Walking the Night Land: City at the End of Time

The walk through the Night Land continues.

Essay: City at the End of Time, Greg Bear, 2008.514XS9dObkL

It isn’t just Greg Bear saying in interviews that this novel was both a homage to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars or critics guessing that. Hodgson shows up right on page 398, and Bear subsumes the man and his novel into his own creation:

’Like a battlefield,’ said Glaucous. ‘I walked the trenches around Ypres, almost a hundred years ago, looking for a particular gent – a fine strapping fellow and a poet. He dreamed, so I was led to believe, of a place he called the Last Redoubt. He’d written a book before shipping out, detailing his dreams . . . But the war had already blown him to bits. Lean years for hunters, during wartime.’

Glaucous is one such hunter, or, to be exact, he’s a “chancer”, sort of a man who can unconsciously manipulate probabilities to help hunters like Whitlow find “shifters” and “dreamers”. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: City at the End of Time”

The Mind Pool

The Charles Sheffield series continues with a . . .

Raw Feed (1997): The Mind Pool, Charles Sheffield, 1993.

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Cover by David B. Mattingly

Introduction” — Sheffield explains that this is a revision of his 1986 novel The Nimrod Hunt which, he frankly admits, was greatly influenced by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.

The Mind Pool — This is Sheffield’s attempt to imitate Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. As he says in his introduction, Sheffield makes no attempt to imitate Bester’s wonderful style and is not capable of doing so. The lack of Bester’s prose style may explain why this story was not particularly engaging when I read it nor memorable.

To be sure there are plenty of baroque, Bester-like elements though Bester seems to not only show the influence of The Stars My Destination but also Bester’s The Demolished Man. The element of personality disintegration and reconstruction, epitomized by the Demolition of the latter novel, is the major theme. It is echoed in the novel’s end with the fate of two major characters, the brain-damaged Luther Brachis and the catatonic Esra Mondrian, facing possible reconstruction in the Sargasso Dump.

The submergence of individual personality into the Mind Pool is another example of this as are the alien Tinker Composites. Closely allied to this theme is the idea of personal transcendence a lá Gully Foyle in The Stars My Destination. Chan Dalton experiences this in the Tolkov Stimulator as do the participants of the Mind Pool. Continue reading “The Mind Pool”

“Judgment Day”

Review: “Judgment Day”, James Gunn, 1992.Uncollected Gunn 1

My look at the unpublished works of James Gunn continues with a look at the fourteenth story he wrote. It was written in 1951 while Gunn was finishing up his master’s thesis Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis.

This one takes up a mere three pages in The Unpublished Gunn, Part One.

It opens with a description of a dead Earth, its surface only disturbed by wind and the sea bereft of life.

There is a spaceship on it and five “man-like” figures discuss what they are finding in their survey, discuss without speech “nor yet telepathy”.

‘Dead’, the Philosopher said. ‘Quite dead.

‘Too late,’ the Psychologist, behind, said softly. ‘We were too late.’

The other characters with allegorical-type names are identified only as the Biologist, the Archaeologist, and the Sociologist. Continue reading ““Judgment Day””

Anarchaos; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Well, I don’t have any bright ideas for a new series of Raw Feeds while I work on writing new reviews.

I saw Gaping Blackbird‘s recent review, so I thought I’d put this one up.

Additional observations are provided by The Westlake Review (I’ve linked to the second half of a two-part review, but the first part is worth reading too), Existential Ennui, and Olman’s Fifty

Raw Feed (1993): Anarchaos, Curt Clark, 1967.Anarchaos

A short novel of bitter irony.

Narrator and protagonist Rolf Malone, a man so short tempered he kills five people for making too much noise at a party, gets our of jail after seven years to avenge the murder of his brother on Anarchaos, an anarchist world based (I assume given the names given) on the writings of anarchist philosophers.

Contrary to the cover blurb – “The only crime was to be killed”, there are absolutely no crimes – or laws – on Anarchaos. The author uses it take some swipes at the philosophy of anarchism, syndicalism, and the social degeneracy that the extreme practice of rugged individualism would allegedly cause.

Realistically people would not live without some form of law – even if just manners, customs, and traditions and not written law. Clark aka Donald Westlake realizes this in one scene where various taxi drivers competing for the narrator’s fare are very polite to each other. “An armed society”, as Robert Heinlein is alleged to have said, “is a polite society.”

His brother, Gar, is the opposite of Malone – cool-headed (Gar thinks he’s too passionless), educated, responsible, well liked by this family. But the brothers are close, and Rolf feels his brother’s death heavily.

As soon as he ventures out of the spaceport on Anarchaos, he murders a taxi driver for his weapons, and I thought I was in for a tale of a man methodically, ruthlessly finding out the murderers of his brother and killing them. But the novel takes an unexpected turn as things rapidly go wrong.

Rolf Malone is shot, sold into slavery for four years (a chilling experience which reduces Malone to a mindless, animalistic level), maimed, escapes only to be rescued by a man he reluctantly kills because he also wants to enslave Malone), and Malone is kidnapped again.

During most of the book, he makes absolutely no progress towards his goal of vengeance. It is only when kidnapped the second time that he, almost at the end of the book, discovers his brother died because of his discovery of a mineral deposit, caught in the crossfire between two off-planet mining companies. The United Commission only assists colonial governments based on real or theoretical governments of the past (a legal invention I liked and which seems realistically bureaucratic and flawed). Therefore, the UC wants to get rid of Anarchaos but is politically foiled by corporations who find the political conditions ideal for exploiting the planet’s fur and mineral wealth.

The man with the violent temper can not work up enough passion to kill his brother’s murderers when he learns their identity. Indeed, he pleads with them to erase his mind and return him to the animalistic mindlessness of their slave camp he escaped from.  As he urgently explains to his captors

“ … I came to this planet, I thought I was hard, I thought I was the strongest there was and it would all go my way, and nothing went my way. I lost every fight. I lost a hand. I learned nothing, and I’m sitting here a prisoner of a man I don’t know, caught up in some sort of problem I don’t understand.”

The problem is, as Rolf discovers, that Gar’s mineral discovery is unknown, its location encrypted in Gar’s personal diary, and both Rolf’s kidnappers and Gar’s old employers (which seem more sinister as time goes on) want that secret. Upon reading a personal passage in which Gar talks of his hopes for what his reunion with Rolf will do for both brothers, Rolf musters the will to kills his captors. Though he strangles them, his attitude is not passionate but dutiful. He comes to think of his brother’s death as “accidental murder” and not a personal act done because of whom Gar was; he agrees with what so many people tell him at novel’s beginning, that it is Anarchaos and its political, social, and economic conditions which really led to his brother’s death.

At novel’s end, a couple of clichés emerge.

There is the ambitious, scheming Jenna Guild, ex-lover of Gar and concubine of Gar’s employer, head of Ice syndicate, who plans on using Rolf to kill said head, Colonel Whistler. Whistler himself says that corporations tend to send their worst employees to Anarchaos as punishment and that he’s no exception. Worst here seems meant in a moral sense and not competence.)

Rolf obliges but only, with Guild’s help (he eventually abandons her), to invoke another cliché: the sf action story that abruptly ends with the hero inciting a sudden political/social revolution/transformation. (The idea isn’t inherently bad. Look at Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.) Here Rolf gets a hold of some corporate bombs and uses them on United Commission embassies on Anarchaos. This act of terrorism will incite the UC towards one of two things: imposing their government on Anarchaos or pulling out of the planet and taking their economic assistance with them (the bombs destroy a good chunk of banking records) – assistance which keeps Anarchaos alive given its shrinking population. It was not a bad ending, and despite being a common plot device, it’s an act that makes sense given the context and themes of the story. Still, my favorite feature of this story is the transformation of its protagonist, a process unexpected in this kind of story.

 

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

Carve the Sky

The Alexander Jablokov series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): Carve the Sky, Alexander Jablokov, 1991.Carve the Sky

I was first puzzled by this book’s title. It turns out to be a metaphor and allusion to the central theme of the book: that all of us carve and create — if we are truly to be alive — the reality we want, be it an act of artistic creation or a political creation. We are all, the book seems to say, artists to one extent or another

This is a very literary — and good — sf novel where a theme is played out in a number of variations in plot and character

The central theme is expressed in the metaphor of the Dispossessed Brethren of Christ, one of the best and most interesting features of the book. They are warrior-monks reminiscent of the Knights Templar (right down to building a Jerusalem Lost) with a strong gnostic streak. To them the world is evil and God is imprisoned in it, awaiting the art of sculpting to free him from the world as Christ’s divinity was revealed on the cross when his divinity was revealed in death administered by the sculpting tools of hammer, nail, and lance.

I don’t know how much of their fascinating theology is a Jablokov invention, but a look through the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry [yes, I do have a copy] showed that three of the four named elements in their spacedrive — Jochin, Boaz (which are the principle pillars in Solomon’s temple), and Aaron’s Rod — are associated with Royal Arch Masonry. Continue reading “Carve the Sky”

The Cornelius Chronicles

I suppose the time has come in the Michael Moorcock series to look at some of the Jerry Cornelius books.

I didn’t really enjoy these books that much. However, if you realize going into them (and I didn’t), that Moorcock is doing his version of Commedia dell’Arte, they will be a lot more understandable.

However, I really can’t recommend them.

Raw Feed (1999): The Cornelius Chronicles, Michael Moorcock, 1977.Cornelius Chronicles

The Repossession of Jerry Cornelius”, John Clute — While I find Clute’s entries very useful in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (the shorter format curbs his excesses), I find his book reviews less than useful with his self-confessed fondness for obscure words and extended metaphors. I don’t know if Moorcock commissioned this introduction to the omnibus or if Clute’s opinions on these four novels bear any resemblance to the books. From what I gather, Clute (a resident of London where this piece was written and where Moorcock was born and lived a number of years and has written about) views these novels as a metaphor for city life in London from 1965 to 1977, the span of years in which these novels were written.  (And, to a lesser extent, a comment on the contemporary scene in Europe and worldwide.) I don’t agree with Clute’s sociological observation that life in the city is theatrical and involves putting on personas to perform on the metro stage (at least no more than personas are adapted in any social setting). It also seems that Clute is hinting that The Condition of Muzak, the fourth novel in the series, may imply that the previous three books are the daydreams of loser Jerry Cornelius.

The Final Programme — I enjoyed this novel (and certainly found it more enjoyable than Moorcock’s The Black Corridor and The Distant Suns) but found it oddly structured.  It’s light and airy, the dialogue archly ironic and droll, and easy to read, but I never got the feeling of building up to a climax. In fact, since I had seen a film adaptation of this novel, I expected the final ending of Jerry Cornelius (a sometimes callous and ruthless figure given to incest with his sister and, like Moorcock’s Elric, vampirically feeding off others – albeit with no instrumentality like Stormbringer) and merging with Miss Brunner to become a hermaphrodite. However, despite all the talk of a new world emerging, the cycle of time perhaps being broken, and millions following “Cornelius Brunner” into the sea to their deaths (and plague breaking out all over Europe), I never got the sense of a new order (or, at the very least, a significant new order) emerging.  The idea of a dream being used to create a new social order is something in many of the Eternal Champion stories, but I couldn’t tell if Cornelius was an agent of Law or Chaos, or just the new. I’ve seen it claimed that Cornelius was a proto-cyberpunk hero. I doubt that he had much influence and, if he did, it probably was the importance of contemporary popular culture, an international setting, trade and brand names (Moorcock probably was inspired by Ian Fleming in this since the James Bond series, partially parodied here, was big on brand names), and fashion (meticulously described here). Cornelius probably has his place amongst sf characters (this omnibus if frequently cited in lists of classic sf.) because it so stridently (and was probably the first to do so) tries to capture its time and the portents that seemed to be in the air of the very influential sixties’ London. Continue reading “The Cornelius Chronicles”

Sailing to Utopia

The Michael Moorcock series continues with some more science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): Sailing to Utopia, Michael Moorcock, 1963, 1997.Sailing to Utopia

Introduction” — Moorcock explains how the novels of this omnibus are collaborations in one way or another. The omnibus is dedicated to Robert Sheckley who, along with Philip K. Dick (I agree with Moorcock that the novels of Dick predict the flavor of our time more than the contemporaneous novels of Robert A. Heinlein) and Alfred Bester. Given Moorcock’s reputation of being an experimental writer in the style of the mainstream and his leadership in the “New Wave” movement of sf via his editorship of New Worlds, I was surprised to hear him chastise the “Angry Young Men” (I’m not sure what writers that refers to) as being concerned with little more than sex and power and corrupting “the tone and aspirations” of the modern novel. It was in Sheckley, Dick, and Bester that Moorock found the “substance” Victorian novels taught him to demand, and their work had more relevance, craft, energy, relevance, and imagination in Moorcock’s mind than many celebrated novelists.

The Ice Schooner — Unlike his fantasies which usually seem to fit clearly in the themes of the Eternal Champion, this early sf novel of Moorcock’s doesn’t seem to be part of the same series. However, in thinking about it, it has some of the same ideas. Arflane, the hero here, worships (as does the epitome of the Eternal Champion, Elric of Melniboné) a form of chaos, specifically the entropy symbolized by the religion of the Ice Mother. Like most Eternal Champions, he is doomed to not have domestic or romantic happiness. At novel’s end, he leaves New York to go north to find evidence of the Ice Mother. However, he leads love Ulrica Ulseen to New York where her suspicions about the fading Ice Age are confirmed. Her trip back to the Eight Cities to get them ready for the changing climate fits in with the notion of the Cosmic Balance constantly shifting due to changing circumstance. The adherants of the Ice Mother, especially the fanatically murderous harpooner Urquart, are devotees of an unchanging descent into entropy, sort of a combination of Law and Chaos in a static culture. Urquart hates what he perceives as decadence in the Eight Cities’ subconscious reaction to a warming climate. Arflare initially shares these feelings. Arflare helps, indirectly, to bring about a new Cosmic Balance. I’m a fan of stories set in polar regions and during Ice Ages, and I liked this baroque tale of iceships though I thought the land whales a bit silly. However, they were rationalized as engineered creatures. I liked the northern polar settlements went underground (or, at least, under ice) and used science to survive. The Antarctic-derived culture chose a more primitive static method. I liked the love affair between Ulrica and Arflare and the guilty conscience and miserableness from its adulterous origins. However, like many fictional romances, its origins seemed implausibly sudden. Continue reading “Sailing to Utopia”

The Roads Between the Worlds

The Michael Moorcock series continues not with sword-and-sorcery but science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): The Roads Between the Worlds, Michael Moorcock, 1964, 1971.Roads Between the World

Introduction” — An interesting introduction in which Moorcock not only talks about the three novels in this omnibus but his relation to sf. Moorcock cites Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man as an influence which made me eager to read the novels in this omnibus. Moorcock has said he doesn’t have a lot of interest in “modern sf” but liked the works of Fritz Leiber, Philip K. Dick, and the Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth collaborations. This explains his dislike of Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein. He doesn’t like conservative sf with its preeminence of rationalizing with hard science its fantasy elements. For him, sf (he’s hardly alone in this nor is it an illegitimate stance) is a way to understand our world. The fantasy element in his sf is both a symbol as well as a device to move the story. He says these three novels trace the evolution of the “rationalist apparatus” of sf from “stage machinery” to symbolic writings. Moorcock also, as I didn’t know, worked as a writer for the British Liberal Party for awhile. These novels were written in one draft and very slightly revised for this edition. Evidently, they were written in a hurry to provide more traditional far for the experimental magazines Science Fiction Adventures and New Worlds.

The Wrecks of Time — I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would. Its plot of Earths being built and destroyed and altered (and the inhabitants amnesiac about the alteration of their planet’s geography) reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s themes of what is reality and simulating it. The scheming groups of D-Squads and aliens obsessed with recreating the society that birthed them reminded me of A. E. van Vogt (also an influence on Dick). Continue reading “The Roads Between the Worlds”

Slan

While I work on new stuff, I’ll continue with some pulp related material.

I have never been real keen on the smug “gosh, we are special” attitude of too many science fiction fans. This is the archetypal text for that: “Fans are slans” as the saying went.

I don’t know how popular this novel still is. I did come across a co-worker in the mid-1980s who said this was her favorite novel.

Kevin J. Anderson wrote a sequel, Slan Hunter, in 2007.

Raw Feed (1991): Slan, A. E. van Vogt, 1946, 1951.Slan

I expected to like this book since I’ve liked the van Vogt short stories I’ve read. I did not like it. In fact, I found its 176 pages a tedious read.

I suppose part of it may have been its pulpiness, but I’ve read pulp I’ve liked. I like baroque plots, so I don’t think I objected to the idea of back stage manipulations and twists and turns per se. But I don’t think van Vogt handled it well. His idiosyncratic method of 800 word scenes was usually obvious and kind of fun to look for. But too much was left for the end-chapter revelations instead of being revealed piecemeal like more conventional mystery/suspense plots. Van Vogt’s 800 word method may prevent that.

The return, at end, of the allegedly dead Kathleen Layton Gray caught me by surprise, I must admit though it’s very typical for sf of the period (must end with that marriage). [In retrospect, this seems an overgeneralization.]  I’ll even admit Kier Gray, world dictator, turning out to be a slan caught me by surprise; van Vogt effectively defused my suspicions of this in the middle of the novel. Continue reading “Slan”

The Stars My Destination; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Gully Foyle is my name

And Terra is my nation.

Deep space is my dwelling place

And the stars my destination.

I did have a review of sort in the archives for my favorite science fiction novel.

Does it have plausible science? No, but Bester works out the implications of mentally powered teleportation well.

It has vengeance.

It has an epic opening.

As the late reviewer Baird Searles titled his review of a re-issue of the novel: “Better. Best. Bester.”

The plot? Spacer Gully Foyle, a “stereotype Common Man”, is the sole survivor of a wrecked starship. After figuring out how to survive for 170 days in space, a ship, the Vorga, arrives.

But it doesn’t pick him up.

It leaves him stranded. The “door to holocaust” is opened, and Foyle begins his transformation into a juggernaut of vengeance with a face that flares with tiger stripes when angered and the words “‘Vorga,’ I kill you filthy” on his lips.

It’s a science fiction version of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. It even has the same number of syllables in the title as writer and poet and fan of the novel Joe Haldeman pointed out.

The verse at the beginning showed up, in of all places, an episode of the animated tv show Phantom 2040 from 1994. (I believe it was one of the three “Dark Orbit” episodes.) It was a science fiction updating of The Phantom comic strip, a strip Bester wrote for.

Reviewer parallax provided by Speculiction.

Raw Feed (1990): The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester, 1956.Stars My Destination

I enjoyed this book even more the second time around.

The first time I read it, I was swept away by the excitement and suspense of the story, the depth of Gully Foyle’s obsession for vengeance, and Bester’s splendid working out of a society built on the ubiquitous principle of personal mental teleportation, the jaunte.

Those things were all there on the second reading but I noticed other things as well.

The theme of transcendence was obvious even on the first reading, but this time I noticed its many faces. Foyle not only develops himself physically and intellectually but morally; he thinks about his place in society. At one point, it is said, “The man who upsets the morphology of society is cancer.”  A curiously helpful, wise but malfunctioning, robot says a person is a member of society first, an individual second.

Foyle seeks a purging in punishment. Foyle will transform the millions like him who are stereotypically Common Men squandering their talents until he forces them, like him, to undergo a change.

Foyle seemed much more complex on this reading, and, ultimately, Foyle learns that not only should he not have been rescued since he was bait in a trap but also that Vorga would have just killed him after he was picked up since they were killing the refugees they were hauling.

Though Bester seemed, like many wimpy revenge stories, to have an ending where vengeance seems wrong, it doesn’t feel contrived since his novel is so concerned with questions of transformation and transcendence besides the obsession and justice of revenge.

On this reading, Foyle is somewhat contradictory character.  Bester deliberately shows this when he puts two scenes almost back to back. Jisbella McQueen discovers Gully Foyle is Fourmyle of Ceres. Foyle could kill her in Martian Commando Killer moder (I’m sure, in addition to other baroque touches, this is one of Bester’s influences on the cyberpunk authors) but doesn’t. The idea doesn’t occur to him.  Despite his denial and McQueen’s own statements, there seems to be a residue of love or, at least, faith and loyalty between the two. Yet in almost the next scene Foyle lies to Robin Wednesbury to get her to reveal Rodger Kempsey’s location on the moon. He promises to let her go then reneges on his word and forces her to still accompany him on his quest for revenge.

There also seems to be, at least on Wednesbury’s part, love between her and Foyle. She says, “You’re in love with her?  Olivia Presteign? … Ah, now you have lost me.” When Foyle becomes enamored of Olivia Presteign, Wednesbury seems to obliquely reveal a love of Foyle. Foyle, for his part, uses Wednesbury as a tool after once raping her.

Foyle’s dual side is revealed in the novel’s early part when McQueen speaks of his obsession.

Some of the novel’s best writing is at the end of the first part when Foyle, unable to control his obsession, leaves McQueen behind. The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction‘s entry for Bester, written by Willis E. McNelly, speaks of this novel’s Jungian aspects. I don’t know much about Jungian theory but the observation seems valid. Certainly Bester, in personal statements, has talked about an interest in psychological theories and his The Demolished Man certainly shows Freudian themes.  Foyle’s tiger tattoo seems to be (Why didn’t the publisher keep Bester’s wonderful title Tiger!  Tiger!?) symbolic of what, I think, Jung called the shadow side. It is a stigmata of possession by dark, uncontrolled passions.

I believe the same thing is evident in Foyle’s strange, sudden (though Foyle attributes this to her being an Ice Princess, a Snow Maiden, symbol of the unattainable — a Jungian archetype) to Olivia Presteign. Or is this an example of the duality Jung saw in every person, ying and yang, male and female?

The novel shows religious symbology too. I probably wouldn’t have picked up on this without reading The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction‘s Bester entry. Foyle is born again when Vorga leaves him and again when he jauntes out of St. Pat’s Cathedral. It is ironic perhaps that revelation of his abilities occurs there — or, at least, the conscious application of his incredible jaunting abilities. Also ironic that Foyle should be transformed in a church after earlier contemptuously commenting on religionists’ escape via their faith. He escapes his fate and realizes his abilities in a Church. Foyle is a curious combination of Moses, Christ, and a Faustian Mephistophles at novel’s end.

He sets the common man free from his mediocrity and from the tyranny of the tiger men, who Foyle sees as paternalistic, tyrannical, obsessed and also as scapegoats for the evasion of responsibility by the masses — more contradictory duality and perhaps another Jungian idea. And this time I actually got the point that Man doesn’t blow himself up for at least thirty years after getting PyrE — which, as Presteign comments, is detonated by the original creative forces of God: Will and Idea.

Foyle, with PyrE, also gives humans a terrible power and knowledge. He also serves as a liberator like Moses. The author of the Bester entry sees JXseph and MCira at novel’s end as Joseph and Mary, Christ’s parents. I don’t think so. Foyle seems to be treated like a prophet but the relation between Foyle and MCira seems like that of Christ and the woman who poured expensive perfume on him.

On a literary level, Bester uses the novel’s major characters as symbols of the major obsessions of society. Foyle — revenge, Paul Yong-Yeovil — pragmatic patriotism, McQueen — idealism, Presteign — greed and power, Wednesbury — sin and forgiveness, and Saul Dagenham  — transformation from selfish cynic to patriot. Foyle, when debating whether to reveal to the populace PyrE’s existence, questions the purity and consistency of their morals and value.

That malfunctioning robot (a seeming oracle from on high) tells him he must teach and not dictate to society, have faith in something. (It’s interesting that faith is necessary to jaunte and that Foyle, at story’s end, has faith in faith).

The description of synesthesia was breathtaking, the typography a clever device.  Bester’s elements of freakiness brilliance range from the Freak Factory to Cellar Christians, from Disease Collectors to Skoptsy to the Scientific People.

 

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