My life in outer space

Posts tagged “mutation

Killer Crabs – Guy N Smith (1978)

Killer Crabs (Crabs, #2)

The sequel to Smith’s cult novel ‘Night of The Crabs‘ begins when a Norwegian captain – ruminating on the problems he has with his angina – is awakened by a fierce banging on his cabin door.
Suddenly we are whisked away to an Australian island whose fishermen are suffering the predations of Japanese poachers with superior fishing technology and weapons.
Klin, a fit but antisocial fisherman, decides to strike back at the Japanese, shooting at their boat and killing one of the crew.
On his way back he sees, to his disbelief, a crab the size of a car.
News of this sighting reaches the British authorities and Professor Cliff Davenport sets off for Australia, leaving his wife Pat at home. This is probably just as well since their unwholesome and highly detailed sexual shenanigans in the first book were rather more than one needed or expected in a giant crab adventure.
Smith’s sexual scenes are confined to the exploits of a rich nymphomaniac who manages to seduce Klin, plus a big game hunter and a bank robber on the run.
Smith seems to be slightly less graphic with the sexual narrative in this, although just as surreal. Klin spends a great deal of time, for instance, wandering the island attempting to hide inappropriate erections in his fisherman’s pants.
Inevitably the crabs invade the island and attack the hotel, during which Smith throws literary caution to the wind and introduces a sub-plot involving a murder and a suitcase full of stolen money.
It only remains for the Professor and Klin to try and discover the spawning ground of the crabs before the next full moon when mating and egg-laying will begin.
The denouement is perhaps a tad rushed, and the murder is quickly solved and dealt with.
I’m a little disappointed that the crabs did not return to the Welsh coast. There was something quite profoundly fascinating about Wales being invaded by man-eating giant crabs. It’s one of those juxtapositions of two diverse concepts that often works really well. Transferring the action to Australia lessens the impact since Australia already has its quota of deadly predators. The most dangerous thing Wales can offer is probably a vexed sheep.
On the whole though, I loved it. Smith deals in complete stereotypes and is a forerunner of the current fad for giant/mutant shark movies and their ilk.
As for the Norwegian fishing captain, we never hear from him again. I hope his angina passed off. It’s worrying me.


Empire of The Atom – AE van Vogt (1957)

Empire of the Atom

An interesting fix-up here which is loosely or partly based on Robert Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’, and has been assembled from five stories (“A Son Is Born” (May 1946), “Child of the Gods” (Aug 1946), “Hand of the Gods” (Dec 1946), “Home of the Gods” (April 1947) and “The Barbarian” (Dec 1947)), all originally published in Astounding.
On a far future Earth a child, ‘Clane’ is born to Tania, the daughter of the Lord Leader of Earth. The child is malformed as a result of his mother’s exposure to radiation.
Normally children such as this would be out to death but Jonquin, one of the scientist priests who maintain the temples of the God Metals, convinces the family to allow the child to live in order that he can study the development of such an unfortunate.
van Vogt here postulates a far future Earth where the automated production of power from nuclear materials continues in temples of scientist priests, although no one appears to understand the principles behind the science and attributes the power to Gods who control the God Metals. Following a war with an alien race known as The Riss, humanity has fallen into a stagnated society of ignorance. Nuclear powered ships travel from world to world despite the fact that the secrets of their construction have also been lost. It’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, it has to be said.
The Lord Leader discovers Clane to be highly intelligent despite his nervous tics when in unfamiliar company, and takes his advice on military strategy when the Earth forces are under siege when trying to conquer the human population of Mars. As pointed out, it loosely follows events in at least Graves’ account of the life of Claudius. The Lord Leader’s exiled stepson, Tewes, for instance, is clearly Tiberius and the Lord Leader, the Emperor Augustus.
Clane fits in to the usual van Vogt ‘logical hero’ template and becomes adept at anticipating and deflecting assassination attempts and, when he finally assumes the position of Lord Leader, defeating invading barbarian armies from Jupiter. In retrospect it might have been far more interesting if van Vogt had kept to the Claudius template. Claudius avoided death because the schemers and plotters around him found him a harmless and somewhat ludicrous figure, which was far from the case. van Vogt has Clane control his nervous reactions very early on, and his physical abnormalities are concealed under voluminous clothing, and so may as well not be there.
Rather like the conclusion to ‘The Weapon Makers’ van Vogt throws in some surreal non-sequitors at the finale. Clane has been captured by the Barbarian leader Czinczar who brings in a package containing a deformed possibly alien body packed in ice. Clane proves that he has complete control of a ball of light which hovers within the room by killing the guards who try to harm him and then the Barbarian surrenders his entire forces to Clane. Is this body an alien threat from outside the Solar System, or one of the Riss?

The Altar on Asconel – John Brunner (1965)


‘Exiles of an extra-galactic god


Whether or not he had wanted to turn back at the last minute, he couldn’t have – the wave of dirty, hungry people carried him helplessly along in their fervor to reach the temple. Like dope addicts, he told himself, they don’t even care about themselves, only about the thing that is inside the temple!

He remembered the day ten years ago when his older brother had been made a Warden of Asconel, a prosperous and happy planet, and he and his other brothers had left in the interests of their people. Now they had returned to a world where a fanatical cult had usurped the Warden’s chair, and men and women were gladly offering themselves up as human sacrifices to Belizuek – whoever or whatever that being from beyond the galaxy was…

I’ll find out, he told himself grimly, when I enter these doors…’

Blurb from the 1965 M-123 Ace Double paperback edition.

Part of Brunner’s ‘Interstellar Empire’ series, As a backdrop to this novel; Humanity spread out into space and discovered many abandoned starships. Using these, a Galactic Empire was established which has now collapsed, leaving the galaxy in a state comparable to Asimov’s Galactic Empire in ‘Foundation and Empire’ where the collapsing Empire is too weak to sustain itself but remains a formidable force.
Asconel was a progressive world outside of the dominion of the failing Empire (with however a hereditary warden it appears). Hodat inherited the wardenship and his three brothers decided to leave the planet to avoid being used as figureheads in any opposition to his stewardship. The youngest brother, Sartrak, has dedicated himself to study in a pacifist brotherhood.
Sartrak’s hot-headed brother Vix arrives to tell him that Hoday has been murdered and that his position as warden of Asconel has been usurped by one Bucyon and his telepathic partner, Lydis. They have brought a new religion to Asconel, one that seems unfeasibly popular and which features voluntary human sacrifice.
Sartrak and his brothers along with Eunora, a young telepath, return to Asconel, determined to rid the world of the evil that has mentally enslaved its people.
It’s a very enjoyable read. The background, however, is far more interesting than the novel itself. The rump of the Empire, whom we encounter en-route are an aggressive paranoid lot.

Davy – Edgar Pangborn (1964)


‘Davy is set in the far future if our world, in the fourth century after the collapse of what we describe as twentieth-century civilisation. In a land turned upside-down and backwards by the results of scientific unwisdom, Davy and his fellow Ramblers are carefree outcasts, whose bawdy, joyous adventures among the dead ashes of Old-Time culture make a novel which has been hailed as “a frightening, ribald, poignant look at an imaginary future,” as “this chilling and fascinating book,” as “superb entertainment… unique,” as “so unusual as to make it both refreshing and thought-provoking.”’

Blurb from the 1976 Star Books paperback edition.

Several hundred years after nuclear war, Davy begins to write the story of his life.
After accidentally killing one of the guards in the village compound in which he grew up, Davy flees, narrowly avoiding getting involved in a territorial war, and joins up with various travellers – including a mutant, a man who claims to be his father, a travelling carnivale and finally some seafaring wanderers with whom he finally settles on an island in the Azores.
Initially illiterate, Davy is taught to read and write by an old lady in the travelling circus, and thus defies the controlling Church’s prohibition on reading texts from before the Apocalypse.
In some ways this is a nostalgic look at an America in pioneering times, since society has regressed to that level, and confines itself to an area between Philadelphia and the Catskill mountains. The leader of the group that Davy joins makes some of his living by selling a universal panacea, ‘Mother Spinkton’s Home Remedy’, which is claimed to cure more or less everything.
The Church is portrayed as a restrictive and anachronistic force and there are signs that its power and influence are in decline.
Although not as powerful and original as ‘A Mirror For Observers’ this is a thoughtful and idiosyncratic work, very redolent of Simak in its yearning for a pastoral America, but at the same time critical of religious political control.
Overall it is a compelling portrait of a teenager’s passage into adulthood and his changing attitude as he learns and experiences conceptual breakthroughs.
It is to be noted that the human mutations in this work are simply that. Refreshingly the ‘Mues’ that are encountered show no signs of fantastic powers but are merely severely brain-damaged and/or physically deformed.
It is perhaps too romantic a vision of a post-nuclear world, but then, the novel is not about that. It is about characters and their lives, all of which are beautifully portrayed.

The Towers of Toron – Samuel R Delany (1964)

The Towers of Toron

‘Beyond The Invisible Barrier

“We have received warning. The Lord of The Flames is loose on earth once more.”

Once before the Lord of The Flames has been driven halfway across the universe. His return would mean a new era of chaos and conflict for the populace of Earth.
The Lord of The Flames was a strange adversary – a force of evil devoid of physical substance. He sought warmth in unpredictable places: creeping into the soul of a worm or the stem of a flower or into the mind of a man.

Unless his hiding place could be discovered, the Lord of The Flames could crumble the world once more to ashes. But finding him was not a simple matter. Evil is everywhere and the thing from space only lurked in one being at a time.’

Blurb from the 1964 Ace Doubles edition F-261

An early work from Delaney, demonstrates his poetic flare and individual voice. Set on a future Earth and within an oddly feudal society it is the sequel to ‘Captives of The Flame’ in which a group of people battled The Lord of The Flames and drove him off across the Universe. The Lord of The Flames is an amoral extraterrestrial entity who habitually hides within humans and conducts experiments. The humans have been helped by a tri-partite entity who is also an enemy of the Lord of The Flames. There is of course, an immediate connection to be made with the Holy Trinity and Lucifer, although there is little other religious reference in this particular novel.
Due to radiation left over from an ancient atomic war, there are various human mutations such as the Neanderthals, a dim-witted and clumsy race, and the Forest Guards, a race of taller humanoids who appear to exhibit different mental processes and some of whom are telepathic. One can’t help wondering if Delaney meant to translate the concept of dwarfs and elves to an SF setting.
The plot is oddly van Vogt-ish. The LOTF has returned and the Prime Minister has been murdered. The king died of natural causes some time later. The Crown Prince has been living among the Forest Guards and is sent for at once. Meanwhile, the ones aware of the LOTF’s presence try to flush him out.
Toron is currently at war with an enemy beyond the barrier they have not yet seen.
One of the protagonists, Tel, is conscripted and sent off to the war to fight alongside a Forest Guard and some Neanderthals. His sister, Alter, tracks down John’s sister Clea, a genius disabled by depression and the loss of her dead lover. Alter somehow raises her spirits and persuades her to join a circus as an accountant (after having already been offered a job as a dancer herself.)
Clea, it appears, did some work for the government and has hidden a secret away in her own head, hidden away even from herself. It is a secret about the war, a secret that could change everything.

City – Clifford D Simak (1952)


‘It started in 1990…
Cheap atomic power was a reality.
Hydroponic farming ensured enough to eat.

So everywhere men left the cities, abandoning the ancient huddling places of the human race.

At last, man was free.

And left behind – in the dead and empty cities – man’s memories remained as symbols of the childhood of the race. The Golden Age had come at last after generations of war and toil.


Blurb from the 1965 Four Square edition

City is a fix-up novel culled from the pages of Astounding and comprising of eight related stories and additional linking text.
The first story, ‘City’, is a tale of men, a tale which is being analysed in the linking text by a group of sentient dogs who believe the tales told by Dogs of the race of Men to be merely fables and Man himself to be a myth.
Simak’s naïve and somewhat surreal view of the future is based very much on his love for small-town America and its communities and values, and is often tinged with nostalgia for a way of life which has passed. Simak often depicts an Earth which has been abandoned by man, where Nature has been allowed to grow back over the scars which Man created.
The City of the title story is represented by one of its residential areas, a place of suburban houses and lawns which, like the rest of the City, is almost abandoned. Centralised automated farming technology has made vast tracts of land free for habitation and this, combined with the bizarre concept of an atomic plane for every home has lured people away to private estates in the country.
The worthy officials of the City Council however, refuse to accept that their City is dead and are in the process of evicting the last remaining residents (who have been labelled criminals and vagrants) who are squatting in the empty houses, unwilling to abandon the community where they spent their lives.
It’s a strange and unreal tale reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, and is full of poetry and atmosphere.
‘Huddling Place’ take us further into the future, to where descendant of one of the City’s characters has become an agoraphobic recluse in his country house, where he lives with his robot butler Jenkins. Having abandoned the cities, humanity is now abandoning the Earth, either for Mars or the interiors of the their homes from where they can travel ‘virtually’ via a holographic projection network. His agoraphobia prevents him from flying to Mars to save Juwain, the ancient Martian philosopher who was on the verge of producing a practical philosophy for humanity which would occasion the transformation of the race.
‘Census’ takes us forward in time again to the same house where the Webster grandson has surgically (rather than genetically) altering dogs enabling them to speak. Mankind is now heading for the stars while isolated groups of mutated humans live quietly in the wilderness.
Simak is again enjoining a return to a mere pastoral existence in which technology is only employed as a means to that end.
Technological developments here have allowed those with pioneering spirit to leave, those who were restricted (physically and spiritually) by existence within the city have been freed, allowing others the space to breathe within and alongside Nature.
In this section, Richard Grant, seeking the final clue to complete Juwain’s philosophy for humanity, meets the mutant Joe, a man of extended longevity, high intelligence and yet exhibiting no empathy with his fellow sapients, but rather a shocking amorality.
And so it goes on… Humanity, partly as a result of Joe unleashing the Juwain philosophy across the earth, is transformed, and is converted into a near-immortal form of life of high intelligence which can live on or in the planet Jupiter, abandoning the Earth to a handful of humans, the Dogs, the mutants and the robots.
Simak was never a writer for technical details. Jupiter is described as having a surface, and the Jovian ‘conversion process’ is hastily drawn with little explanation as to the nature of the process, something which no doubt would be explained as ‘genetic engineering’ today.
James Blish used a similar premise in his collection of related tales ‘The Seedling Stars’ while Frederik Pohl’s ‘Man Plus’ employs a combination of surgical and mechanical techniques to convert a man into a creature capable of living unaided on the surface of Mars.
‘City’ is a novel which is ultimately flawed by internal confusion of identity. The linking text implies that the stories are fables from ancient Dog History, and their content supports this, but the style seems at odds with the somewhat fairytale nature of the later stories in which talking bears, wolves, racoons and squirrels bring a rather schmaltzy Disney-esque sentimentality to the narrative.
Having said that, Simak attempts to explore the issue of what it means to be human. The humans, en-masse, chose the path of enlightenment offered by the conversion to Jovian forms, a path rejected by the Webster family (whose genealogy links all these stories) and a handful of others.
The legacy of humanity lies with the robots who are dedicated to developing the race of Dogs, unpolluted by human values and failings. Man is seen to be a creature willing to kill for what he wants, as when one of the Websters considers killing the Jovian ‘prototype’ Fowler in order to prevent the human race’s mass exodus to Jupiter, or John Webster’s solution to the problem of Joe the mutant’s experimental ants (who eventually threaten the entire planet) which is to poison them.
This may be reading far too much into what is at the end of the day a rather patchwork construction which, though poetic and inventive, fails to provide a satisfactory denouement. Flawed though it may be however, it is still a strange masterpiece that holds its own against the mainstream SF novels of the time.

Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban (1980)

Riddley Walker

This came to me highly recommended; praised by mainstream literary critics when it was published and listed in David Pringle’s ‘Science Fiction: The Hundred Best Novels’ (which, if you can get hold of a copy, is a superb overview of one hundred SF novels published between 1949 and 1984).
Riddley writes his own story – in his own language – of his life on the outskirts of Canterbury, far in the future and long after nuclear devastation.
It’s a difficult, though rewarding read. Riddley writes in a variation of English which, though degenerate, has its own dark poetic beauty.
Hoban manages to effortlessly create myths based upon our contemporary lives, using words, place names and phrases which have become corrupted into synonyms such as ‘gallack seas’ (galaxies) and ‘deacon termination’ (decontamination).
A pagan religion and philosophy has evolved – centred around ceremonies of performance and revelation – which combines beliefs involving the Moon and animal spirits and is entwined with the conflated legends of ‘St Eustace’ and ‘Eusa’ (which we presume was the USA) who split the ‘littl shynin man – the Addom’ in two and brought darkness to the world.
As in Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ with which this book is inevitably compared, the dialect is at first daunting, but one easily settles into the style and realises that this novel could not have been written any other way. It’s rich and poetic and full of hidden references to the past which have to be teased out of the text.
One could have forgiven Hoban for writing a tale demonstrating (as Walter M Miller did so ably in his similar novel, ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’) that humans never learn, and that we are doomed as a species to repeat our mistakes.
The difference is that in Miller’s novel humans were not essentially changed by disaster, whereas here, as we learn gradually, they have been, and that their beliefs in ‘telling’ and ‘trantses’ have some basis in reality. Some of the populace, including Riddley and a captive race of ‘Eusa’ people exhibit the ability to read each others’ thoughts and also commune with packs of wild dogs who have themselves evolved and are an important part of the Folklore of the indigenous population.
It’s a unique book, and one I suspect which needs to be read again. Refreshingly, it manages to avoid all the clichés of SF of the time and succeeds in creating a timeless and fabulous – though familiar – world peopled with grotesque yet believable characters.
It could so easily have become a morality tale, set as it is in the continuing aftermath of a Nuclear disaster, but its main message for me was to point out how wide might be the divide between the text of our own religious documentation and the historical truth.

Orphans of The Sky – Robert A Heinlein (1941)

Orphans of the Sky

‘Robert A Heinlein did more than any other writer to shape the Golden Age of science fiction and was, for well over two decades, the pre-eminent force in the field. ‘Orphans of the Sky’ first appeared in 1941, in the early days of his extraordinarily inventive and influential career.

The Jordan Foundation sponsored the Proxima Centauri Expedition in 2119, in an attempt to reach the nearer stars of the galaxy. But that was far in the mythic past. The original purpose of the Ship’s epic voyage has long been forgotten, and for generations the giant spaceship, lost between the stars, has been the only world that the people aboard have known. A strange civilisation has slowly developed, with its own superstitions, savage religion, rigid class structure and mutant outcasts. Then, one young man discovers the truth about the Ship and its destination, and a power struggle ensues that changes everything, for ever.’

Blurb from the 2001 Gollancz SF Collectors Edition.

Published originally in Astounding as ‘Universe’ and ‘Common Sense’ this early work by Heinlein may be also one of the first ‘generation ship’ novels of the genre, but by no means the best.
Presumably aimed at a juvenile readership it is centred around a young man called Hugh Hoyland, an apprentice scientist in the world of ‘The Ship’. Their sacred writings are manuals; works of physics and Ship’s records. Fiction is considered to be ancient records of real events. The ship’s inhabitants believe the Ship to be the Universe and that nothing can exist beyond its walls.
One day Hugh is captured by muties (mutants who live in the zero-gravity area near the hub of the ship), taken to see the control room, and begins to realise that everything his people believe is a lie.
Hugh manages to eventually unite the crew and the muties (which may also be a reference to Mutineers, since their current state of existence is due to a long-ago mutiny) and restarts the ship’s drive in order to complete the journey the ship set out on.
The boss of the mutie gang, Joe Jim may or may not have been an unconscious inspiration for Zaphod Beedlebrox of ‘the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’ since he has two heads, one being Jim, one being Joe. The argue incessantly until they reach some kind of consensus.
Sadly, there is a rushed and rather improbable ending, following a somewhat unlikely series of events. Hugh manages to learn how to launch a landing craft from the ship only to discover that they are within spitting distance of a life-bearing world, and then safely lands the craft.
Most of the book has Heinlein’s trademark amiable readability but the denouement is too rushed and contrived and no doubt causes even Heinlein fundamentalists to raise an eyebrow or two at such convenient coincidences.

Deus Irae – Philip K Dick / Roger Zelazny (1976)

Deus Irae

‘When Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction legends Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazny combined their talents to write Deus Irae, the result was a visionary novel both playful and profound.
The story begins after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed all that is familiar, including humanity’s faith in a benevolent God. Out of the ashes arises a mighty new religion based on fear and death – worship of the God of Wrath, the Deus Irae.
Two men, one an armless and legless artist, and the other a young Christian, unwillingly make an arduous pilgrimage across a fantastic landscape in search of the mysterious godhead’s identity. Each step brings fresh danger and adventure as the men encounter the bizarre consequences of a poisonous war: tribes of talking lizards, robots hungry for human energy, an insane machine that turns bicycles into pogo sticks and a hunter with a strange, powerful knowledge. Blending action, religion and philosophy, Deus Irae is a work of high imagination and originality – by two of sci-fi’s greatest writers.’

Blurb from the 1993 Collier Nucleus Science Fiction Classic edition

This collaboration is a kind of inverted ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’
In a North America devastated by a Nuclear War, Tibor McMasters is a talented artist. Despite having no hands or legs he produces his work by battery-operated extensors and travels around in a cart pulled by a cow. He is commissioned by the Church of the Sons of Wrath to paint a murch (a church mural) showing the true face of the Deus Irae, the God of Wrath. This is the deified aspect of Carleton Lufteufel, the man responsible for the war which ravaged the world.
To see the face of the man, Tibor is sent on a Pilg to find Carleton and take photographs to work from.
He is joined in his quest by Pete Sands, a member of the dwindling Christian faith, whose ulterior motive is to stop Tibor from finding the Deus Irae, as Tibor’s success would inevitably increase support for the Sons of Wrath at the expense of the Christians.
It’s an odd mixture of fantasy and SF elements, some of which read too much like allegorical fables to sit well with the internal logic of the novel.
On his journey – like the original Christian – Tibor meets various characters who are either friendly, dangerous or merely insane, such as the female avatars of the Great C, a degraded computer system which captures passers-by and dissolves them in an underground vat of acid as a kind of analogue stomach.
Finally, in an ironic twist, Tibor and Pete meet a hunter, a man who seems to have a strange talent for survival, but a man to whom Tibor’s dog takes a dislike. The Hunter kills Tibor’s dog and Tibor, in a fit of rage, kills him not realising – as Pete does – that the man is Carleton Lufteufel, the Deus Irae.
Pete, finding a neat way to complete his mission, hires a local imbecile to pretend to be the Deus Irae and Tibor gets his pictures, returns to the Church and completes his mural.
One suspects that had one or other of these very individual writers written this alone it would have been a far stronger work. Certainly the Dick elements seem to overwhelm the Zelazny elements, but there is a half-heartedness about the novel, what one can only describe as complacency. It treads a lot of ground that both writers have already explored. There are echoes of ‘Damnation Alley’ and ‘Dr Bloodmoney’ here. Indeed, Carleton is merely the figure of Dr Bloodmoney transformed to another novel and both authors seem to be merely going through the motions.

The Einstein Intersection – Samuel R Delany (1967)

The Einstein Intersection

Delany wrote at least some of this in his early twenties in Greece, which is evinced by the fact that some of the chapters are prefaced by excerpts from his diaries of the time, in which he records his interactions with the locals and his thoughts about his writing. He details how random events influenced the narrative, such as a young red-headed boy running across his path; something which gave him the idea of changing the colour of Kid Death’s hair to red.
It appears to be a kind of personal exorcism for Delany who was writing out the influences and obsessions of his early life, one of them being Billy the Kid.
The events of the novel are set so far in the future that the sun has captured two extra planets that now orbit between the Earth and the Sun.
This is a world recovering from a nuclear war and, in Dickian fashion, ‘different’ people abound. In Lo Lobey’s village (‘Lo’ being a title for ‘functional’ people) there are many ‘different’ people. The severely non-functional are kept in ‘kages’ and looked after until they either die or – in some cases – prove their functionality.
The people have many myths of the past, such as the story of Orpheus and, amusingly, that of The Beatles. As La Dire tells Lobey:-

‘Let’s talk about mythology, Lobey. Or let’s you listen. We’ve had quite a time assuming the rationale of the world. The irrationale presents just as much of a problem. You remember the legend of the Beatles? You remember the Beatle Ringo left his love even though she treated him tender. He was the one Beatle who did not sing, so the earliest forms of the legend go. After a hard day’s night he and the rest of the Beatles were torn apart by screaming girls, and he and the other Beatles returned, finally at one, with the great rock and the great roll.’

La Dire, who looks after the kaged non-functional children, goes on to tell Lobey that the legend of Ringo is a version of an earlier legend, that of Orpheus.
Lobey, who has a hollow scimitar the doubles as a flute, falls in love with a telekinetic mute called Friza, who also has power over animals.
When she is killed, Lobey vows to avenge her and finds himself reliving the legend of Orpheus.
It’s a beautiful poetic piece of work in some ways typical of its time. There are echoes of Philip K Dick and the romanticism of some of the work of Roger Zelazny, Ray Bradbury and others. Certainly it is typical of the Romanticism of the time. Despite its reliance on human myths and concepts, the central premise is that these descendants of humanity are no longer human and consequently will develop new rules and societies more suitable for them.
One custom that has been adopted within society is that of the mixing of the genes, and so having sex with strangers in this time appears to be beneficial to society.
Lobey, then receives instruction from La Dire (who appears to be somewhat prophetic) that he must go on a journey to kill that which killed Friza.
First he must kill a minotaur-like mutation, which leads him into an underground computer complex.
Kid Death is the counterpart of Hades and has the power to bring Friza back to life if necessary. Lobey must however travel to Kid Death’s own domain in order to confront him.
Along the way he meets various other characters and joins a group of dragon-herders who are travelling to Branning-at-Sea.
Delany is seldom an easy read, since there are often levels to his work that are missed on a first reading. With this, however, one can enjoy it for what it superficially is, which is an epic quest tale with the Campbell structure.