The Camp of the Saints

Essay: The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, trans. Norman Shapiro, 1973, 2018.

Would you kill to preserve civilization? Specifically, would you kill defenseless children, women, and men to preserve civilization?

That is the question posed by Raspail’s novel, surely the most significant science fiction novel written in 1973 and certainly still the most talked about.

The novel’s theme is encapsulated by a remark of the French president in a radio address as Easter Sunday becomes Easter Monday:

cowardice towards the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly.

We’ll return to that radio address later.

Reading this book, to say nothing of liking it and agreeing with its message, is enough to get you denounced and used as a weapon against you if you are a politician. In the month since I read this, that indeed happened to one American politician. You can do the experiment yourself. Do a Google search using “The Camp of the Saints” and “Raspail” and look at the first 12 pages. Three quarters of the entries will use words like “hateful”, “lurid”, “despicable”, and, of course, “racist” to describe the book.

Originally, I was going to do a three-part series on this book: the story, reactions to it, and the validity of its projections. Frankly, I didn’t think most people would want to read that nor would I change any minds in the related moral and political arguments.

So, I’ll mostly describe the book and conclude with some brief thoughts on its relevancy and place in science fiction.

You’ll get a better sense of the book here that any other place online I think.

Continue reading “The Camp of the Saints”

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Operation Syria

And, with this one, I’m now current with the adventures of William Meikle’s S Squad.

Review: Operation Syria, William Meikle, 2019.operationsyria

Rebels have grabbed some archaeologists working in Syria. Others managed to wall themselves up in a room after radioing for help.

The S Squad arrives, now up to full strength after replacing some members killed in previous adventures, to bring them home.

But it’s not rebels that are the problem. It’s spiders, lots of spiders, some very big spiders that are the danger. They behave a bit like pack animals and tap out signals to start swarm attacks. And, of course, there are webs, lots of spiderwebs big enough to hold men.

Not every squad member is going to be going home, and one of the archaeologist heroically helps the squad complete their mission.

What I liked best was Meikle’s use of the historic past of Dura-Europos, where the story takes place, and the real archaeological finds from there.

I also appreciated that, finally, the S Squad gets to use something besides just rifles and pistols against a monster.

If you’ve liked the series so far, this one won’t disappoint.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Operation: Siberia

I hadn’t planned on returning to the S-Squad series quite yet, but I’m waiting to get my hands on William Hope Hodgson’s Captain Gault series before reading any more Carnacki pastiches by Meikle.

And, since the thermometer was significantly below zero, it was time to read something set in a chilly place. Surprisingly, I seemed to not have any unread books like that in the library except for Dan Simmons’ The Abominable which, since I have the doorstopper hardcover edition and was going to be traveling, was not an option.

So, I started the S-Squad series again. However, the story ended up being set in Siberian summer.

Review: Operation: Siberia, William Meikle, 2018.Operation Siberia

It’s not a spy mission but an escort mission that brings the S-Squad to Siberia. Three scientists have been sent by the UN to see if Russian oligarch Volkov has complied with all international conventions in creating what’s basically a Pleistocene Park.

He probably hasn’t, but he certainly has brought back a lot of megafauna: mammoths, dire wolves, big lions, big birds, and some kind of hominid.

Volkov’s has been as lax about his security as his legal compliance, and, the next thing you know, the animals have escaped from their glass dome cages and start killing people.

The strengths of the novel is Meikle’s obvious love for his megafauna. Even at the end, we sense their grandeur or beauty as opposed to the ugly menaces of the proceeding installments in the series, Infestation and Operation Antarctica. Continue reading “Operation: Siberia”

The Ghost Club

This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.

Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.

theghostclub
Cover by Ben Baldwin

Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.

The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)

I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.

I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites. Continue reading “The Ghost Club”

Occult Detective Quarterly Presents

Longtime readers of the blog may wonder what I have against occult detective stories since this is the second anthology of such stories I haven’t done a complete review of.

Nothing really. I’m contemplating restricting the focus of this blog. In any case, I’m not looking to expand the type of books I cover. While I occasionally like to read occult detective tales, I’m not a big fan of them. Usually, I don’t really consider them science fiction or weird fiction, so I won’t be covering them.

Low Res Scan: Occult Detective Quarterly Presents, eds. John Linwood Grant & David Brzeski, 2018.

occult detective quarterly presents
Cover by Sebastian Cabrol

The only reason I bought this story was for William Meikle’s “Farside”. And a good decision that was.

This story combines his Derek Adams occult detective series with his Sigil and Totems series.

And one of the Seton clan shows up, one Alex Seton, the granddaughter of the protagonist of Meikle’s The Concordances of the Red Serpent. She’s being stalked – by Andrews, an old classmate of hers – in mirrors. Everywhere there are mirrors, Andrews watches her. He thinks, being a Seton, she has the secret to immortality. But Adams finds out the stalker is in fact dead by his own hand in a Sigil House. It’s a trail that will take Adams into the mysteries of the Sigil Houses and their unexpected uses and the choices offered by the “rainbow eggs” that are a feature of the Meikle Mythos, and hear talk of the Sleeping God. He’ll also find himself growing close to Alex. Surprisingly, given Adams’ origin story involving screwing around in his apartment for ten minutes while his despondent girlfriend bleeds to death in the bathtub from slit wrists, he won’t take advantage of the Sigil Houses ability to reconnect with the dead.

Also of note in this issue is Mike Ashley’s very informative essay on the history of occult detectives, “Fighters of Fear”. Editor Dave Brzeski adds some notes to Ashley’s article since it was last updated in 1994. Ashley starts his history in 1830 and, amongst other things, talks about the two great types of occult detective stories: “predominately detective stories with a supernatural background” and “supernatural stories involving detection” Ashley casts his net wide to include some authors I’d never heard of.

Each story in this anthology gets an original black-and-white illustration near its end (to prevent spoilers).

 

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories

Review: Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories, William Meikle, 2015.Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories

This collection succeeds as a sampler of Meikle’s work. There is science fiction-horror, a post-mortem fantasy, humor, magic, and a gothic tale.

My favorite story, partly because of its background of Scottish music, was the title story. It has a burned out folk singer from Scotland, his audience and his voice fading and his wife dead and too much liquor poured down his throat, seeing a shadowy figure in the crowd one night. Somehow, after singing it thousands of time, he finds new life in the Bobbie Burns’ song. A nice tale of rebirth, rededication, and optimism that uses well the lyrics of Burns’ “Green Grow the Rashes”.

Also gentle, if not so hopeful, is “In the Spring”. Its 78 year old heroine is a widow tired by her family fussing over her and complaining about, compared to her earlier life, rather paltry “hardships”. To be honest, this story was a bit too subtle for me. I’m not completely sure what happens at the end to the widow.

Too Many” is a straight up “so now you’re in Hell” story. As an Assistant Deputy Demon goes through Sheila Davidson’s sins with her, he thinks there may be a mistake. Then again, maybe not. Humorous and short enough not to wear the joke out. Continue reading “Green Grow the Rashes and Other Stories”

The Wanting Seed

This novel first came to my attention on the MPorcius Fiction Log and, recently, it was the subject of a discussion by Kevin Michael Grace on the Luke Ford YouTube channel.

Could two such sources be wrong in telling me it was worth a look? No.

So, before I dropped in on the Luke Ford discussion, I thought I’d read it.

I’ve been going back and forth about not reviewing everything I read, but there were some things I wanted to say on this one.

But I’d have to do at least a plot synopsis and explicate some of the major themes.

And then I realized I could just leech off MPorcius work.

Thus was born a new category of post: the parasite review.

Which means, in this case, you need to read MPorcuis’ post first.

Wanting SeedParasite Review: The Wanting Seed, Anthony Burgess, 1962.

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and given a year to live. Not wishing to leave an impoverished widow, he wrote five novels in the next year. One of them was this novel.

That may explain some of its faults and, for me, a somewhat inconclusive ending. Burgess himself said, “it needed to be longer in the oven … but I needed money”.

Like MPorcius, I think this a satire and not a serious effort at extrapolative prediction.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, it stands near the beginning of science fiction novels about overpopulation. My favorite overpopulation novel is Harry Harrison’s extrapolatively dishonest Make Room! Make Room!. Oddly, Burgess accused Harrison of lifting the cannibalism theme of The Wanting Seed for the film adaptation of Soylent Green. In fact, according to Harry Harrison’s essay “A Cannibalized Novel becomes Soylent Green” in Omni’s Screen Flights, Screen Fantasies, says cannibalism was put in the script by the film’s producers and his contract forbid him having any input with it.

So what is Burgess satirizing? Continue reading “The Wanting Seed”