternate pasts and presents.
When You Hear The Tone – Thomas N Scortia (Galaxy, 1971)
A poetic love story about a man who gets to know a woman through some form of time communication. Although he remains in his time frame he manages to call a woman through various periods of her life until he is brought up to date, and they can meet.
Not as schmaltzy as one would imagine.
Occam’s Scalpel – Theodore Sturgeon (If, Aug 1971)
A kind of double bluff from Sturgeon in which an employee of a multinational is worried by the new boss, now that the old dictator has died. He arranges for the new boss to examine the dead man’s body, and to see that it is not human, but what is really going on, and who is fooling whom?
Hot Potato – Burt K Filer (The Many Worlds of Science Fiction, 1971)
One of those quasi-humourous wise-cracking fast-paced pieces in which the opposing sides in a nuclear conflict learn how to store their arsenal in hyperspace.
The Human Operators – Ellison/Van Vogt (F&SF, Jan 1971)
This 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.
Autumntime – A Lentini (Galaxy, Nov 1971)
An environmental tone-piece about a trip to see a tree, which, in the future, is a rare sight.
A Little Knowledge – Poul Anderson (Analog, Aug 1971)
Aggressive humans underestimate a quiet and obsequious alien whom they kidnap as a pilot for a ship which they plan to use for unimportant nefarious purposes.
One of those ‘twist in the tail’ pieces. Best SF of the year? Probably not.
To Make a New Neanderthal – W Macfarlane (Analog, Sep 1971)
Turning environmentalism on his head, Macfarlane posits a situation where pollution has helped to increase Humanity’s intelligence.
The Man Underneath – RA Lafferty – (If, Jan 1971)
Lafferty here plays with words and text as easily as he plays with our imaginations. A tale, oddly reminiscent of ‘The Prestige’, in which a magician is haunted by an echo of himself.
Ornithanthropus – B Alan Burhoe (If, Nov 1971)
Nicely detailed view of a world where humans have been adapted to meet the conditions, rather than the other way around.
Rammer – Larry Niven (Galaxy, Nov 1971)
One of Niven’s corpsicle tales, in which a revived cryogenically frozen body is awakened, but only to be trained to pilot a seeder ship, travelling round the galaxy dropping biological packages on dead worlds in order to kick-start them into a biosphere.
‘Gilbert Nash has no past
Secret Service authorities in charge of security for the top secret Ridgerunner Project don’t believe that. Everybody has a past, they reason. The trouble is, Gilbert Nash’s past they just wouldn’t believe even if he told them. It is a past wrapped up in the Project, the first attempt to send a spacecraft beyond the solar system. And the death of one of Ridgerunner’s top scientists a few days after seeing Nash doesn’t calm Security at all. Bu there is something else pretty weird going on. The dead scientist’s wife doesn’t seem to have a past either – and she has disappeared…’
Blurb from the 1974 Panther paperback edition
A late and very minor piece from Tucker, the premise of which is that a handful of humanoid aliens crash-landed on Earth ten-thousand years ago, and have been guiding Humanity toward civilisation. The aliens are extraordinarily long-lived, but age on Earth faster than normal because of a lack of ‘Heavy Water’. Thus, some of them, in the 1940s, gravitated to America and Germany when they began to experiment with nuclear power in order to gain access to the water.
Gilbert Nash seems to be the only surviving alien (who are only distinguishable from humans by their longevity and the yellow cast of their eyes). He is working as a private detective near a top-secret rocket base. One of the scientists, Hodgkins, engages him to find his wife Carolyn, who disappeared a few weeks previously, and when the scientist is subsequently found dead, Nash begins to suspect that the missing wife is one of the alien survivors, and that she is responsible for her husband’s murder.
Oddly, the aliens can interbreed with humans, and Nash discovers that one of the women he encounters during the course of the novel, is one of his descendants, and has inherited a little of his longevity.
It lacks the pace and characterisation of Tucker’s other work, and reads much like a first draft. One would have liked to have known more of what Nash has been doing for the last ten thousand years, although we are led to believe that he was the legendary Gilgamesh.
The denouement is flat and predictable, leaving one to suspect that the book was written and finished in a hurry. It is however, an interesting late example of the ‘aliens among us’ theme which was a popular trend particularly in the US, from the Fifties onward.