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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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”

No Man’s World

 

Low Res Scan: Black Hand Gang, Pat Kelleher, 2010; The Ironclad Prophecy, Pat Kelleher, 2011; The Alleyman, Pat Kelleher, 2011.

Don’t bother reading Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World trilogy.

Why shouldn’t you read it?

For exactly the same reason you shouldn’t watch one of those well-done science fiction tv series that lasted a season. You get enraptured with the mysteries, the struggles of the characters, and, as you get near the end, you realize, with a sinking feeling, that there is no way all the conflicts and plots and subplots are going to be wrapped up, the mysteries solved. Continue reading “No Man’s World”

The Destiny Makers

The George Turner series continues with a formatting oddity.

This review was originally published in issue 28 of The Leading Edge. I don’t have a computer file of it; I wasn’t going to try to scan it from the magazine, and I wasn’t going to retype it, so you get a photos of the original submission.

From 1993, that makes this a …

Retro Review: The Destiny Makers, George Turner, 1993.

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Cover by Dorian Vallejo

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Star-Begotten

Review: Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, James Gunn, 2017.51CAqNyrFQL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_

Even James Gunn didn’t live all his life in science fiction, and the parts of his autobiography about his life outside that world are as entertaining and lengthy as the rest.

Of course, Gunn is a noted science fiction writer who first published in 1949 and has had new work published in 2018. He was the first to treat science fiction as an academic subject. He taught the craft of writing it for many years. He also was the man behind the Science Fiction Lecture Film series which filmed presentations of noted science fiction writers. You can find clips on YouTube and purchase the series from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction including one of Gunn interviewing Rod Serling.

But this autobiography gives you a sense of the man and something of his times.

It was a life, he acknowledges, governed by chance. One was meeting the woman he was married to for 65 years, Jane Anderson. It might not have happened if he hadn’t left college after his junior year in 1943 when we was finally called up for the Navy Air Force which he volunteered for shortly after World War Two started. Another chance event altered the trajectory of that Navy career when an unusually calm day, a condition in which Cadet Gunn was unused to, caused him fail to slow a plane while landing it solo for the first time. He became a washed-out aviator trainee. Continue reading “Star-Begotten”

Kaleidoscope

The alternate history series continues with a Harry Turtledove collection that, of course, includes a lot of alternate history.

Raw Feed (1994): Kaleidoscope, Harry Turtledove, 1990.kaleidoscope

And So to Bed” — I appreciated this story more upon a second reading. The first time I liked the basic idea of this alternate history – that Samuel Pepys, in a world where Neanderthals were never supplanted by modern man in the New World, develops the theory of evolution. On a second reading, I appreciated more Turtledove’s technical skill in reproducing, via diary, Pepys world (and, I assume, style though I never read Pepys) with wit.

Bluff” — A story based – with acknowledgements – on the ideas of neurologist Julian Jaynes’ The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Jaynes postulated (so I gather from Turtledove’s summation and the intro that says Jaynes liked the story) that primitive man was not truly conscious (defined by psychologist Helga Stein in this story, as being aware, of manipulating mentally metaphorical representations of objects and ideas) and operated on pattern recognition and habit. (Not as silly as it sounds. As Turtledove points out, complex activities like typing and playing a musical instrument are best done unconsciously.) When a novel situation presents itself, the right side of the brain generates auditory and visual hallucinations – often interpreted as gods and dead ancestors speaking. An earth survey mission finds an entire alien civilization at the Bronze Age level built by unconsciousness aliens. But just as Jaynes’ theory has consciousness developing when things get to complicated, so it is starting in this culture with alien soldier Tushratta. Consciousness first begins in merchants and soldiers who deal with strangers who hear other gods’ voices; gradually, they realize that these strangers have inner selves and begin to think of their inner self. A casual poker game with Tushratta and the humans ends in the corruption of the alien culture, the emergence of tyranny, and the beginnings of Tushratta’s consciousness. He is introduced to the idea of bluffing and, its close relation, lying. Turtledove makes a valid point that lying – consciously holding an image of reality and then constructing a distortion of it for social presentation – is a quintessentially conscious act.  (I was reminded of Harry Harrison’s West of Eden where an intelligent dinosaur character is amazed by, and cunningly uses, the human idea of lying.)  Tushratta, at story’s end, is plotting his rise to power via the idea of “bluff”.  An intriguing story that puts to good use an interesting scientific theory.

A Difficult Undertaking” — Basically a pun story set in Turtledove’s alternate Byzantine fantasy universe of the Empire of Videssos (and, on the basis of this story, I’m not eager to read them); allegedly, this story is based on an incident from Byzantine Princess Anna Commena (Turtledove does, after all, have a PhD in Byzantine history) about a soldier escaping a siege by appearing to be dead and transported across enemy lines in a coffin.  Continue reading “Kaleidoscope”

A World of Difference

I’m off catching up on my reading for LibraryThing’s weird fiction discussion group, so you’re getting another posting on another Harry Turtledove alternate history. This one is a relatively obscure one.

Raw Feed (1994): A World of Difference, Harry Turtledove, 1990.world-of-difference

This is one of those alternate histories (like Harry Harrison’s Eden series) based on a variation of physical science. Here Mars (called Minerva here) is big enough to support an atmosphere and an intelligent race has evolved there. Human history has altered a little, particularly astronomy and mythology. About the most Turtledove gives us of altered human history is some mention of various near clashes of Soviet and American forces in Beirut and a shortened Gorbachev regime.

It’s this history of Soviet-American tension that forms the background of this story about a joint Soviet-American mission to Mars after the Minervans trash the Viking lander. A proxy war results as each side lands on different sides of the Jötun Canyon (the scenery of Minerva, particularly this huge canyon with its mighty seasonal floods, is one of the best parts of this book) and gets involved in a local war of expansion. The expansionist side is backed by the Soviets because Marx tells them this tribe, somewhat industrialized, is further along the path to revolution.

The Americans decide to help the other side and also solve a very old Minervan problem: while Minervan males are very long lived, Minervan females die in childbirth. An American doctor, through surgical techniques, solves the problem. The plotting is competent, the characterization is adequate and the story held my interest, but it was nothing special. Apart from their morphology and reproductive biology, the Minervans could have been humans, and I think the story could have been shorter. Perhaps the problem is that Turtledove’s forte is alternate history of the intensely sociological and historical kind. Merely altering the planet of Mars doesn’t give him much opportunity to use that talent.

 

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