Vinge has created a marvellous galactic culture here, much like Brin’s Uplift universe, where humanity are relative newcomers to a galactic civilisation billions of years old. Indeed, the concept of Uplift is employed as a plot device discovered later in the novel.
Vinge takes the unusual premise that the galaxy is divided into Zones of Thought with somewhat fluid boundaries. Intelligence and technology thrive better in those zones closest to intergalactic space, the Transcend, and some races and AIs have become transcendent ‘Powers’. In the slow zones, high level technology has problems and ships’ drives are reduced to a sublight crawl.
Humanity has spread out into the galaxy and one offshoot, the Straumli Realm, has discovered a cache of billion year old data and technology. They do not realise until too late that they have awakened an ancient and vicious AI. One ship manages to escape with, unbeknown to the humans, a possible solution to dealing with The Blight, as the AI becomes subsequently known. The Blight begins to infect the galaxy while searching for the escaped ship.
The ship lands on a medieval era planet populated by swan-necked doglike creatures, the Tines, who have evolved into gestalt packs who each share a single consciousness, communicating by tympanic membranes in the shoulder area.
Meanwhile, a human librarian, a man – reconstructed Frankenstein fashion by an ‘Old Power’ – and a pair of cyborg sentient vegetables who live in symbiosis with robotic mobility buggies realise that the lost ship may hold the secret to defeating the Blight. They therefore set off into the Slow Zone on a desperate mission.
This is a wonderful if somewhat lengthy piece of Nineties Space Opera, fast paced and filled with well-embellished locations and societies, wit and suspense.
Doorstop novels were a big thing (literally) in the Nineties and ranged from six hundred pages (Vinge’s book is in the lower bracket) to Peter F Hamilton’s fifteen hundred page epics. Not a word wasted with either of these authors it has to be said, although many of the others may have benefited from some trimming.
One tends to wonder if this might be a book which falls somewhere between a novel and a trilogy. It would have been interesting to have seen an expanded version over two or more (shorter) volumes with perhaps a side story set in the areas controlled by The Blight.
I tend not to approve of mixing hitech societies with the medieval, mainly because it is often done badly. Peter F Hamilton’s Void novels employed this extensively with the result that the sections set in a medieval human society, albeit within an SF setting, were far less interesting than the contrasting galaxy of AIs, wormholes, human immortals and weird aliens.
Here however Vinge has set the weird aliens within a pre-industrial culture and it’s a well thought out joy of a thing.
The plot is incredibly basic. Major threat to the Galaxy. A small band set out against all odds to get to the-thing-that-can-save-or-destroy-the-cosmos before the major threat does.
Indiana Jones. Star Trek Beyond. It’s a tried and trusted formula.
Vinge takes the basic ingredients though and whisks us up this rich and detailed souffle.
If I have any criticism at all it would be that Vinge has maybe over-anthropomorphised the Tines whose personalities – albeit shared among several individuals – are all too human in their culture and lifestyle. One would expect more specific cultural mores to reflect their pack-centric lifestyles. What is interesting – and not really explored enough – is the concept of identity within the Tines which changes as older members die and are replaced.
On the whole though this is excellent; well-written, compelling, colourful gung-ho Space Opera.
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.
Although I am all for authors giving us a challenging read there are times when I wish for that Glossary of Terms which used to be a major feature of Sf and Fantasy novels.
I can just about live without that here, although a list of characters may have been useful since there is a relatively large cast all bearing long and unfamiliar names. This is acceptable since we are in a far far future where humanity has diversified both physically and culturally. The main challenge in this novel is the author’s use of pronouns to denote gender, since many cultures have languages – or so it seemed to me – where misuse of the terms for ‘he’ and ‘she’ could result in a grave insult. Thus, most characters throughout the book are referred to as ‘she’ as a kind of default setting.
It’s an interesting device to employ and no doubt some critics will argue – perhaps with good reason – that such a device subverts the reader’s mental view of the characters with some no doubt seeing main characters as either male or female. On the other hand others, including myself reluctantly, might suggest that a neutral gender pronoun should have been employed since the constant use of a word with which we are all intimately familiar as denoting female is simply distracting and despite the reader’s attempts to do otherwise will no doubt result in her (or him) visualising all the characters as female. I gave up and did just that very thing early on in the novel.
Breq, as the main character calls herself, is the last survivor of the sentient ship ‘Justice of Toren’ which was destroyed many years ago. ‘Survivor’ is perhaps the wrong word since Breq was a part of the ship’s consciousness and still identifies as being the ship.
In flashbacks through the novel we discover why the ship was killed and why Breq is on a mission to track down an alien weapon that can kill those who destroyed ‘Justice of Toren’.
Leckie has to be credited with having created a rich and detailed human universe of which we only see a small part. Human civilization is mostly dominated by the Radch, which employs ships such as Justice of Toren to carry out enforcement. The Radch is controlled by a multi- gestalt human named Anaander Maniaani. Indeed, the events which unfold within the narrative all lead back to one action on the part of Maniaani, and will no doubt continue to do so with a sense of Shakespearean inevitability to some ultimate conclusion in successive volumes.
Maniaani, it appears, is suffering a schism in her consciousness, possibly as a consequence of being infiltrated by the alien Presger, resulting in her being effectively at war with herself.
The novel raises issues of slavery, loyalty, consciousness and the morality of a dictatorship which sacrifices innocents to bring peace to billions.
It was nominated for and won several major awards including the Arthur C Clarke award and perhaps justly so. It is a well crafted and complex piece which is all the more importantly believable and featuring characters with flaws and human vulnerabilities, this all despite the fact that some are no longer completely human at all.
One is glad in this instance, given that it does not have a complete conclusion, that it can still be categorised as a stand-alone novel. I have always had minor qualms about the first books of a trilogy being nominated for such awards. I guess it upsets my sense of order since my view is that awards should be reserved for single novels.
Perhaps fortunately my views aren’t likely to sway the opinions of the selectors a huge amount so the point is moot.
‘A CROWN FOR THE STAR-CROSSED
“It can’t be true! It must be some kind of hoax!” These were the words that went spinning through Neil Banning’s mind when the Greenville authorities told him that the house he had grown up in, the aunt and uncle who had raised him, had never existed.
So Banning found himself in jail, charged with disturbing the peace – and maybe insanity. But when a stranger from outer space came to his cell at midnight and hailed him as the Valkar of Katuun, then Banning decided that maybe the authorities were right, maybe he was crazy. Because the only alternative was to believe the impossible explanation of the Outworlder – that he really was the exiled ruler of a remote star-world, and the personality of Neil Banning was an elaborate fraud.
It didn’t really matter, though, who was right. Banning was on his way to Katuun whether he liked it or not. And as Banning – or the Valkar – he would have to save that star-world from the terror of THE SUN SMASHER…or perish with the loyal subjects he might never have known!’
Blurb from the 1959 D-351 Ace Double paperback edition
Young Neil Banning, on a business trip, decides to take a detour to his old home town. On reaching there however, he finds that not only is his childhood home a vacant plot, but that there was apparently never a house existing there. Getting more and more frustrated by what he sees as a deliberate attempt by the townspeople to cover up the past he is eventually arrested and thrown into a cell.
During the night, a stranger arrives and stages – in Banning’s opinion – an unwanted rescue. The stranger is Rolf, who tells Banning that his past life is a fiction, that he is in fact Kyle, the lost Valkar of an interstellar Empire.
Kyle is needed to reclaim the throne from those who altered his memory and exiled him to Earth, and locate The Hammer, a weapon of interstellar mass destruction whose location only Kyle/Banning knows.
This is one of those odd romantic flights of fancy that imposes a medieval feudal culture on an interstellar civilisation. It features the literary devices of the amnesiac hero and the Maguffin which in this case is a device (as can easily be deduced from the title of the book) capable of triggering a nova in any sun.
Banning has to come to terms with the fact that he may not be who he thinks he is, while leading an army of loyal followers across the galaxy in search of a lost and terrible doomsday weapon.
Added to that, we have a feisty princess, a sundered love affair and a race of deadly telepathic spider people loyal only to the Valkar.
It is explained early on that Earth is a lost part of the Empire that has not yet been reclaimed as we are a fringe world and somewhat retarded.
One day we’ll be really advanced and united under an unelected hereditary galactic monarchy. Can’t wait.
Priest novels have never been an easy read, although they can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, in my experience once one has finished reading them, more of which later. He has never gone in for infodumping or providing easy explanations for the reader, and his work tends to be a puzzle, or – in the nature of one of his favourite themes – a magical act of misdirection where the reader has to spot the clues in order to interpret the reality of what he or she is experiencing.
Reality is the major theme here, or alternate realities. Priest is exploring a concept which Moorcock employed throughout his career and indeed used to connect his many disparate works with each other.
The central character is Tibor Tarent, a photographer from the Islamic Republic of Great Britain, some time after the 2030s. He has been returned to England from Turkey for a debriefing following the death of his nurse wife Melanie in an apparent terrorist attack. This terrifying new ‘adjacency’ weapon appears as a light above the target. What then follows is that everything in an equilateral pyramid below is apparently destroyed, leaving a perfectly triangular blast area. It would have been interesting for Priest to have explored the workings and history of the IRGB a little more. Here, it is merely a presented fact, employed as a backdrop to Tibor’s dystopia.
Tibor learns that the authorities are interested in him because he once photographed Thijs Rietveld, the Nobel Prize winning scientist who discovered and developed the adjacency technology.
On returning to London he discovers that Notting Hill has been destroyed in the same way (I note that another critic has pointed out that this may be a bit of an overreaction to the effect of the Richard Curtis movie, but hey ho).
Interspersed with Tarent’s journey to Warnes’ Farm, where he is due to be interviewed by unspecified government officials, are other stories, set in the First and Second World Wars, and on the island of Prachous, a setting from from a previous novel ‘The Dream Archipelago’.
In all these sequences we find alternate versions or reflections of Tarent and Melanie. Two are magicians or illusionists echoing the themes of reality and illusion from ‘The Prestige’. A stage magician called Tommy Trent is drafted to the front line of The First World War, along with HG Wells, in an effort to devise a plan to make British planes less visible to the Germans.
In World War II, a pilot called Torrance is connected by chance to a Polish female pilot who is drawn to him because of his resemblance to her lost lost lover Tomasz.
And on Prachous, there are two incarnations of the couple; one of the males being a photographer and the other another magician. The Melanie figures are a pilot, a religious guide, and a nurse. This continues a regular theme of Priest’s of doubles, twins and doppelgangers which appear in his past work to a greater or lesser degree.
All the sequences have a certain sense of illogicality or unreality about them, certainly in the sense that on at least two occasions women who seem initially cold and aloof initiate rampant sex with the Tibor incarnation.
Indeed, Priest keeps us guessing throughout, as the Tibor Tarent sequences may or may not reflect the same reality.
I have always been a fan of those works which do not explain everything. Many authors feel they have to do a Downton Abbey and tie up all the loose ends, marry off all the single people and leave no question unanswered, which for me is rather more unreal than any of Priest’s realities here.
One of the most fascinating sections is the one dealing with the interview with Thijs Rietveld where – like an illusionist – he demonstrates the adjacency field with no explanation while having his photograph taken by Tibor in his garden. A conch shell appears to move without volition between his left and right hand while he stands there unmoving.
Leaving a mystery unsolved is the best way to ensure that a work stays on in one’s head, and Priest leaves many haunting questions here. Many people see that as a bad thing, but I would disagree. The novel persists in one’s head where other works with ‘closure’ (ironically the title of one of the sections toward the end) are soon dismissed by the conscious process.
There is a resolution, or is there? It’s difficult to tell with Priest. Maybe we have all been misdirected and the entire book is one enormous conjuring trick, designed to lead us to an erroneous conclusion while the real truth lies hidden like Schrodinger’s cat, waiting for us to open the box.
Ten stories from Eric Brown, of varying quality, set in various parts of the world or universe.
There are recurring themes of Death (or perhaps mortality) and identity. There a couple of stories which are a little weak, although on the whole they are fascinating little gems, featuring well-rounded characters, and not all of them Anglo-American Anglo Saxon folk either, which makes a pleasant change.
A very easy and enjoyable read.
Venus Macabre (Aboriginal Science Fiction, Winter 1998)
A tale of two men obsessed with death. One is a conceptual artist who is equipped with a device which records his mind. He perpetually destroys himself as a performance before spending seven days in the impervious device while his body is being regrown. The other, who attends his final performance, is a TV host who employs empaths to track suicides. Their final days and their actual suicides are filmed and shown on a popular prime time show.
This tale cleverly unravels the history of the two protagonists and what else they have in common.
The Frankenberg Process (Interzone, #171 September 2001)
A fascinating story with a very retro feel to it. The Frankenberg Process splits top level executives of a vast Corporation into two separate but identical individuals, keeping one on Earth and teleporting the other to work on a distant alien world, never to return.
It’s a tale of corporate greed and control, but also examines the human effects of such a process.
Skyball (The Edge, Vol. 2, #5, August-September 1997)
In a near future Far East, a form of quidditch is played, with teams zooming about in powered harnesses. A telepath, who used to be employed to scout out talent by seeing their potential in their minds, is now employed seeking out criminals. He is at an important Skyball final as a tip has been received that someone will attempt to kill one of the players.
While there, he discovers a crippled girl who has the mind of a brilliant Skyball strategist, and conceives the idea of temporarily transferring her mind into that of a fading star player. .
Bengal Blues (The Angels of Life and Death 2010)
A weak but atmospheric story about a telepathic detective on the trail of a man who has married a prostitute. The ending is a little rushed and awkward for me. It seems as if it should be part of a larger work.
The Nilakantha Scream (Interzone, #48 June 1991)
Telepaths again feature in this odd tale of an interstellar contact crew returning from a world where they were deeply traumatised and have been emitting a daily psychic scream on their way back home. This is however, more about the central figure and her relationship to her boss and to one of the crew returning from space.
The Thallian Intervention (The Edge, Vol. 2, #2, February-March 1996)
One of the weaker tales in ‘Angels of Life and Death’ is an attempt at an early Twentieth Century style, where Mr Meredith, a passenger on a liner to Singapore meets an alien visitor from the future.
The Earth is doomed, but the aliens plan to effectively copy the Earth, transport it to their own time period, and hopefully save Humanity from destroying itself.
It ultimately looks at the same themes as ‘The Frankenburg Process’ but not to any great degree.
The Tapestry of Time (Fantasy Adventures 12 – 2006)
An archaeologist is struggling to come to terms with an anomalous corpse from the 11th Century that has turned up. Not long after an old colleague invites him to have a tour of his project, which appears to be a working time-travel process.
Without giving too much away there is not enough of a mystery, and the piece could have been longer with a little more plot.
The Frozen Woman (Interzone, #190 July-August 2003)
A gardener for a large private estate is discovered frozen, as if in stasis, in Sainsburys. A year later he recovers, apparently none the worse for his experience. However, he will only speak with one specific reporter, a woman about whom he seems to know and care a great deal, although she has never met him.
Brown’s aliens and evolved humans (as are described here and in the stories in Angels of Life and Death) seem in the main to be benevolent, which is interesting and a little refreshing.
Crystals (New Moon #2, January 1992)
An alien ship crashed just off an island on Britain’s coast. It has been thoroughly examined by most of the world’s specialists and the alien bodies removed.
When the story begins the ship has become merely a scenic view for the islanders. The narrator moved to the island following an acrimonious divorce. His estranged daughter is due to arrive for a visit and her mother has not told her that the man she calls father is not her father.
As she arrives, the island is beset by a storm and the next day alien crystals are found on the beach, crystals that can one record one’s thoughts and experiences.
It is not a bad story but would benefit with some extra length and more conflict.
Angels of Life and Death ( Spectrum SF, #5 February 2001)
Just after Ben, an artist, discovers he has terminal cancer, aliens arrive, announcing their intention to take Earth’s mortally sick for a trip around the Universe. Ben volunteers and is introduced to Tallibeth, his guide, a humanoid being who appears to be composed of light.
The Tallani, as the aliens are known, take Ben to various worlds across the Universe and ultimately tell him that they can, if he wishes, cure him.
As with some of his other stories there is an exploration of what it means to have quality of life.
This is a refreshingly short novel at a time when genre novels are bulking up and threatening in many cases to be only the first volume of a proposed trilogy. It is also quite minimalist, and what I would describe as an ‘old fashioned novel’. It keeps the characters to a bare minimum which helps to focus on them and their role in the drama.
Beth is a teacher in a near future Britain scarred and flooded by the effects of climate change. Her husband, Vic, injured and traumatised by military service in Iran and subsequently subject to episodes of violence, was given the opportunity to try a revolutionary treatment in which a machine removes traumatic memories. The treatment (partly as a result of Beth’s actions) left him a near-vegetable, and he is being looked after in a care home. Now, Beth believes, having purchased one of the original machines, that she can return the memories he recorded back into his head and resurrect him, thus regaining her husband and absolving her guilt.
There are echoes of the Frankenstein mythos referenced within the novel, in some cases quite obviously. Victor is the name of Shelley’s legendary scientist in the original Frankenstein novel and Beth is no doubt a contraction of ‘Elizabeth’, the name of Victor Frankenstein’s doomed wife.
On the machine recordings, Vic tells his life story to, or at least is interviewed by a Doctor ‘Robert’ which is the first name of the ship’s Captain in ‘Frankenstein’ who finds the monster in the Arctic and narrates his sorry tale.
There is a scene where a child is thrown from a cliff into the sea, which brings to mind a scene from the original Boris Karloff film. The murdered child’s name is William, who in ‘Frankenstein’ was killed by the monster because he was Victor’s younger brother.
The roles however are not carried through as it is Beth who takes on the role of ‘the giver of life’ to Victor, who is cast as the monster. Unless I am missing some additional subtext there is no good reason for this extensive connection to the Shelley novel.
Providing conflict is Beth’s new colleague at her school; Laura. In an unguarded moment Beth reveals her plans for Vic to Laura only to discover that Laura is a devout Christian fundamentalist who is vehemently opposed to Machine technology rebuilding someone’s soul as she sees it. Laura’s character seems not as well-developed as it may have been and it might have been an idea to have had some additional initial exposure and time with Beth to a) establish some other aspects of her personality and b) to allow her to get Beth into her confidence.
Some have criticised ‘The Machine’ for its bleak background and unsympathetic characters. I would disagree, since Smythe has created a plausible version of a near-future UK in which climate change has seen the sea invading the land.
Beth’s character seems fairly well-rounded and one can not escape the fact that she lives alone in a flat on a sink estate in a town with no future. It is necessarily bleak. In its own way, this is a modern Gothic horror built around the central figure of the Machine itself, a huge and enigmatic presence which has moods demonstrated by its various hums, engine roars and physical vibrations. One gets the impression that the machine may be almost orchestrating events for its own purposes. It is reminiscent of Stephen Gregory’s ‘The Cormorant’ in this respect.
The novel leads relentlessly and inevitably to its (perhaps a little too predictable) conclusion, but is no less satisfying for that. Smythe exhibits a welcome economy of writing which flies in the face of some of the more corpulent novels weighing down the bookshelves of genre readers. Let’s hope this is the start of a new trend.
This is an interesting collection of Egan’s published stories from the early Nineties, many of which examine the Dickian issue of what it means to be conscious and how we define ‘the personality’. Egan often looks at this question from intriguing and sometimes oblique angles.
The Infinite Assassin (1991)
Interzone 48 – June 1991
The protagonist is a man employed because his self tends to remain consistent across infinite realities in a worlds where a drug called S allows access to these parallel worlds. His job is to track down the few people who do not just dream their alternate lives but drag the rest of us in there with them.
The Hundred Light-Year Diary (1992)
Interzone 55 – January 1992
The conceit behind this story is that we have discovered a reverse universe running backwards and can receive ‘diaries’ from those who have already lived their lives identically to ours. Thus one can review one’s life in advance. However, the question is how much of the truth would be included?
Interzone 36 – June 1990
A satirical tale of eugenics and designer baby making
The Caress (1990)
Asimov’s – Jan 1990
A detective in the near future investigating a homicide finds a chimera with the body of a leopard and the head of a woman and becomes embroiled in a strange world of bioengineering and art.
Blood Sisters (1991)
Interzone 44 – February 1991
A story of twin sisters who take different oaths in life, and one of whom becomes the victim of a genetic disease. the tale however, takes an unexpected direction.
Interzone 41 – November 1991
Egan examines one of the possible outcomes of a society where one can purchase implants to change the foundations of one’s personality in order to remove deep seated feelings like grief, religious belief or inhibitions, or to implant them.
The Safe-Deposit Box (1990)
Asimov’s – September 1990
A rather complex tale of a man who wakes up every day in the same city but in a different body
A future boss of a movie studios awakens after an assassination experience to discover that he is viewing himself from a point near the ceiling.
A Kidnapping (1995)
A wealthy man receives a videocall telling him that they ‘have his wife’ and demanding a ransom. Another examination of what it means – objectively in this case – for a personality to be copied.
Learning to Be Me (1990)
Interzone #37 – July 1990
The Ndoli Jewel – as featured in other Egan stories – is at the centre of this tale of a question of identity.
The Moat (1991)
Aurealis #3 – 1991
A future Australia in an overpopulated world where a lawyer working for displaced immigrants is disturbed by his fiancee’s tales of a rapist’s sperm samples having no discernible DNA. A clever story that manages to cover contemporary issues obliquely.
The Walk (1992)
Asimov’s – December 1992
A man is forced at gunpoint to inhale a neural implant that will alter his viewpoint and beliefs.
The Cutie (1989)
Interzone #29 – May 1989
A rather poignant story set in a world where one can buy a designer baby implanted with a suicide gene that kicks in at four years old.
Into Darkness (1992)
Asimov’s – January 1992
Reminiscent of Budrys’ ‘Rogue Moon’, this is an excerpt from the life of a specialised rescue worker, one who runs through the rando wormholes that have appeared to plague the world. One can run through them in one direction when they appear and hope that you can rescue people who have been trapped inside, as one can only go forward. If you try to turn back, you will die. You must carry on to the other end and hope to get out before the wormhole collapses.
Appropriate Love (1991)
Interzone #50 – August 1991
In a future healthcare insurance scenario, a wife has to have her husband’s comatose brain implanted into her body until his clone body has grown to the point where the brain can be replaced. What effect, however, will this have on their relationship?
The Moral Virologist (1990)
Pulphouse #8 – Summer 1990
Egan takes a swipe at the madness of US Right Wing Christianity in a tale of a Christian Virologist who has designed a virus that will kill anyone who has sex with more than one person.
Eidolon #9 – Winter 1992
Another story based in the world of the ‘Ndoli Jewel’ where a couple decide to try and see what it is like to be each other.
Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies (1992)
Interzone #61 – July 1992
A slightly Ian-Watson-esque story following an event in 2018 when everyone in the world became mentally susceptible to each other’s deepest beliefs. Consequently those who believed similar things joined together and ‘attractor’ wells formed, while those whose beliefs are fairly agnostic – such as the narrator – wander the world in the gaps between, pulled by the various tides of belief.
‘To conquer death, learn to live again.
FUGITIVE ON AN ALIEN WORLD
To the man in the weird bubble-car, its design was only part of the nightmare. He dabbed and pulled frantically at strange things like paddles, saw the winding road swinging and twisting in front of him, tried to turn a corner, but didn’t make it.
When he awoke, the Earthan remembered the madness of that speeding chase – yet he knew the worst of it was his inabiity to recall who he was, where he was, and why he was being chased.
Then a lulling voice spoke inside his head: ‘You are on Kalmed; I’m Aporia. Your people say you’ve killed one of my fellow Kalmedans…’
Somehow the Earthan knew he was no murderer – but he sensed something chillingly unfamiliar in the interaction of his mind and the body it inhabited…’
Blurb from the 1966 Ace doubles G-606 paperback edition.
A young man finds himself at the wheel of a speeding vehicle on an alien world, not knowing how he got there or, more importantly, who he is. When he crashes, he is found and rescued by one of the indigenous humanoids: Aporia, an artist of sorts. The world is Kalmed, where a small community of humans live.
The young man, a spacer called Jim Hart, has it seems been accused of murdering one of the native inhabitants.
The Kalmedans have certain psi-powers and Aporia senses that there is something not right about the man she has rescued. Not only can he remember nothing of what he has done or who he is, he seems to have a personality that does not belong in the body it is inhabiting.
The plot thickens when the young man is taken in by what serves as the Kalmedan authorities, is sprung by his former shipmates who he does not recall. He and Aporia then go on the run. She has realised that she needs to take him on a journey across her planet in order to prove her suspicions to herself and her people.
Phillifent employs the device of the amnesiac hero cleverly here as the alien planet is seen through the eyes of someone who has – to all intents and purposes – forgotten all he has experienced of it. The reader and Jim Hart are therefore introduced to this world together.
It’s also a murder mystery of sorts, although the concept of murder and the question of who, if anyone, has been murdered, become somewhat fluid by the time one reaches the denouement.
‘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.