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.
‘The ship was called the Pleiades, and it was Earth’s first starship. It could travel instantaneously to literally anywhere in the universe – but that was just the trouble with it. For there was absolutely no way of predicting where in the infinities of space it would reappear when it winked out of the Solar System, and no way of knowing how to return.
it’s crew was two men and two women, each a Psionic Prime with mind-powers unparalleled in Earth’s history. The tale of how they pitted their powers against an entire universe is one of the daring adventure on the galactic scale such as could only have been written by science-fiction’s all-time great, Edward E. Smith.’
Blurb from the 1965 Ace paperback edition
A rather odd, late work from Smith in which he once more (as in his Skylark series) sends two couples off across the galaxy in a ship which, rather unimaginatively and improbably, has a Big Red Button. This, when depressed firmly, takes them to a random G-type planet in the universe.
No doubt in order to catch up with the times Smith introduces the tricky subject of sex into his Space Opera. There’s nothing raunchy about it. There’s a lot of talk about ‘pairing’. One couple eventually go off to a cabin together and emerge later for breakfast. In ‘Doc’ Smith terms, this is tantamount to porn.
The couple chosen for this voyage are the elite of Earth, a male and female ‘Prime’ (humans of high intelligence with telepathic, psychokinetic and teleportation powers) and two Gunther Firsts (as above, but with not so many powers).
They visit a succession of Earth-type planets in another galaxy, peopled by humans but with varying customs. Every planet is guarded by another race called the Arpalones who protect Humanity from various (and seemingly pointless) alien attacks.
Returning to our own galaxy after learning how to control the Big Red Button, they again find Humanity on many Planets, each with small numbers of Primes.
They set up what is essentially an ‘Interstellar Primes Club’ and return home to Earth where Belle Bellamy (the female Prime) deduces that the Universe is a vast living organism which has evolved the Arpalones as antibodies for one section of its body, while the Primes will do it in their own galaxy; ordinary Humanity being put in the role of blood cells, and evil aliens as diseases.
Once again, even at this late date, Smith throws in the quite agreeable (to all involved) concept of genocide, as when our heroic four help the Arpalones to wipe out a species of man-faced flying tiger which has been menacing the locals.
Also, quite absurdly, they save another world from Communism. Somehow, in this entirely separate galaxy, the Communist leaders have evolved Russian names.
From the author of ‘the Skylark’ and ‘Lensman’ series, this is a very sad point to which to sink.
When Professor Cliff Davenport’s nephew takes his girlfriend for a dirty weekend in Barmouth the last thing he expects is for the two of them to get chopped up and eaten by giant crabs.
When a search can find no trace of the pair, the Professor sets off for Wales to investigate. It isn’t long before the somewhat mature Professor discovers claw marks in the sand that can only have been made by a crab the size of a cow.
More disappearances are reported along the coast between Barmouth and Rhyl. The Professor, and his new love, Pat, decide to check the beach at night as crabs apparently are drawn by the light of the moon.
They witness not only the huge crabs emerging from the sea, led by a gargantuan of the species whom they dub ‘King Crab’ but the killing and consumption of a deaf and dumb beachcomber.
No one will believe them until the crabs, getting a bit bold, emerge from the sea and attack an army base.
It’s a very short novel (I read the whole thing in one day during my commute to and from work) and a curious beast of a book.
It’s late pulp-fiction hokum and is, in its own way, very enjoyable, not least because the thought of Rhyl being destroyed by giant crabs is, to my shame, a fairly pleasant one.
It was common back in the day to feature mature pipe-smoking heroes who were unaccountably irresistible to attractive young women, and Professor Davenport, complete with greying hair and aquiline features is just such a specimen. Not only is he a marine biologist, but appears to be the only suitable candidate (even with a couple of army regiments on hand) to put on a diving helmet in order to search for the lair of the crabs.
Smith has also attempted to inject an erotic frisson since the Professor – having booked into Mrs Jones’ boarding house – finds himself sharing a breakfast table with a delightful divorcee called Pat Benson. The two have become far better acquainted by the next morning.
‘ Both Cliff Davenport and Pat Benson rose late the following morning. Most of the other guests had already breakfasted and departed by the time they sat down and made a start on their respective melons.’
Once the Professor and Pat have shared the discovery of giant crab life in things get altogether more steamy between them.
‘Her fingers were active, though. Cliff felt that thrilling sensation of his zip being pulled down, her fingers groping inside the open vent and then the coolness of the night air on his warm moistness. He gasped with pleasure. Pat Benson certainly knew what she was doing!
‘Their lips met again, tongues probing and entwining. Both of them were experiencing the awakening of something that had lain dormant in them for so long. Rapidly they were getting out of control. Nothing else mattered… not even the giant crabs!’
There’s quite a bit of this sort of stuff and about the only thing that Smith doesn’t describe in some detail is what Cliff does with his tobacco pipe while he’s letting the moist warmth of his manhood dry out in the cool night air.
It’s not clear if Smith intended there to be some subliminal message in the juxtaposition of crabs and a Professor of Marine Biology having impulsive and spontaneous sex with a near-stranger. The word ‘crabs’ in reference to crab lice was in common use in the 70s and no doubt before. The author surely cannot have been unaware that there would have been a dual meaning in the public consciousness, one which would resonate with readers.
If the author intended the linguistic connection to disturb, then it really wasn’t that much of a success, since the effect is more comic than disturbing.
Nevertheless, I have to say that I actually enjoyed it. It’s unpretentious and doesn’t try to convince anyone that it’s anything more than a bit of crustacean-based Welsh hokum, and I’m all for it.
More crabs please!
‘Violence is the key
The irrational all-pervading violence of the modern world is the subject of this hauntingly powerful novel. The central character’s dreams are haunted by images of John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, dead astronauts and motor-crash victims as he traverses the screaming wastes of nervous breakdown. Seeking his sanity, he casts himself in a number of roles; H-bomber pilot, presidential assassin, crash victim, psychopath.
Finally through the black , perverse magic of violence he transcends his psychic turmoils to find the key to a bizarre new sexuality…’
Blurb from the 1972 Panther paperback edition
By turns disturbing, inspiring, exciting and baffling, Ballard’s at-the-time controversial work is a surreal examination of society’s relationship with media, technology and violence.
The structure is a series of what may best be described as tone poems, themselves compartmentalised into labelled sections like the exhibits in the Atrocity Exhibition of the title.
Apart from the last piece ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’ (which although true to the themes of the rest of the book seems to have been added as an afterthought) and ‘The Generations of America’ (a list of American names written in biblical style with the word ‘begot’ replaced by ‘shot’) most sections seem to show an alternate reality featuring a central character whose name changes slightly each time: Travers, Travis, Talbert etc.
The Ballard motifs of light aircraft, empty swimming pools, modernist architecture and surrealist art are all well to the fore.
In true surrealist tradition, Ballard often achieves effect by the contrast of disparate images or objects, thus forcing us to make a relationship between the two, such as when he imagines Elizabeth Taylor (an iconic figure of popular culture) with gills; the gills brought to visual life by the comparison to the balconies of the London Hilton Hotel.
Other images – another surrealist device – are taken out of context and their scale altered, such as when hoardings display posters of blown-up sections of actresses’ faces and bodies. Removed from context they become abstract landscapes, rather like Ballard’s prose which, with its surreal metaphors, seems to suggest other meanings lying tantalisingly close beneath the words, but still out of reach of understanding.
Like his contemporary, Nigel Kneale, who in his play ‘The Year of The Sex Olympics’ prophesied the attraction and danger of reality shows, Ballard foresees a world where we are numb to murder and atrocity, where surveys are conducted on the attractiveness of assassination scenarios.
Paradoxically, and perhaps fittingly and deliberately, Ballard’s prose is poetic and seductive and although this book may be seen as part of society’s shift toward its desensitisation in terms of its attitude to violence, it is actually a warning to the future.
The word ‘geometry’ crops up regularly in this book – as it does in other works – but not with such insistent regularity. Running through these episodes is a catalogue – a thread – of visual connections which relate one tableaux to another, usually involving the angles of limbs or architecture or components of a mechanism.
For readers new to Ballard’s work it isn’t a good place to start. It’s a demanding piece which requires abandoning one’s normal expectations of a novel, but one which is rewarding if taken in the right frame of mind.
A poetic if depressing view of our social evolution in the Twentieth century.
After an automobile accident the victim – a director of TV commercials – finds himself increasingly drawn to Dr Robert Vaughan, a man who calls himself a TV scientist, who haunts the sites of accidents like a vulture, taking photographs and making films of the aftermath and the wreckage.
The narrator, who appears to be Ballard himself, becomes gradually aware of the erotic charge held by the twisted wrecks of cars, where he feels he can sense connections between the shapes and angles of wreckage, the impacts themselves and the act of sexual congress.
The novel builds to its natural conclusion which is a collision, both literal and metaphorical, between the two characters.
Ballard’s incredible descriptive powers turn this, quite shocking in places, novel into a sort of poetic odyssey.
The narrator, already immersed in the illusory world of the media, his wife, Vaughan, and the wife of the dead victim of Ballard’s accident, drive through a world of tubular steel, films, photographs, modernist buildings, airports, motorways, cars and sex. As Ballard is drawn more and more under Vaughan’s influence he become hooked on the temptations offered by technology which is opening up a whole new language of sex, pornography and death.
Collisions and impacts are not merely a metaphor sexual climax, they become the sexual climax.
Death is the ultimate climax and Vaughan plans to die in a car accident with Elizabeth Taylor as the culmination (the climax) of his life’s work.
I found the idea of dedication one’s life to planning one’s death quite appealing. Vaughan’s concepts – he is a kind of Nineteen Seventies performance artist – are pretty revolutionary. He seems to think of his life as a work in progress, bound within the parameters of car wrecks and sexual gratification.
The car is seen here in various symbolic ways. As penile extension, the extension of the entire body, the status symbol, the exoskeleton…
The book seems to be written through an artist’s eyes. Much is made of the ‘geometries’ of this or that, and the relationship between shapes and spaces with regard to twisted cars or human bodies. But then, it’s also as if Ballard is attempting to create a new language to define the world into which Vaughan and his narrator have evolved.
At the end of the day it all conforms to a twisted kind of logic, but I’m not sure I can explain why.
‘From the moment Blake crashes his stolen aircraft into the Thames, the unlimited dream company takes over and the town of Shepperton is transformed into an apocalyptic kingdom of desire and stunning imagination ruled over by Blake’s messianic figure. Tropical flora and fauna appear; pan-sexual celebrations occur regularly; and in a final climax of liberation, the townspeople learn to fly.’
Blurb from the 1990 Paladin paperback edition.
Ballard plunges us headlong into a Messianic fantasy which begins when his hero, Blake, steals a Cessna aeroplane from an airfield and crashes into the river at Shepperton.
The setting is important as Shepperton is a place famous for its film and TV studios and stands symbolically in the British consciousness as a media Mecca.
Blake escapes from the plane, collapses, and is revived by the amazed townsfolk who tell him that he had been dead for about eleven minutes.
Following his ‘resurrection’ Blake begins to entertain sexual fantasies as tropical birds and flora start to manifest and transform the town into a jungle paradise.
The symbolism of the plane could be read as that of a cruciform, emphasised by the fact that the crippled children whom he befriends, collect pieces of the dead plane like the relics of a Saint.
Blake is involved with four people in particular:-
Miriam St Cloud: Miriam is a doctor. Her scientific scepticism is damaged immediately by Blake’s apparent return from the dead. Later she becomes – at least in the eyes of Blake’s followers – his bride.
Mrs St Cloud: Miriam’s mother. Blake engages in a feverish act of sex with her which transforms into a symbolic act of birth with Mrs St Cloud giving birth to Blake, born anew. Thus she becomes a mother figure. The father figure is the Reverend Wingate, a ‘father’ in the religious as well as symbolic sense, filling the role of father to Blake. Wingate is the first to see Blake’s ‘divinity’ and hands over his church to him to do with as he wants.
Finally, there is Starks. His role seems to be as a Judas and to oppose Blake. Indeed, some aspects of his life are the antithesis of Blake’s. he cages or kills animals or birds. Blake seems to generate animals and birds which are far happier and healthier than Starks’ caged specimens.
As Blake’s powers increase, Shepperton is transformed into a jungle and in his dreams Blake himself turns into a bird or whale and in turn transforms the townsfolk into appropriate creatures to accompany him. When he awakens it appears that the townsfolk seem to remember having the same ‘dream’.
The Messianic drama continues. Blake begins to heal people. He absorbs people into his own body (symbolic cannibalism) and, in a kind of orgiastic carnival, teaches the entire town how to fly.
As with many messiahs, his followers – led by Starks – eventually turn on him and he is killed again, his body left in the strange shrine-cum-grave which the disabled children have been building from dead flowers and Blake’s ‘relics’.
Then, by absorbing the life-forces of the creatures of the forest, he rebuilds his body, acquiring aspects of the various creatures of the woodland and rises once more, this time transforming the entire population of Shepperton and releasing them into what Ballard terms ‘the true reality.’
As in ‘Concrete Island’ the hero finds himself trapped in a specific environment, and is forced to either adapt himself to it or fight to escape. In this case, as escape seems impossible (the landscape recedes whenever he tries and he can never pass the barrier) he is forced to transform the environment to suit himself.
There are other Ballard motifs. We have the low-flying aircraft; his obsession with modernistic public architecture (a multi-storey car-park is the venue for Blake’s marriage to Miriam); the exotic landscape which permeates most of the book, and sexual fetishism and transference.
It is not an easy novel, but then Ballard’s novels are never easy to understand, but unlike other ‘difficult’ books Ballard’s work can be read for the sheer poetic beauty and the imagery alone.