‘BEWARE THE PLANET-WRECKERS!
The regime of the Zarles had turned Earth into Hell. Possessing strange unearthly perception, weapons of cosmic destruction, and motivated by an inhuman cruelty, these overlords from space had enslaved the Earth in a feudal terror. Then, one day, Jeff Gambrell, a human slave, defied his particular tyrant once too often and found himself facing the seemingly impossible challenge – how to escape. It had been done once before, therefore he knew that what had always seemed impossible was not…
Jeff’s life and death struggle against the fiendish cunning of the Zarles is set against a startling background of unleashed interplanetary fury. Joseph E. Kelleam’s new novel explores the frightening depths of man’s inventive powers with brilliant detail and breath-taking power.’
Blurb from the 1956 D-173 Ace Doubles paperback edition.
Kelleam’s novel of Earth occupation by the tentacle-handed Zarles isn’t actually that bad. Earth has been occupied by these alien invaders for generations and humans appear only to now exist in slave labour camps.
Jim Gambrell, assisted by his brother Jeff, manages to escape over the wall, and although hunted by by his alien slavemaster Raiult and his equally alien hounds, is at the last minute whisked away by a rescuer in a globular air vehicle.
The narrative then follows Jim’s brother Jeff, left alone in the labour camp and plotting an escape of his own.
Raiult has a ‘pleasure slave’ for want of a better word. The Zarles have bred a strain of human women called Kittens who are essentially pets. They are blonde and petite and one can’t help but make comparisons with earlier US works such as Cummings ‘The White Invaders’ where aliens (often dark skinned aliens) take a liking to the white womenfolk of America.
There’s no suggestion of sexual exploitation here as the Zarles – as is explained later – are essentially sexless and have transferred their reproduction to technological means. Raiult employs his Kitten as a companion and seems to derive pleasure from her singing.
She is not as docile and compliant as Raiult imagines, however, and steals some of her master’s devices to help Jeff escape where he is in turn rescued by Red O’Leary (the pilot who rescued his brother and father) and reunited with them in a space station of free humans seeking to overthrow the power of the Overlords.
There’s a bit of an odd detour through the worlds of probability, which looks like a desperate way of solving a couple of plot resolution issues, but on the whole it’s a pleasurable enough read.
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.
It’s a very odd thing to come to terms with, but there’s something very cosy about Lumley’s work. Maybe it’s a nostalgia for simpler times when there were good people and bad people (on both sides of the Iron Curtain) and there was an Iron Curtain.
Maybe it’s because one knows it’s all going to be all right at the end of the novel – at least until the next one – or maybe it’s because Lumley’s world harks back to an era earlier than the Nineteen Eighties. There’s something very quaintly dated about E-Branch which is more Bletchley Park than a Secret Intelligence Department of the Nineteen Eighties.
E-Branch is of course the British Government’s ESPer division, a group of people with paranormal powers set up to counter the USSR’s own paranormal division.
Michael ‘Jazz’ Simmons is a non-ESP member of British Intelligence and in Perchorsk, Russia, investigating a ravine, the bottom of which has been coated with lead.
Simmons is captured and taken into the base below the lead shielding where he discovers the truth. A botched attempt by the USSR to employ Star Wars laser technology resulted in a malfunction which caused the pent up laser energy to create a ‘grey hole’, a gleaming sphere suspended within a cavern which permits a one-way trip for organic beings from our Earth to a parallel world, or from there to here.
The other world is the world of the Wamphyri, and some specimens have already traveled through to our world.
Now Khuv, the security chief in charge of Perchorsk, is going to send Jazz Simmons through.
Harry Keogh is back after five years in the wilderness searching for his wife and young son. They do not appear to be in the world of the living or the dead.
Darcy Clarke, now in charge of E-Branch, finds Jazz Simmons’ disappearance equally baffling as jazz was being monitored by an E-Branch sensitive, and connects it to the disappearances of Harry’s family.
The narrative then alternates between events here and in the world of the Wamphyri.
It’s a much stronger novel than Necroscope II – Wamphyri and allows Lumley to examine what Wamphyri life might be like if these lone predators had to live and share resources with each other.
If nothing else this series is a wonderful reinvention of pulp fiction, and one gets the impression (by some kind of literary osmosis) that Lumley loved writing this stuff just as much enjoyed reading it. It was never going to win any Hugo awards but to be honest, given the choice of reading one or two of their less justifiable nominations and these, I’d go for the Wamphyri every time.
‘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/…))
‘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.
‘Scobie Redfern was just a nice good-looking American young man who had never heard of such things as Portals, parallel worlds and Trugs. So when someone materialised in his apartment with the Trugs in hot pursuit, it all seemed sort of a funny game. But there was nothing amusing about it once the monsters themselves arrived.
For it wasn’t long before Scobie was himself running for his life from world to world and from Portal to Portal just to keep one jump ahead of the Trugs and hoping that THE WIZARDS OF SENCHURIA might, just might, be able to get him back home alive and whole!’
Blurb from the 12140 Ace Double 1969 paperback edition.
This is one of a series of books Bulmer wrote which feature ‘portals’ between worlds. Certain humans are mutant ‘porteurs ‘ who can sense the presence of these gates and open them.
Scobie Redfern is a fairly ordinary Manhattan guy who gets into a cab one winter night only to find that a large man has entered the other passenger door. Before any argument can start the stranger who appears worried agrees to ride to the restaurant Scobie was heading for.
The stranger, however, is being followed by monstrous creatures called Trugs, who now have Scobie’s scent. His only hope is to follow the stranger and some of his friends through a portal to another world. So begins Scobie’s adventure.
In structure it reads very much like the work of Otis Adelbert Kline since Scobie moves from place to place; at first becoming a slave in in one of the mines of the Contessa, the arch-villain of the piece. He escapes with the help of his fellow-slaves and a young porteur called Val and they escape to another world only to find themselves trapped in the city of the Wizards of Senchuria.
One gets the impression that Bulmer – much as Otis Adelbert Kline did – was making it up as he went along without much thought for the eventual outcome.
The ending is particularly silly as Scobie has decided that the Senchurians – despite the fact they enslaved him and fed on his emotions – are not such bad eggs after all and agrees to help them in their fight against invading beasties from yet another dimension.
All Redfern has to do is obtain a super-weapon from another world two dimensions down the road, which he does with surprising alacrity. The Contessa appears at this point, a Disney Witch figure, cackling from within an impregnable sphere of force. Her come-uppance will need to wait for another day.
I’ve always been intrigued as to what deep-seated psychological need is satisfied by the presence of aristocratic or Royal titles and figures in SF. The Galactic Empire, for instance, is a popular rabbit to pull out of the SF hat and often assumes a feudal system with the Empress/Emperor at the top of the tree and the riff raff at the bottom.
Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ is the most famous Galactic Empire example because the books focus on ‘The Empire’ as an entity, examining its political and social demise and planned resurrection.
The ethics of this feudal system are never explained.
Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ paints something far more believable. The concept of Royalty in Space has long been in the visual media from the time of Flash Gordon and Emperor Ming, along with Star Wars, Babylon Five, ‘Stargate ‘ along with its TV spinoffs and all the other formulaic space opera clones that get churned out season after season.
It also turns up in these borderline Science Fantasy epics from the likes of Lois McMaster Bujold and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Is it that we have some innate psychological need for drama featuring class systems and aristocratic titles?
This book, like most others featuring titles, royalty and feudal systems is very much on the Romantic side of the genre. There’s a great deal of fighting alien beasties and general derring do and not really enough of the derring don’t.
‘Danny Caiden has always thought of himself as a normal guy: an ordinary young American with no special talents leading an ordinary, uneventful life.
Normal, that is, until he suddenly realises he can see into the future.
Before he knows it, Danny has developed a dozen more alarming powers, lost his job, run foul of the FBI – and found himself at the centre of a shattering psychic struggle for the future of humanity…’
Blurb from the 1975 Arrow paperback edition.
Although a minor Blish novel this, for its time, employs serious scientific principles and what must have been cutting edge technology to explore and justify the existence of ESP ‘talents’.
Danny Caiden, a young writer for a US food publication, is concerned by occasional ‘flashes’ of precognition, a concern which becomes of vital importance when he is sacked for writing a about a pending indictment of a wheat company for price-fixing; a report for which he has no evidence.
Once fired, he visits a fortune-teller, attracts the attention of her young assistant, then decides to cash in on his talent by playing the stock market and gambling on horse-races.
Although he wins in both cases, it attracts the attention of both the FBI and the organisation behind the illegal gambling, and he is forced to go on the run where he eventually ends up in the hands of a Psychic Research group; a brotherhood of psi-talented men who want to either initiate him into their ranks or kill him.
It’s a short but fast-paced book, taking in not only the ESP talents such as psychokinesis, telepathy and precognition, but also the concept of parallel worlds.
It suffers from a surfeit if characters and a lack of development of the main characters. Todd, for instance, who is a vital character, does little during the novel and is then kidnapped, only to reappear at the end to help Danny save the world from a psychokinetic madman.
This is a 2013 revision of Moorcock’s ‘The Dreamthief’s Daughter’. The original title was far more evocative so it’s not clear why it has been changed.
Ulric von Bek, an aspect of The Eternal Champion and Elric of Melnibone, is an albino aristocrat in wartime Germany and heir to the von Bek estate and the black sword Ravenbrand.
His cousin Gaynor, now an officer in the SS, visits him one day and after a period of obfuscation, tells von Bek that the nazis want to take the sword into safekeeping.
Meanwhile von Bek is having dreams of dragons and his other self, Elric of Melnibone.
It takes a while to get into its stride, but Moorcock takes us, once more, into his baroque multiverse, with its Lords and Ladies of Chaos and Law.
Moorcock, like Asimov, seems keen to revise his work (at least his later pieces) in order that his canon can be seen as a homogeneous whole. By the very nature of Moorcock’s multiverse it is an easier task than that of Asimov, whose attempts to combine the internal realities of his Foundation and Robot universes were on the whole unsuccessful and demeaning to the original stories and novels.
Having said that, it is heartening to see writers tackling social and political issues, and there is a chilling topicality given the recent rise in extreme right wing parties across Europe.
This is late Moorcock, and despite the fact that the quality of writing is superior to his frenetic output of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, there is some essential element of excitement missing.
Part of the problem is that the Science Fantasy of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies with its hybrid of Fantasy and SF, was a thing of its time. The genre has moved on, and although it still exists, is a very different beast. Readers familiar with Moorcock’s early work will therefore get far more out of this than new readers. He is, at least here, preaching to the converted.
‘‘My first task will be to find an equitable disposition of the tens of millions of sleeping.’
It was 2080 AD – election year. Jim Briskin, candidate for the Presidency, was attempting to solve the unsolvable. Earth’s overpopulation crisis had driven millions into voluntary deep-freeze, to wait for better times. Now the pressure was on to wake them up – but where could they go? Eventually a solution presented itself from beyond the limits of human credibility.’
Blurb from the 1977 Methuen paperback edition
‘It’s the year 2080, and the Earth’s seemingly insurmountable overpopulation problem has been alleviated temporarily by placing millions of people in voluntary deep freeze. But in election year, the pressure is on to find a solution which will enable them to resume their lives. For Jim Briskin, presidential candidate, it seems an insoluble problem – until a flaw in the new instantaneous travel system opens up the possibility of finding whole new worlds to colonise.’
Blurb from the 2003 Gollancz paperback edition
For the sake of clarity the text of the 2003 Gollancz edition of ‘Cantata’ is identical to my copy of the Methuen 1977 ‘A Crack in Space’ (and presumably to the original 1966 text) although there was an original shorter novella called ‘Cantata 140’ published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in July 1964.
The title is taken from Bach’s ‘Cantata 140’ (‘Sleepers Awake’) and refers to the fact that in 2080 AD, Earth has a serious population problem and millions of people (mostly black) have gone into voluntary deep-freeze to be awoken when the situation has improved.
The cost of maintaining these sleepers however is prohibitive and Black Presidential Candidate Jim Briskin is under pressure to find a solution to the problem.(Jim Briskin, by the way, is also the name of a character in an earlier mainstream Dick novel)
Elsewhere, famous organ-transplant surgeon Dr Lurton Sands is being divorced by his wife Myra, an abort consultant, due to his affair with Cally Vale. Myra has hired Tito Cavelli, a black detective, to investigate her husband’s remarkable facility for finding organs at short notice for his transplants, and to find his mistress, who has disappeared without trace.
Dr Sands has left his Jiffi-Scuttler with Pethel Jiffi-Scuttler Sales & Service for repair, although there appears to be nothing wrong with it. It transpires that this particular Scuttler contains a flaw, a portal to a parallel and seemingly empty Earth where Sands has hidden his mistress.
When the crack is discovered, Birkin announces that the sleepers can be awakened to populate the new Earth, but it is soon discovered that this world is inhabited by Homo Sirianthropus.
The current president, Bill Schwartz, is keen to capitalise on the discovery and – in league with Leon Turpin – Head of Terran Development – initiates the migration despite the presence of the ‘Peking Men’.
Another interesting feature is an off-world brothel, ‘The Golden Door Moments of Bliss Satellite’ run by Thisbe Olt and George Walt. George Walt is a set of Siamese twins who share a common head, one of the bodies being George and the other, Walt. When Briskin threatens to close down the satellite George Walt escapes to the alternate Earth where the natives start to worship him as ‘The Wind God’
It’s one of Dick’s lesser novels and comes over as being not so much hastily written (as a lot of Dick’s good work was indeed hastily written) as not thought through. It suffers for one thing from an abundance of characters, some of whom are underused and seem to have no real business being in the novel, such as Phil Danville (Birkin’s speechwriter) and Don Stanley (Leo Turpin’s second-in-command). One gets the impression that Dick would have liked to have expanded on these characters but ran out of time or space.
The basic message seems to be that if we are faced with sharing the Earth with a different – if related – species, it puts humanity’s petty racist views into perspective.
The trademark Dick devices here are the strange names, the mutant/deformed human, the soulless corporate interest vs the regular Joe’s working in the small business (it is ironic that the gateway to the new world is discovered in the workshop of Pethel Jiffi-Scuttler Sales & Service), the strange device (the Jiffi-Scuttler) and the failed relationships.
Of ‘fakes’ (which manifest in most of Dick’s work) there is only George Walt who –although he may originally have been two people, is now only one, one half of him having died at some point in the past. This half was replaced with an artificial body so that George could maintain the illusion of his twin being still alive.
‘Others called their expedition a “wild ghost chase.” But for Space Commodore John Grimes and the beautiful Sonya Verrill who had initiated the project, it was strictly scientific research. Their trip along the rim of the galaxy in search of two men – two dead men – was also an investigation of the long-puzzling phenomenon of the Rim Ghosts. They would do this by penetrating into alternate universes.
There was only one real problem involved in this study – how to report its results. For once the breakthrough to an alternate world was achieved, there was no known way of getting out….’
Blurb from the 1964 Ace Doubles paperback edition
Commodore Grimes is bored being in charge of a spaceport, until he gets a visit from Sonya Verrill, a woman who can call on the resources of the Galactic Federation to mount a project to investigate Rim Ghosts. Rim Ghosts are (as the name would suggest) phantoms sighted on the Galactic rim and are thought to be visions of ourselves from the Alternate Universe. Verrill’s ulterior motive however is to reach the alternate universe and reunite with one of her dead lovers who may still be alive in the alternate reality.
Grimes selects a crew who have all had experience of sighting Rim Ghosts and they set off.
This is a minor work from Chandler, and contains some implausibilities (within the context of the internal reality) and unanswered questions.
Desperate to find some way of contacting the Rim Ghosts Grimes initiates a seance, to be run by Calhoun, a member of an odd spiritualist sect. They do indeed contact something, but it is a malign entity which flings them into a universe, empty but for the frozen remains of ancient seagoing vessels, aeroplanes and spaceships.
They spend the rest of the novel exploring their surroundings and trying to get back.
It comes across as a very hurried piece of work in which Chandler intended to go to the Alternate Universe (which they do, very briefly, before hopping back home) but got distracted by his dark Sargasso of Space place.