My life in outer space

Posts tagged “Earth Invasion

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.

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Overlords From Space – Joseph E Kelleam (1956)

acedoublesoverlords

‘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.


The Automated Goliath – William F Temple (1962)

The Three Suns of Amara/The Automated Goliath (Ace Double, F-129)

‘Man – yes; Machine – no!

While the age of automation had brought leisure and luxury to Earth, it was also bringing disaster down upon the human race. For a group of unmerciful migratory monsters settled down on Earth, to enjoy for themselves the results of our progress. In no time at all, they would be able to turn the world of automation into one single master machine, which they alone would control.’

Blurb from the 1962 F-129 Ace paperback edition

Magellan is intrigued when a rather forceful woman insists that she will be buying his home in Hampstead. Little does Magellan realise that the woman is working on behalf of the Mackees, alien invaders who have exploited humanity’s need for automation in order to take control of the planet.
Magellan, and presumably Temple, is against the impersonal automation of the jobs that humans used to do. In an odd moment of prescient extrapolation he describes a time when one may visit a bank and not speak to a human teller at all. In fact, your withdrawal will be dispensed from a machine along with a printed receipt showing your balance.
Imagine that!
The Mackees also have devices built into TVs that can mass-hypnotise the world so their victory is soon complete.
It is up to Magellan to defeat the invaders and take back back the Earth.
It’s nice to see a British view of such shenanigans. The action, a refreshing change, is centred in the UK and, at the finale, an alien world.
It’s definitely one of the more readable Ace Doubles, oddly structured with other character viewpoints in a couple of sections, but is not really anything out of the ordinary.


The Robot Brains – Sydney J Bounds (1956)

The Robot Brains

‘BRAINS WITHOUT SOUL

Giant blonde creatures, they were as curvaceous as the bodies of their dwarf men were shrivelled.
Captain Christian was the only human who’d ever laid eyes on them. And now he wished he hadn’t. They were beauty without heart. Cruel, cold.
And he was their prisoner.’

Blurb from the 1969 Macfadden paperback edition

When the police do not believe the irascible Doctor Fox’s contention that there is a connection between a travelling circus and the decapitation of several leading scientists, he asks his friend, Captain Christian, to help him investigate.
Christian discovers that ‘The Brains’, a trio of dwarfs with enormous craniums, are working at the travelling fair and is subsequently framed for murder.
It’s an odd little novel, slightly American in style, but very British in content.
In some ways the plot can be compared to that of the Time Machine. ‘The Brains’, it transpires, have travelled from the future of Earth, long after the time when Humanity seeded interstellar colonies. The Earth humans did not divide and evolve along lines of class structure, as Wells’ humans did, but of gender, Men grew more intelligent than women while women lost their intellect and grew merely huge, blonde and beautiful. While an unlikely premise, it shows at least an awareness of sexual inequality at the time.
One woman of the future, Alma, displays intelligence and is hunted like an animal by the male Brains and the giant females. Luckily, the rest of humanity has evolved to a state of sexual equality and have confined the Brains and their females to Earth. The Brains’ aim is to change history so that mankind did not reach the stars, leaving their own race to conquer the galaxy.
Fortunately, Captain Christian is there to save the day, having been kidnapped, taken to the future and battled the Brains and some giant mutated insects before making contact with the enlightened humans who help him to rid his own time of the Brain menace.
He returns to find that Doctor Fox has married Jo the dwarf woman from the circus (as perhaps some weird symbolic reverse metaphor of future developments on Earth).


The Puppet Masters – Robert A Heinlein (1951)

The Puppet Masters

Classic SF Noir displaying America’s paranoia in what has always been for me Heinlein’s best novel. It exemplifies all that is good about mainstream SF of the Nineteen Fifties and suffers only from minor political incorrectness in terms of male and female stereotyping, and the rather irritating remark made about gay men by the US President; ‘There have always been such unfortunates.’
But then, Heinlein is rather on the right wing of the SF stalwarts of the time, and this is a peculiarly masculine novel. We are told in the first few pages that the entrance to the secret headquarters of a government department so secret it doesn’t even have a name is situated in the men’s washroom on Macarthur Station. The women (for thankfully there is at least one female agent) no doubt use the other entrance situated in a shop called ‘Rare Stamps and Coins.’
Our hero, Sam Nivens, is a square-jawed All American type who would willingly die to preserve the liberty of America and whose laconic monologue tells the tale of the invasion of the Puppet Masters.
A rather decent TV movie of the book was made with Donald Sutherland in the role of ‘The Old Man’, the hard-nosed boss of the Department. Although surprisingly faithful to the text of the novel it suffered in that it was set in the present day. It should really have been made in black and white and visualised as a Nineteen Fifties view of America in 2007.
Heinlein’s aliens, a perfect metaphor for what America believed typified the evils of Communism, are a kind of gestalt entity; grey slugs which attach themselves to the backs of humans and take over the mind and body of their hosts. They are sexless, appear to have no individual personalities and exchange information by some form of physical transference when in direct contact with each other.
Just as in ‘The Body Snatchers’ (Jack Finney, 1955) the aliens ‘infect’ humans by stealth, reinforcing the idea of communism as a plague, contagious, insidious and more than anything else, invisible.
The hosts are literally enslaved by their masters (‘Master’ actually being a term which Sam uses to describe them). Heinlein takes these threats of loss of individuality, the natural fear of disease and the rather disturbing concept of slavery (which is as alive and well today in the guilty American consciousness as it was in Nineteen Fifty One) and winds them all together into a chilling tale of what is essentially a war of ideologies.
I imagine a writer of today would not make the story so one-sided. In a sense this novel says a lot about Heinlein. The book might well have been stronger if there had at least been some benefit, or purpose to the aliens’ invasion. As it is the aliens do not compel their hosts to wash or eat properly, and so are destroying the hand that feeds them, as in when it is discovered that the bubonic plague has returned to Communist Russia.
No system is truly evil. If Heinlein consciously meant these aliens to be metaphors for Communism then he should have made them less unknowable. The suggestion is that one shouldn’t even try to understand Communism. To attempt to know Communism is to be infected by it. The menace cannot be lived with. It has to be eradicated from our minds.
Of course, it’s difficult to understand, in a post USSR world, what level of paranoia existed in America at the time.
Certainly, whether consciously or not, a large number of SF films and novels of the time featured ordinary people being ‘possessed’ by aliens, often taking over an entire community, abandoning American culture and values and replacing it with something else.
Sam – who eats steak ‘just warmed through’ – needs to prove to a sceptical President that the aliens exist. His plan fails and when a live slug is eventually captured, Sam is ‘possessed’ and for a while we see the world of the ‘hag ridden’ through his submissive eyes. It is this experience which elevates Sam from a mere two-dimensional hero into something greater. A stereotype he may be, but in Nineteen Fifty One it is interesting to see an SF hero with fears, emotions and failings, and who even cries on occasions.
Of course, with the help of his partner – an efficient female agent with a taste for weaponry – the world is saved and Sam spearheads a military operation aimed at saving the elf-like denizens of Titan from the curse of the Puppet Masters. This suggests, one presumes, that even back in Nineteen Fifty One Americans felt they had a duty to right wrongs beyond their own borders.
The aliens themselves are beautifully thought out. An immortal gestalt entity which reproduces additional units of itself by binary fission and may which hold memories dating back to the dawn of its sapience.
At the end of the novel they remain enigmatic, and the question, raised in the opening paragraph of the book as to whether they are intelligent in any way we understand, is never answered.

See also Murray Leinster’s ‘The Brain-Stealers‘ (1954)


The Non Born King – Julian May (1983)

The Nonborn King (Saga of Pliocene Exile, #3)

‘The dominion of the Tanu has been broken. In the aftermath of cataclysm, Aiken Drum seizes his hour to grasp control of the Pliocene world.

There are those, human and Tanu, who rally to him – and those who fear and hate him. The Grand Master, Elizabeth… the mad Felice… the goblin hordes of the Firvulag all thrust into a violent and stormy struggle for irresistible power.’

Blurb from the 1983 Pan paperback edition

In the third volume of May’s ‘Saga of The Exiles’ we join our heroes in the aftermath of the flooding of the Mediterranean basin which decimated the Tanu and upset the power balance within The Many Coloured Land.
Aiken Drum, the diminutive trickster, is quick to seize control of the situation and of the Tanu throne, taking as his bride, Mercy Rosmar, widowed since the flood in which her husband Nodon Battlemaster disappeared, his body never found.
Meanwhile in Pliocene Florida we join – for the first time – the exiled Rebel operants, led by Marc Remillard, disgraced Grandmaster of the Galactic Concilium.
Man has been attempting to discover a world where a race has developed a Coadunate Mind in order that he and his children can be rescued by them, after which they plan to stage a coup.
The rest of the rebels do not share Marc’s faith on the search and his children are secretly planning to travel to Europe in order to create a device at the Time Gate capable of taking them back to Twenty-Second Century Earth.
Elsewhere, further evidence is discovered that suggests that the Tanu and Firvulag, through interbreeding with humanity, will become the progenitors of the Human Race itself.
Old taboos are breaking down. Sugoll, leader of the mutated Howlers has resettled his people in a less radioactive area and, on the advice of a Tanu geneticist, allowed a thousand of his single women (gross mutations who cloak themselves in psi-generated visions of voluptuous beauty) to mate with itinerant humans who literally have no place to go following the ransacking of a Tanu city by the Firvulag.
Many of the traditionalists are predicting the coming of the Nightfall War, which signals the end of the world.
Nodon, it transpires, was not dead, but was washed ashore in Africa and tended by a crazed human/Firvulag hybrid, who manages to seduce her paralysed patient and becomes pregnant.
Like Peter F Hamilton, May is a consummate juggler of the multi-character storylines and simultaneously manages to seamlessly weld what is in effect a fantasy setting (providing a scientific rationale for the gnomes, trolls, ogres, elves and fairies of legend) with the people and the scientific marvels of the Twenty-Second Century. There is also a fair amount of humour, which cleverly serves to accentuate some of the horrors which all three races perpetuate upon themselves and each other.
One could argue that this is perhaps the weakest of the four books and perhaps suffers from a surfeit of characters and political machinations. On the other hand one cannot fault the characterisation since even the minor characters appear as fully rounded characters with histories and tales of their own.
I suspect these novels, along with the superb ‘Intervention’ which tells the tale of the emergence of human metapsychic abilities and the perhaps weaker trilogy which takes us through the Metapsychic Rebellion, will be reassessed as an exemplary body of work, ingenious in its concept and construction.


The Greks Bring Gifts – Murray Leinster (1964)

The Greks Bring Gifts (#50 418)

‘The Greks promised a world in which everyone would be rich – provided the Greks were allowed to rule. It was a bargain few Earthmen could resist.

The Greks were people-haters.

They came to earth in their space ship, bearing fabulous gifts – such as machines that did any job automatically, and fertilizer that made plants shoot up overnight. But they presented their gifts with contempt, and with a look in their eyes that made people feel ‘creepy’.
Still, because of the brave new world they promised, the Greks could be forgiven anything – until they left and people discovered that the machines were breaking down. Then their only choice was to beg the Greks to come back, on their own terms. And they knew the terms would be hard…’

Blurb from the 1968 Macfadden-Bartell paperback edition

An enormous ship appears from behind the moon and announces that it houses the Greks, a benevolent race who wish to bring gifts of science to mankind.
The Greks are humanoid, grey-skinned and their technological gifts (such as broadcast power which can run cars and power electricity stations) destroy Earth’s economy and plunge the world into economic and social chaos.
One man, Hackett, and his girlfriend Lucy, suspect from the start that the Greks are up to no good and set out to investigate what is really going on.
It’s a decent enough tale, reminiscent of movies of the previous decade, and suffers in the main from Leinster’s style of excessive reportage rather than providing a narrative composed of action sequences. Leinster tells us, rather than shows us, what is happening in the world.
Additionally, the extended metaphor of the novel – which is an allegory of any superior human culture encountering a more primitive one – is weakened by Leinster’s needless descriptions of what the white man did to the US Native American.
It’s an idea which hasn’t been over-used in SF and it’s a shame that Leinster didn’t rework or revise this into a longer more structured piece since the morality, the message and the parallels with actions of the human race are the stuff of which great SF is made.


The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham (1957)

The Midwich Cuckoos

It is difficult to approach this novel with a fresh eye, since my perceptions of The Midwich Cuckoos are very much coloured by the George Sanders movie, ‘Village of The Damned’ which, although not a bad piece of work, didn’t really convey Wyndham’s vision, and gifted the children with the additional benefit of being able to read human minds, which was a handy conceit to make the cinematic denouement more dramatic.
A more recent version by John Carpenter was set in modern day California rather than in Wyndham’s Nineteen Fifties England but was not even up to the standard of the original British movie.
The narrator of the novel is one Richard Gayford who, on the fateful night when the novel begins, was out with his wife Janet celebrating his birthday and therefore not at home in the quiet village of Midwich where, at 10.17 pm everyone passes out.
The alarm is raised and it is soon discovered that a hemisphere, centred on the Midwich Church is in place within which any living thing is rendered unconscious.
This disappears the next day and – apart from some unfortunate fatalities due to hypothermia and a house fire, everyone recovers apparently unharmed and things go back to normal.
Some weeks later, an unease falls over Midwich and it becomes gradually apparent that all the women in the village capable of childbearing are inexplicably pregnant.
A friend of Gayford’s , Bernard Westcott, who is in Military Intelligence, becomes involved, since a Research Centre, headed by Gordon Zellaby, is also based at Midwich. It is initially suspected that the Dayout, as it comes to be known, may have been part of an espionage attempt. Westcott manages to arrange a Press blackout so that the village does not get deluged with nosey sightseers.
When the pregnancies finally reach fruition, there is an initial sigh of relief, since the babies seem perfectly normal, apart from their odd golden eyes.
However, as they mature, which they do unnaturally quickly, two things become apparent. The children can easily impose their will on human beings and, as Dr Zellaby discovered, although there are about sixty children, there are in fact only two individuals since the boys and girls comprise of a single gestalt consciousness each, divided across thirty or so bodies.
One must inevitably compare this with American novels of the Fifties, many of which featured the theme of ‘aliens among us’ and reflected the anti-communist paranoia of the government and public of the time, such as ‘The Body Snatchers’ or ‘The Puppet Masters’.
It would be useful to know how aware the author was of these works, and whether there was a conscious decision to create the British ‘aliens-among-us’ novel.
Wyndham takes great pains to set the scene, although the narrative is a little disjointed, told from the perspective of Gayford, who is writing the account in retrospect, having later interviewed others involved.
It must have been slightly shocking in Nineteen Fifty Seven to have an entire village pregnant by unnatural means with half of them unmarried. Wyndham deals with these issues remarkably well and, without proselytising, is very clear as to what reaction women in this position may face along with some of the terrible consequences. I always hoped that someone would make another movie, in black and white, set in the Fifties, since I had always though that Wyndham’s work is as much about British society of the time as it is about anything else. As is the usual case with Wyndham however, the middle-class professionals are the protagonists. The working classes are kept to the background and only brought in near the end as an obligatory ‘mob with torches’.
It’s a shame Wyndham didn’t take the opportunity to expand on some of the male villagers’ reactions to the event during the pregnancies and in the earlier sections since there would surely have been some visible masculine angst at the time. He does suggest that there was a brooding resentment among husbands and fathers but it is not really credible that it would take nine years for this to be expressed.
Structurally, again a typical Wyndham technique, the novel takes us to a point where the babies are raising suspicions of their power to will people to take actions, and then jumps ahead nine years where the children – who have been educated en-masse by Zellaby – look like eighteen year olds. There has been a human fatality, and some are suspicious that the children had something to do with it.
Again, Wyndham is exploring the Darwinian concept that man’s position at the top of the food chain is a precarious one. It is Zellaby’s view, for instance, that civilisation has weakened the species and that it would have been better for us if we had evolved alongside a more competitive species.
Wyndham is clear, however, that there can be no possibility of co-existence or, more to the point, of two species sharing a dominant position. This is his perennial theme and can also be seen in ‘The Day of The Triffids’ and ‘The Chrysalids’. Species survival becomes the overriding factor without any recourse to ethics or morality.
He perhaps missed a trick in not giving the children some redeeming features. We only see the children’s attitude to species other than human in their treatment of a bull who threatened them in their early years. If there had been some suggestion that the children would be better custodians of the Earth than humans it would have introduced an interesting moral ambiguity. As it is, the children are portrayed as emotionless, amoral creatures, as cold and dispassionate as Wells’ Martians.
Cleverly, it is not until very late into the novel that we hear any of the children speak. This produces an unsettling effect since the reader has become acquainted with the people surrounding the children, but the children themselves have been kept at a distance, which in turn emphasises their self-imposed remoteness.
Military Intelligence had previously confirmed that the USSR launched a missile at one of their own villages which itself suffered a Dayout event. Other ‘cuckoo’ events around the world resulted in the children being ‘disposed of’ shortly after they were born.
The children, aware that they are the only ‘cuckoos’ left in the world, reason that the USSR puts the state before the individual and therefore have no compunction in killing some of their own people to excise the invaders. The UK on the other hand would not countenance such a move. The proposal would have to be discussed, and liberal voices would be clamouring for the children to be given the right to live alongside us.
The government, Zellaby and the children all realise that if the children survive they will supplant humans as the dominant species. It is clear that they know that our weaknesses are our compassion and our inability to take effective action against them.
Wyndham very cleverly leads us to a point where the children have explained how our own liberal civilisation has boxed itself in and is powerless to defend the species as sections of society will inevitably lobby to protect the children’s right to exist.
Wyndham’s issues would therefore appear to be less metaphorical than his US counterparts. Certainly, there would be no worries over Communism on this side of the channel, although one could raise an argument for Wyndham making a point about the rise of youth culture in the Fifties, when many children were seen as alien by their parents.
It is perhaps immaterial since the main point is the need for mankind to address its complacence. The novel may in fact be more relevant today where many sections of society see their culture threatened by outside influences, be it the Right Wing Nationalists who feel their culture is being lost or the Muslim parents who fear their children being Westernised or radicalised, or the US Religious Right who see teachers and scientists destabilising the beliefs of their children. The genie in all these cases is, for good or bad, out of the bottle and gives Wyndham’s oddly prophetic, albeit slightly flawed, masterpiece a somewhat disturbing edge.
As David Bowie was to say some years later ‘Oh You Pretty Things… Don’t you know you’re driving your mommas and poppas insane?’


The White Invaders – Ray Cummings (1931)

The White Invaders

It was very popular in 1930s SF literature to have as one’s heroes two men (one often a scientist and the other a more active type) and one or two women (one sometimes the relative of one of the men and in a potentially romantic entanglement with the other).
Here we have this arrangement, with an All-American trio, but with the unusual setting of Bermuda.
Ghosts have been seen, white figures floating about the countryside and now women have been going missing. White women only. The native women have been left unmolested.
The trio soon discover that a man called Tako has arrived from the fourth dimension, originally to capture women as slaves and mistresses, since the population of his world has been decimated following a terrible war.
Tako then sets his sights on a full-scale invasion, beginning with New York.
Cummings seems to relish destroying New York, all of its enormous buildings collapsing on themselves as transdimensional bombs are placed in their foundations. The only building left standing is the Empire State Building which is housing the deadly weapon of destruction.
It is interesting to compare this with Sewell Peaslee Wright’s ‘The Infra-Medians’ as they both feature a trio of protagonists as described earlier and creatures from another dimension, although it is a much shorter piece.
One is intrigued by the suggestion that aliens are only interested in white women which says a lot more about the demographic of the readership than it does about the writer.
There is, one imagines, a long history of the foreign invader coming to one’s land and bearing off one’s women. Was Cummings writing for a primarily white young male audience, playing on deep-seated fears or exploiting fairly recent mythology which had already been enhanced by similar tales of female kidnap. Burroughs used it as a plot device several times, but then, if you have a kidnapped princess, it at least gives the hero something to do. The nature of the kidnapper, however, can often throw up some interesting cultural questions.


The Golden Torc – Julian May (1981)

The Golden Torc

‘Book Two in the Saga of the Exiles

Exiled beyond the time-portal into a world of six million years before, the misfits of the 22nd century are enmeshed in the age-old war of two alien races.

In this strange world, each year brings the ritual Grand Comabt between the Firvulag and the Tanu, possessors of the invincible mind-armouring necklet…

THE GOLDEN TORC’

Blurb to the 1982 Pan paperback edition

The second episode of The Saga of The Exiles takes us deeper into May’s bizarre, cruel and beautiful Pliocene civilisation. Bryan, who travelled to the past to find his lost lover, Mercy, discovers her to be the wife of Nodonn, pureblood Tanu, leader of The Host of Nontusvel (i.e. the innumerable Tanu children of the Queen and King Thagdal) and, via her golden torc, one of the most powerful Creators in the Elder Earth.
Bryan little realises that his sociological survey of Tanu society will throw the world into turmoil, since it shows that the effect of human interaction with the Tanu will spell their doom.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth meets Brede, the prescient bride of the living ship in which the Tanu and Firvulag came to Earth. She is neither Tanu nor Firvulag, but a mixture of both, coming from a separate world in the Tanu galaxy where the split between Tanu and Firvulag did not occur.
Madame Guderian and Claude manage to seal the Time Portal to prevent more humans coming through, but Aiken Drum betrays the rest of his fellows who plan to attack the Torc factory.
Felice, tortured by Culluket the Interrogator, is forced into operancy, but driven insane.
The time of the Great Combat approaches but it seems that even within the Tanu and Firvulag ranks there are those who are tiring of the old traditions.
Brede, having foreseen what is to come, rescues the rebels from their dungeon. Elizabeth was to have escaped with Sukie and and Stein in her balloon, but Brede also brings along the unconscious Felice, Elizabeth gives up her place in the balloon and remains behind.
Felice, awakening in the balloon, draws Stein into her plan to revenge herself and with her psychokinesis and Stein’s geology skills they crack the already weak barrier holding back the Atlantic ocean, allowing the ocean to pour into the dry basin of the Mediterranean, the basin in which the Tanu and Firvulag are gathered to celebrate the Grand Combat.
One of the surprises of this series is that May manages to combine the medieval with the futuristic, the comic with the cruel and tragic, the serious realism of some characters with the caricatured and grotesque, the past and the future, as if many of the themes were aspects of the original duality of the Tanu and Firvulag (whose home planet, incidentally, is called Duat)
It becomes clear to the reader that the Tanu and Firvulag did not escape our Earth of six million years ago, leaving the ramapithecines to evolve into humanity.
In an intriguing moment, Nodonn, who was criticised for taking a human wife, tells his brothers that he had Mercy’s genes examined, the result of which was that she was almost pure Tanu, leaving the readers to work out for themselves that we are the descendants of aliens who mated with their far future grandchildren.
It’s impressive, addictive and just wonderful.