My life in outer space

Psi Powers

The Mind Pool – Charles Sheffield (1986)

The Mind Pool

The original version of this novel was The Nimrod Hunt, written as a tribute to Alfred Bester and attempting a Besterite style. This was revised and re-released with the title of ‘The Mind Pool’ as Sheffield was apparently not happy with the original ending.
Centuries from now, Man has moved out into space and formed alliances with a group of alien races. The aliens are all, it appears, mentally unable to accept the concept of killing sentient life and are both appalled and fascinated by Humanity’s casual attitude to killing even members of its own species.
A human scientist, Livia Morgan, under the command of Esro Mondrian, Head of Border Security, has been experimenting with sentient constructs to patrol the borders of Human space as a precaution against contact with hostile aliens.
The constructs turn on their master however and are destroyed, but not before one escapes through a Mattin Link (a matter transmitter essentially) to another part of Human space.
The alien council, having been notified, determine that teams, each one containing members of each alien race, be trained to hunt the construct.
The aliens have stipulated that the human elements must have no prior military training, which makes selection practically impossible unless one searches on the most lawless planet in space, which happens to be Earth.
Esro Mondrian has two other reasons for visiting Earth. One is to meet his lover, Lady Tatiana, a woman addicted to the Paradox drug. The other is revealed later in the novel.
Luther Brachis has a friendly but competitive work relationship with Esro, but employs devious means to achieve his ends, actions which set in motion a complex series of events.
There’s an awful lot going on in this novel which is a lot more complex – structurally and in terms of plot – than other Sheffield works. We have troubled and complex relationships, trips to other worlds, space station laboratories, the grotesques of the warrens of Earth and a set of aliens that are biologically fascinating, but imbued with cosy Simak-esque personalities. Indeed, there are elements of this that remind one of ‘The Werewolf Principle’ particularly when we encounter the Mind Pool phenomenon, whereby a mental gestalt is achieved.
We have three couples, all of whom have issues of one sort or another, the male halves being irrevocably changed by the end of the novel. Indeed, some characters undergo a form of role reversal.
We meet Chan Dalton, central figure of the sequel ‘The Spheres of Heaven’ as a physically perfect male but with the mental development of a small child. Since his childhood he has been looked after by Leah, who loves him. Mondrian, desperate for recruits, and having bought Leah and Dalton’s indenture without having realised Dalton’s deficiencies, decides to employ banned technology to try and stimulate Chan’s mind into growth.
By the end of the novel Chan is a mature intelligent individual while Brachis and Mondrian, for different reasons, have been left in a mentally vegetative state, now being cared for by their respective partners, as Leah once cared for Chan.
The Morgan Construct itself is almost immaterial to the story. It is a Maguffin around which this complex interplay of politics and relationships is wound.
It has its flaws. There’s a certain retro SF style to it, in keeping with Sheffield’s claim that the novel is an Alfred Bester tribute. This works well enough in all the locations barring Earth itself which is roughly sketched with little depth and containing characters that border on parody.
The Mind Pool element is introduced very late in the story and its genesis and method of operation is a little unclear, at least to me.
On balance though, it’s a great bit of space opera featuring a set of main characters with unusually complex motivations.

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Galactic Pot Healer – Philip K Dick (1969)

Galactic Pot-Healer

Joe Fernwright is a pot healer – as was his his father before him – in a future totalitarian dystopia although his services are somewhat redundant since no one makes or breaks ceramics any more.
One day Joe gets a mysterious message offering him a job on Sirius V. The message turns out to be from an all powerful entity known as the Glimmung who is launching a project to raise a sunken cathedral from the ocean bed.
Being a Dick novel, things are not as straightforward as this synopsis would imply.
Fernwright is one of a large number of humans and alien experts in various fields who have been promised a fortune in payment to undertake work on the project. Many, however, are suspicious of the Glimmung’s ultimate objectives, especially as the experts all appear to have all been implicated in various crimes just prior to departure which they suspect were engineered by this being.
There are various Dick hallmarks here, such as the grasping ex-wife, the concept of Fatalism and a surprisingly overt use of humour where he is normally more subtle and understated. We have the world of the dead and the decaying beneath the ocean where at one point Joe meets his dead self.
There is also a religion which features the concepts of the duality of light and dark, something he had already explored, perhaps to better effect, in ‘The Cosmic Puppets’.
We are also in familiar territory with Dick’s lackadaisical attitude to technology and actual science since there is no attempt to explain how the ships that ferry the team to Sirius V operate or indeed the very idiosyncratic robots with whom they have to deal once they arrive. We have no problem as readers with the fact that Sirius V has Earth standard gravity and atmosphere. It didn’t matter to Dick, and for reasons I can’t fathom, doesn’t matter a jot to me either. He somehow always get away with it.
Much of the novel hinges on truth and trust. It becomes clear that the Glimmung is quite capable of lying, and Joe and his colleagues have to employ a a mixture of logic and intuition to determine the best course of action. Added to this is the book of the Kalends, a kind of prophetic bible which changes daily and seems to prophesy the future of the protagonists with uncanny accuracy (in English and various other languages, both human and alien).
Joe, on his dive into the ocean to see the cathedral – against the Glimmung’s express instructions – discovers an ancient vase half covered in coral but one which carries a personal message for him under the glaze. He notices that some of the coral has been removed, which implies that he was meant to see it, but did the Glimmung forbid Joe to go down to the sunken cathedral simply because he knew that Joe then would?
This is one example of a paranoid undercurrent that runs like a thread throughout this novel showing Joe and his companions forced to question the veracity of what they have been told or read. It’s a fascinating and particularly Dickian concept but like almost every other concept in this book is underdeveloped.
There’s something else very flawed about this novel, most essentially in its internal reality which produces an uneasy mixture of tone. There are the serious scenes, such as Joe being given a message by his dead decaying self, and those in which we have comical robots called Willis and clams that tell jokes. Maybe Dick considered that the contrast would make the serious scenes more powerful but it just doesn’t work. ‘Clans of The Alphane Moon‘ held the balance perfectly and despite its ludicrous premise – that Earth had set up a Mental Health facility on one of the moons of Alpha Centauri which was cut off and left to its own devices during the long years of the Alphane war – is a far more complex, structured and amusing work.
This is not a major Dick novel but it has its moments and needs to be studied by Dick enthusiasts if only to identify the PKD trademarks and how they are related to their use in other novels.


The Brain-Stealers – Murray Leinster (1954)

The Brain Stealers

‘He Alone Defied the Cosmic Vampires!

When the outlawed scientist Jim Hunt leaped from the prison plane, he had no suspicion that he was not the only one falling silently through the midnight sky. But other, stranger exiles were landing at that very moment in the same backwoods region… exiles from the unknown depths of outer space, exiles seeking human food.
When Jim started to make his way back home, he discovered the full horror of that night’s events. For the people he met had become mere flesh-and-blood puppets, mindless creatures doing the bidding of the unseen invaders. And though every man’s hand was against him, both free and enslaved, Jim knew that he alone was humanity’s only hope for survival.

Murray Leinster’s BRAIN-STEALERS is an unusually gripping science-fiction novel of thought transference, invaders from space, and vampirism on a world-wide scale!’

Blurb from the 1954 Ace Double D-79 edition.

This is an expansion of the novella ‘The Man in the Iron Cap’ from Starling Stories (November 1947) and fits right into that subgenre of specifically US novels of the time which feature ‘aliens among us’ which may possibly represent a reflection of the US’ reaction to the cold war and the nationwide paranoia over communism at the time. (see The Puppet Masters and The Body Snatchers)
Leinster has created a future Earth where the Powers That Be – a worldspanning organisation known as Security – have become so obsessed with Human Safety that all dangerous research has been banned.
Jim Hunt was experimenting with thought fields, and was subsequently arrested and charged due to the dangerous nature of his experiments. Jim escapes from a plane, convincing the authorities he is dead.
Meanwhile, a ship of telepathic bloodsucking aliens have landed and have been mentally enslaving the population of an increasingly large area of rural America. Hunt discovers this and narrowly avoids becoming enslaved. He devises a cap made of iron wire that blocks the alien thought signals, then has to escape from the area, somehow warn the rest of the world and design a device that could save mankind.
There are some interesting parallels with Heinlein’s ‘Puppet Masters’, but one cannot say whether either writer was aware of the other’s work at the time, and without reading Leinster’s 1947 novella, I can’t say how much was changed for the 1954 novel, published after Heinlein’s 1951 Galaxy serialisation and novelisation.
The aliens, for one thing, breed though fission, dividing into two and moving on to new hosts. They are not concerned about the health and well-being of their hosts and, as in this novel, were brought to Earth by another enslaved race.
They are however very different novels, Heinlein’s being in any case by far the superior.
It’s very readable however, as Leinster’s work generally is, and has its moments of real drama and suspense, but ultimately is nothing out of the ordinary.


Skylark Duquesne – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1966)

Skylark DuQuesne (Skylark #4)

When last we saw DuQuesne in The Skylark of Valeron, he had been transformed into a being of pure mind by the other bodiless minds. They had all, in any case, been imprisoned in a vessel from which they could not escape and fired in a direction far away from the First Galaxy.
Seaton’s new alien friends, The Norlaminian minds, having thought things through, now realise that the vessel is likely to smash itself apart if it encounters any dense particles of matter at such an incalculable speed, and that DuQuesne is therefore likely to escape and return.
Seaton, thinking of Earth’s defence against such an outcome, enlists his alien friends to send out a specific thought, aimed at high powered minds who may have technology more advanced than currently known.
This is picked up by some of the humanoids in a far distant galaxy who are slaves of the Llurdians, a monstrous but ruthlessly logical race.
Some of the Fenachrone have also survived, and both DuQuesne and Seaton are ultimately forced to work together to battle an entire galaxy of evil Chlorans
Structurally it’s a bit of a mess. but its problems run deeper than that. The preceding volumes were all written in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties and were, to give Smith his due, cutting edge SF at the time.
Thirty years on, SF had changed a great deal and Smith had to produce a sequel that matched the original trilogy stylistically and with a consistent internal logic.
Smith himself was obviously much older and writing erratically. In ‘The Galaxy Primes‘ he introduced sexual themes which were of course being explored by other writers of the time. In Smith’s hands, however, they come over as being a little creepy.
In the Skylark universe it seems, many aliens wander about naked. So, being neighbourly and all, Seaton decides that he, Crane, Crane’s wife and Dottie should be naked too, as well as Hiro the space-chef and and his new ninja-assassin wife Lotus Blossom. Of course, they’re all perfectly happy with this notion.
DuQuesne gets his kit off too, in an odd encounter on board the ship of a new humanoid race. DuQuesne is considered suitable material for breeding and so is paired up with a willing woman who takes him off to extract his sperm in what one presumes is the usual way.
Genocide is still Smith’s preferred solution to any difficulties one may be having with truculent aliens, and wipes the Chlorans from the face of their galaxy.
Smith is retreading old ground here, resurrecting both the Fenachrone and the Chlorans, rather than creating new enemies to confront. There are in fact a surfeit of enemies, which results in people flitting hither and thither and yon, to very little effect.
Smith had never been overly concerned about relativity or indeed physics in general. Here Seaton (and indeed DuQuesne, the Fenachrone, and the human slaves of the LLurdians) is zipping about from galaxy to galaxy without any ill-effects or serious time-dilation issues.
The denouement also, is a little strange since DuQuesne decides he is going to set up his own Empire in which a form of eugenics will become part of social custom.
The Skylark series should, in all honesty, have been left as trilogy. This late addition adds nothing to the experience and comes as something of an anti-climax.


Skylark of Valeron – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1934)

Skylark of Valeron (Skylark, #3)

‘Valeron’ takes us more or less straight on from the end of Skylark Three, although we see the denouement from the perspective of Duquesne, who has captured a Fenachrone war-vessel and is hiding among their fleet. Thus, he witnesses the destruction of the entire Fenachrone race. While Seaton and his chums are racing off to pursue the final Fenachrone ship (which is attempting to flee to another galaxy) Duquesne returns to Earth and takes control of the planet.
We then rejoin Seaton, Martin, Dorothy and Margaret as they continue their adventures. Having destroyed the last of the Fenachrone, they then encounter the pure intellectuals, beings composed of energy and, in order to escape them, rotate themselves into the Fourth Dimension.
They are there captured by a fourth-dimensional civilisation. Unable to communicate, they are forced to escape. Seaton manages to rotate them back into our universe in the nick of time but finds that they are so far from their own galaxy, they are lost.
In a nearby galaxy however, they discover the planet Valeron, peopled by nice white humanoid types and currently under siege by the Chlorans, green amoeboid type beasties from a neighbouring planet.
Smith is pretty much repeating plotlines continuously but does so, it has to be said, in a very entertaining manner, despite his rather casual attitude to genocide, which he is happy to carry out with gay abandon in most of his work. He also quite cleverly interweaves what appears to be logical scientific theory and laws of physics with complete techno-nonsense, such as the convenient headsets that one can don to assimilate all the knowledge and expertise of a friendly scientist chum.
It’s juvenile hokum that is typical of – but generally far superior to – most of the contemporaneous work that was being published in the mid Nineteen Thirties.

The tale was first serialised in ‘Astounding’ in 1934 and published as a novel in 1949.


The Angels of Life and Death – Eric Brown (2010)

The Angels of Life and Death

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.


A Man Obsessed – Alan E Nourse (1955)

A Man Obsessed

‘HE HUNTED HORROR THROUGH A MANIAC WORLD!

Jeffrey Meyer had a killing on his mind. It meant nothing to him that his towering Twenty-first Century world was going mad. He shouldered aside the rising tide of narcotics-mania, the gambling fever, the insatiable lust for the irrational. Jeff had his own all-consuming obsession—Paul Conroe must die!

After a five-year frenzied chase, Jeff had his victim cornered; he’d driven him into the last hideaway of the world’s most desperate men—the sealed vaults of the human-vivisectionists. And Jeff knew that to reach his final horrible objective, he must offer himself also as a guinea pig for the secret experiments of the world’s most feared physicians!

Alan E. Nourse’s new novel A MAN OBSESSED has the impact of Orwell’s 1984 and the imaginative vigor of Huxley’s Brave New World.

Blurb from the 1955 D-96 Ace Doubles Paperback edition.

Jeff thinks he has set the perfect trap for Conroe, the man who murdered his father, in a bar where his mistress is performing. When Conroe arrives the mistress, in the midst of an erotic display, has a spotlight thrown on Jeff. Conroe sees him and escapes. Jeff’s hired team cordoning off the area can find no trace of him. The only place he could have gone to would be a feared vivisection institute.
Jeff, desperate to track him down, signs himself into the institute, where big money can be earned by those willing to subject themselves to fiendish and dangerous medical experiments.
Some way into the narrative, Jeff discovers that both he and his room-mate at the institute, Blackie (who bears a suspicious resemblance to the dancer in the bar) possess psi-powers, which leads him on another journey to discover the truth about himself, his father and his death.
This is an odd, very noir-ish, piece set in a world where incidents of mental instability are increasing.
The phemomena of ESP seems hurriedly introduced and is awkwardly handled.
There are also some obvious plot holes, such as the fact that Blackie never reveals that she was, in fact, the dancer in the bar, but the denouement is both interesting and unexpected.
Nothing really out of the ordinary though.


The Source (Necroscope III) – Brian Lumley (1989)

Necroscope III: The Source (Necroscope, #3)

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.


Earth’s Last Fortress (vt Masters of Time) – AE van Vogt (1950)

Earth's Last Fortress

‘Volunteers for the tomorrow front

It looked like a perfectly innocent store front, a volunteer enrollment office for young idealists who wanted to help the desperate forces of a young democracy overseas win their civil war. The young girl who sat at the desk inside was attractive, sympathetic, and would see that you got your passage safely.

But it was all a trap. It was indeed a recruiting station, but the war for which it brainwashed its deluded cannon fodder was out of this world — remote in time, remote in space, and nobody would ever return alive. As for the girl — she was as much a slave of that monstrous future-world machine as if she were chained to the desk.

Except for one thing that even the inhuman super-science of EARTH’S LAST FORTRESS did not suspect — that Norma was the secret lever that could shatter their universe!’

Blurb from the 1960 D-431 Ace Doubles paperback edition

Norma Mathieson, a young woman planning to commit suicide by jumping into a river, is approached by a dark stranger and offered a job. She is to be a receptionist in a recruiting station where they are recruiting young men to fight for the ‘Calonian Cause’.
She is given a key to an apartment above the station and told that all she has to do is get the young men to fill out and sign a form, then send them through to a back room for a medical examination.
Norma soon realises that all is not what it seems as no one ever returns from beyond the door. The stranger who offered her the job, the mysterious Dr Lell, is recruiting men from all the ages of Earth and shipping them off to fight in a far future war.
Despite the fact that she has been mentally conditioned, Norma manages to write to an ex-lover, now a Professor, Jack Garson. Garson writes back to her, thinking her delusional, but then arrives in person and is pressganged by Dr Lell and sent off to join the frontline troops in the far future.
The plot is suitably vanVogtian and once again demonstrates the author’s slightly contradictory view of female psychology.
Norma is, after all, a weak and feeble woman who can not possibly stand up to the masculine dominance of Dr Lell, and yet she does.
Garson discovers that he needs to get a message to one of the Planetarians (who are battling The Glorious) to tell them that the time barrier which is being created to end the war has to be destroyed before it, in its turn, destroys the universe. Norma discovers that she is in mental rapport with Dr Lell’s giant (and sentient) machine and can manipulate its power to a certain extent.
Between them they can try and avert universal disaster.
Originally published in 1942 as ‘The Recruiting Station’ it is by no means one of van Vogt’s best works although it does have the usual oddly compelling narrative with fantastic twists and turns.
There are vast machines and their mobile appendages, the ‘tentacles’, and a far future Earth where vast armies are being slaughtered daily in a senseless war of ideologies. It’s interesting but perhaps fruitless to speculate what effect the progress of World War II was having on van Vogt when he originally wrote this in 1942. There is an interesting correlation between the young men going through a door for a medical examination but never returning, and the situation in Hitler’s concentration camps although this I suspect may be merely a chilling coincidence.


Night Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko (1998)

Night Watch (Watch, #1)

‘Walking the streets of Moscow, indistinguishable from the rest of its population, are the Others. Possessors of supernatural powers and capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy world that exists in parallel to our own, each Other owes allegiance wither to the Dark or the Light.

‘The Night Watch’, first book in the Night Watch trilogy, follows Anton, a young Other owing allegiance to the Light. As a Night Watch agent he must patrol the streets and metro of the city, protecting ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark. When he comes across Svetlana, a young woman under a powerful curse, and saves an unfledged Other, Egor, from vampires, he becomes involved in events that threaten the uneasy truce, and the whole city…’

Blurb from the 2006 Arrow paperback edition.

Some critics described this as Russia’s answer to Harry Potter, which is a good description up to a point. As in the Harry Potter universe there are humans who can employ magic and are called Others. Some belong to the Light and some to the Dark. Many years ago a truce was agreed between the forces of Light and Darkness in order to keep a balance and not allow one side to use their powers excessively, otherwise the other side would be allowed to use a similar level of magic, which at a stretch could be compared to the situation between Russia and The West with regard to nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
Thus if a Light magician used magic illegally to cure someone of cancer, a Dark magician may be allowed to kill someone else. To police the agreement, agencies were created, The Day watch, in which the agents of Darkness patrol the daylight hours checking for Light Magicians’ transgressions, and the Night Watch who spend their nights monitoring vampires, werewolves, witches and Dark Magicians.
Anton, who has been assigned to track down a rogue vampire, manages to save a young Other, Egor, from becoming the snack of a vampire couple. Earlier, Anton had expended some of his power trying to dispel a fatal curse he had seen hanging over a girl’s head on the Metro. Curses look like black vortices twirling above people’s heads.
It is not until later that Anton realises the events are connected, and that the virtually immortal masters of the Watches are capable of weaving complex plots like a giant game of magical chess.
The book is divided into three sections which, although they focus on a particular story or case that the watch has to deal with, are all part of Anton’s overall tale and Anton grows in both magical experience and cynicism as to the ethics of some of the Watch’s practices as the book progresses.
Although on the surface a Rowling-esque escapist fantasy (although this may well predate the HP franchise) there is a philosophical debate at the heart of this writing which examines the very nature of Good and Evil, the balance between the two and the question of whether one can even exist without the other.