‘Was this the key to the universe?
OUTCASTS OF THE STARS
When Earth’s stellar empire was attacked by the Lyanir, a powerful race from the uncharted stars, it was Bran Magannon, High Admiral of Space, who met their battle-challenge. He saved the Empire, but he also fell in love with the beautiful young Lyanirn queen Peganna, and to the people of the Empire his name became that of traitor. Now he was a lone, brooding outcast among Empire’s outpost worlds, called Bran the Wanderer.
Then Peganna of the Silver Hair returned and told him of a fabled cache of deadly weapons left eons ago by the long-dead race of the Crenn Lir. She wanted those weapons for her people, to use against Empire if need be.
Bran the Wanderer laughed, and showed her how to find them. ‘
Front cover and interior blurb from the paperback 1964 F-299 Ace Double Edition.
Gardner F Fox is an interesting character, who began to write for DC Comics in his twenties during the Great Depression, and despite his name being somewhat obscure these days was an incredibly prolific writer, producing an estimated four thousand comic storylines and at least a hundred novels, which covered SF, Fantasy, Crime, Westerns and Sports stories.
Bran Magannon, an Admiral with the Empire Forces, was on the point of securing an engaging peace between the Lyanir and the Empire and had also fallen in love with their haughty queen, Perganna of the Silver Hair.
However, a false message was sent to the Lyanir, and their subsequent actions caused the Empire to think they had been double crossed. The Empire attacked and the Lyanir retreated to ‘the uncharted stars’.
Magannon, a tad depressed, resigns his post and goes wandering through the galaxy, using the ‘teledoors’ of an Elder Race called the Crenn Lir, although it’s not clear why Bran is the only person to have ever discovered them.
One day, Perganna finds him. Once misunderstandings have been cleared up, she tells him that she needs his help to find the lost arsenal of the Crenn Lir.
Meanwhile, Perganna’s evil brother has usurped her position and is planning to sell his people in slavery to the Empire.
Once more we have this concept of Empires and Royalty, and two multi-planetary forces which are each unified, socially and racially, it appears.
For its time, the concept and the style is dated. In context, Philip K Dick was publishing ‘Martian Time Slip’ and ‘The Penultimate Truth’, Frank Herbert was about to publish ‘Dune’. The times they were a changing.
This is also a novel which is high on Romanticism and low on actual science, and seems coloured by Fox’s comic-book traditions. We encounter spaceships, matter-transmitter portals, odd alien machines and storage facilities, and not even an attempt to explain even the history of the science behind the Empire technology.
It’s not a bad read, but it does seem like a piece that would have sat more easily ten or fifteen years previously.
‘As the earth party wandered through the rock-hewn corridors, they had no doubt about the purpose of the asteroid.
It was a mighty fortress, stocked with weapons of destruction beyond man’s understanding. It seemed as if it was deserted by some ancient race and yet in a room high in the asteroid a powerful transmitter beamed its chilling sounds toward earth. Near it, on a huge star-map of the universe, ten tiny red sparks were moving inexorably toward the center – moving at many times the speed of light; moving on a course that would pass through the solar system.
The unknown aliens would not even see our sun explode from the force of their passing, would not even notice the tiny speck called Earth as it died…’
Blurb from the 1968 Sphere paperback edition
This is an odd little concoction from Leinster which begins when a strange musical message is received from space and identified as originating in an asteroid.
A scientist, hearing the message is shocked, as the music is part of a recurring dream he has had since childhood, The Russians immediately send out rockets to reach the source of the signal, but our valiant hero, with the help of images from his dreams, (and his girlfriend, her friend and his best friend) is able to build a ship in his backyard.
The four end up on the ship (it’s not important why) and blast off to the asteroid.
The asteroid is actually a space-fortress with artificial gravity, its own air system and a bank of screens upon one of which can be seen ten red moving dots.
With the help of some mind-induction educational cubes they learn that the red dots are an ancient enemy of the fortress builders and are on their way to destroy the Solar System.
If one employs a certain suspension of disbelief, it’s enjoyable hokum although certainly not an example of Leinster at his best.
It’s another Origin of Man tale since, as astute readers would have guessed long before Leinster springs the surprise on us, humans are the descendants of the fortress builders, whose last garrison escaped to Earth two million years before.
It is up to our hero to find a way to stop the ships of the mysterious Enemy and prevent the Solar System from being destroyed.
‘TO THE PLACE WHERE SECRETS LIE SLEEPING…
Alf Dean, an aborigine trained as an anthropologist, knew that his tribesmen, for centuries beyond memory, had warned of a dreadful secret in the mountains of Australia.
His ‘slow-witted’ nephew led him to the secret spot – the same spot where men were claimed by deaths that were secret to the world.
As secret as the knowledge the scientists now share which compels them to press deep under the mountain… deep where the aborigines never go… through the nuclear shield, through the collective unconscious, deeper and deeper toward the center of the earth, closer to exploding the myths of time and space, closer to rousing THE DREAMING DRAGONS’
Blurb from the 1980 Pocket paperback edition.
It is often refreshing to read SF that is written in, and for, a different society. British and American SF, although springing from different roots, have come together by a process of convergent evolution. Eastern European SF, by contrast, existed in isolation for quite a while and one can see, from the work of the Strugatsky brothers and Stanislaw Lem, that stylistically, thematically and symbolically it is a sometimes quite alien, if beautiful, kettle of fish.
Australian SF is something of which I’ve not had a lot of experience. Damien Broderick’s work therefore comes as something of a pleasant surprise.
Alf Dean is an adopted aborigine, and is now an anthropologist. He and his white autistic nephew, Mouse, out on a field trip, discover a passage in an ancient cave which leads to another chamber. Here they discover a shimmering rainbow screen in a metal frame, settled in the dust of millennia. The frame turns out to be a teleport gate leading to an even more mysterious site, a vast white sphere underneath Uluru (known to the rest of us by the less exciting name of Ayers Rock).
This area, known as ‘the Vault’, turns out to be a top secret discovery already being investigated by an international team of scientists and the military. Proximity to the sphere causes madness or death and when Alf collapses he is rescued by Mouse who, unaccountably, seems to have some sort of affinity with the Sphere. When Alf describes an out-of-body experience, the controversial British scientist Bill DelFord is called in.
Between Alf, DelFord, Mouse and the astronaut Hugh, links are discovered between the ancient alien vault, the rainbow serpent of Aborigine mythology and the origins of Humanity itself.
It is oddly structured, setting itself in the present, and then we are taken off into a section where the child Mouse – who is in some kind of psychic rapport with the vault and is writing out information which the vault has somehow accessed. stored and is now retransmitting – transcribes the diary of a Russian scientist who has been infected with a sample of Soviet biological warfare.
Later, we travel to Deep Time to discover how and why the original feathered serpent aliens get here.
It’s a very complex but enjoyable novel, slightly flawed by some improbable dialogue here and there and an unaccountable dearth of female characters. The few that do appear on the page in the initial sections disappear pretty quickly once the novel gets underway. Certainly Alf and Bill leap off the page as fully-rounded characters and as Pringle points out in his ‘100 Greatest SF Novels’ it is a very Australian novel, steeped in the traditions of the Aborigines and very honest about their history and treatment in a white-dominated Australia.
There are some beautiful descriptive passages too, particularly in relation to the land around Uluru, and the novel is a breath of fresh air in a genre sometimes badly in need of it.
‘The Firvulag are rising, while the children of the metapsychic rebels race to reopen the time-gate, the sole escape route back into the Galactic Milieu.
Now the adversary takes up his destined role in the power play… Marc Remillard, defeated leader of the metapsychic rebellion determined to keep the time-gate sealed and to create a new race from his own offspring. Will he aid the Firvulag or bring succour to Aiken, when the day of the Grand Tourney comes, when the Tanu and the humans meet the Firvulag in the last great contest of the exile world…’
Blurb from the 1984 Pan paperback edition
May rounds off her Pliocene quadrology with panache in ‘The Adversary’
Aiken Drum is attempting to hold his kingdom together while the Firvulag are rising, convinced by ancient Duat prophecy that the Nightfall War is about to begin, the final battle to oblivion between the Tanu and the Firvulag.
The central figure of the prophecy, The Adversary, is seen as Marc Remillard, who has sailed from his exile in Pliocene Florida back to Europe in order to prevent his children reopening the Time Gate and escaping back to the Twenty-Second Century.
As a result of having nearly been killed by Felice when she teleported to America, Marc is slowly learning how to ‘D-Jump’ himself, and begins to appear to the Metapsychic Grandmaster Elizabeth Orme where he helps her to ‘cure’ the black-torc babies (i.e. babies who cannot adjust to the mind-enhancing torc).
It transpires that a metapsychic programme is able to not only cure the children but raise them to metapsychic operancy.
Once again, May manages to combine the fantasy settings with complete 22nd Century science quite seamlessly, and one has to ask how much she was influenced by the Science fantasy boom of the Seventies and writers such as Moorcock, M John Harrison and Jack Vance.
There are certainly echoes of their work here. Where these writers often set their civilisations of decadent technology on a Far Future Earth, May takes us back to the Pliocene of six million years ago, but the trappings are the same. The Tanu and the Firvulag are, after all, merely elves and goblins, trolls and ogres with a technology so advanced it appears to be magic. Where May triumphs is in linking her world so directly to our near future and creating a structure in which the narrative returns to the future and, to a certain extent, comes full circle to where it began.
Finally, it is revealed, although it has been hinted at within previous volumes, that the human race are descendants of all three races, which is why Humanity ends up possessing such a huge metapsychic potential.
‘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.
‘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.
‘Of all the intelligent races in the universe, none has survived without the guidance of the Patrons – except mankind. But if our Patrons began the Uplift of the human race aeons ago, why did they abandon us? Circling the sun, in the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous journey in human history. A journey into the broiling inferno of the sun… to find our final destiny in the cosmic order of life. ‘
Blurb from the 1991 Bantam paperback edition
This is the novel that set Brin off on a series of novels whose page-count seemed to grow exponentially as each one was published.
Known as ‘The Uplift Series’, the books are set in a near-future where the galaxy is populated and controlled by a civilisation of ancient alien races. None of these races evolved intelligence, but were genetically engineered from lower forms by their Patron race who, in turn, were ‘uplifted’ by their parent race.
Thus, when an exploratory Earth ship encountered Humanity’s first aliens, it was a surprise to everyone.
The ‘wolfling’ race – who have themselves ‘uplifted’ chimps and dolphins – are a political embarrassment to some of the galactic factions, who consider Humanity to be an orphaned uplifted race, whose patrons are unknown, much like the original race who began the uplift process. Known as The Progenitors, their details are lost in the mists of time, even in a civilisation whose records go back millions of years.
Earth has been allowed to start colonies, although people who have a propensity for violence are not allowed into space. They are known as probationers and electronically tagged. Humanity is also split on the issue of their origins, between the Darwinites who believe in Humanity’s natural evolutionary origins and the Danikenites who are convinced of their ancient Uplift and abandonment .
Against this backdrop we have the story of Jacob Demwa, a Native American who works with uplifted dolphins. His alien friend, Fagin, a kind of mobile shrubbery, arranges for him to be part of a classified project on Mercury.
The Sundiver project ostensibly is to study the sun itself very very closely by means of new ships, using a mixture of alien and human technology. The Sundiver ships are saucer-shaped and use refrigeration lasers to deflect the excess heat.
The big secret, however, is that life, of a form never before discovered, has been found in the sun itself, and it may be intelligent.
A Danikenite reporter has bulldozed his way into the project and believes the aliens to be Humanity’s missing Patrons.
When the ship of a chimp professor on a solo mission malfunctions, destroying both chimp and ship, it is thought to be either the work of the sun creatures or an accident, until it is proven to be sabotage.
Thus, the stage is set for an interstellar mystery of murder, espionage and big science.
It is difficult to tell if Brin originally planned this as a stand-alone novel. The ending certainly leaves the big questions unanswered.
The characters are competently three-dimensional, although it has to be said that the female characters are rather less fully drawn than the males. All the aliens, as far as we are aware, are male, even the shrubbery, for whom sexual identity wouldn’t have been an issue, one would have thought.
As with all mysteries there are other things going on, red herrings, bluffs and distractions, and it has to be said that Brin handles it all rather well.
‘Book One in the Saga of the Exiles
The epic odyssey of the misfits amd mavericks of the 22nd Century who pass through the time-doors of the Pliocene Epoch into the battleground of two warring races from a planet far away…’
Blurb from the 1982 Pan paperback edition.
Although having achieved some success with short fiction, Julian May seemed to leap from nowhere into SF major status with this initial sequence of four books (The Saga of The Exiles)
The Many-Coloured Land is one of those wonderful books in which the narrative refuses to provide explanation of its own internal history. In the first chapters, tantalising hints are given about ‘the Intervention’ and ‘The Metapsychic Rebellion’ and the reader gradually picks up the pieces of human history throughout the text although some references are not explained until much later in the novel sequence.
It is not clear whether the entire overall saga (which comprises of eight books) was initially designed as such, but as the full narrative is in the form of a time-loop, the final novel comes back to almost the point at which The Many-Coloured Land starts.
Deftly manipulating a multi-character storyline, May starts us off in a near future in which human colonists are being set up on hundreds of ethnically streamed fresh planets; many humans are developing metapsychic operancy with talents such as psychokinesis, telepathy, the transformation of matter, illusion spinning and mental coercion.
Five alien races, members of a kind of superpsychic gestalt, have made themselves known and are helping Humanity along the road to Coalescence.
Meanwhile, Madame Guderian, a French hotelier, is custodian of an odd piece of Earth history. Her late husband had constructed a machine, which interfaced with a unique geological and temporal anomaly within the Earth’s crust. He had built, in effect, a time portal, but one which led only one way, back to Earth’s Pliocene past.
After a traveller paid handsomely for the privilege of escaping the modern world into Exile, Madame Guderian began a trade in transporting ‘misfits’, those discomfited by the strange complex place their society had become.
Once in the past, however, the travellers find themselves enslaved by the Tanu, an oddly humanoid race. The aliens had fled to earth from their own world where they were being forced to abandon certain traditions, which their enlightened brethren deemed barbarous.
Humans are controlled by means of grey torcs, which deliver pleasure or pain. Some humans, however, are given gold or silver torcs that can raise a latent metapsychic’s powers to operancy.
We follow the fortunes of several travellers, all of whom got to know each other in the orientation and survival training sessions before they left. May’s characters are an eccentric bunch; a ‘blinded’ Grandmaster Metapsychic lady, a disgraced space captain, a neurotic Viking, a psychotic lesbian sports player, a recidivist trickster, a lovesick sociologist, a bereaved palaeontologist and an ‘old school’ nun.
It sparkles with wit and a depth of character and background research which is refreshing and breathtaking. It is by far one of the best series of books of the late Twentieth Century, and is compulsory reading for fans of SF.