Tag Archives: Novels

The Long Tomorrow

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Long Tomorrow [Amazon, Bookshop (New), Publisher (New), Local Library] by Leigh Brackett.

Brackett The Long Tomorrow

As an SF author, Leigh Brackett is known for her planetary romances, which are indeed very fine. But this novel, perhaps her most lauded book-length work, involves a more serious and credible look at the future of our society. Indeed, the book’s scenario for the not-so-distant time to come is not much less believable now than it was when she wrote it about sixty years ago. The only ways it seems dated are that she didn’t predict the microprocessor, or describe any anthropogenic climate change. Given the nature of the story, the first of these is not a significant lack. 

In some features, this book resembles Logan’s Run, which I read recently. Both involve a protagonist rejecting a stultified society and looking for a possibly-mythical site of organized resistance which has continuity with the lost values of the past. Where Logan’s Run has Sanctuary, The Long Tomorrow has Bartorstown. But while Logan flees an urban technocracy, Brackett’s Len Colter is trying to escape an American anti-civilization in the etymological sense: a society that has overtly rejected the idea of the city, along with all of the industries and technologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

With this rural, piously conservative, post-apocalyptic environment as the setting for what is in large measure a coming-of-age story, the novel invites an even more direct comparison with John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. On the whole, I consider Brackett more successful. She better realizes the ways in which even those oppressed by the prevailing morals have internalized them, and she traces a more extensive and nuanced process of maturation in her characters. 

The Long Tomorrow reads quickly — “I finished The Long Tomorrow today,” I remarked paradoxically to my Other Reader — with digestibly short chapters divided into three component “books,” which might have been titled “Piper’s Run” (the village of Len’s childhood), “Refuge” (a community where his exile leads him as a young man), and “Bartorstown.” Although it was not issued as YA fiction, it would serve that increasingly sophisticated market well today. And it continues to deserve the attention of adults willing to reflect on social and technological change outside the myth of progress.

3001: The Final Odyssey

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 3001: The Final Odyssey [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 4 in the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 3001 The Final Odyssey

This “Final Odyssey” is the last and least of the three novels that Arthur C. Clarke wrote to extend the ideas introduced in 2001. The setup is clever enough: Frank Poole, a Discovery expedition member murdered by HAL 9000 back in 2001, is recovered in his excursion pod still exiting the Solar System, and he is restored to life by fourth-millennium super-science. Much of the book–the more interesting parts, really–concerns his difficulties and successes adapting to a “braincapped” posthuman society after a thousand years out of circulation.

At one point Poole’s birthdate is specifically given as 1996 (199), which would have made him only five years old when crewing the Discovery. This sort of retroactive discontinuity is common to the Odyssey Sequence, which Clarke called “variations on the same theme … not necessarily happening in the same universe” (261, quoting 2061).

The interactions with Poole’s previously monolith-integrated colleagues were a little disappointing. In particular, Heywood Floyd went missing altogether, while Dave Bowman and HAL were collapsed into a character called “Halman.” This element of the plot is focused on a threat posed by the monolith network, and defeated by human ingenuity. Clarke later rather sadly noted that his narrative resolution here was notably similar to that already used in the film Independence Day, which “contains every known science-fiction cliche since Melies’ Trip to the Moon (1903)” (253).

There is a certain irony in the book’s extensive criticisms of religion and metaphysical thought generally, while the Prologue and Epilogue construe the “Firstborn” creators of the monoliths as basically divine entities who may yet judge and sentence humanity. Perhaps inspired by the then-recent (in 1997) Aum Shinrikyo attacks, Clarke makes religiously-motivated terrorism responsible for biological and informational attacks that lead to greater global cooperation among governments in the early twenty-first century (216).

The book includes two pieces of interesting end matter. The Sources and Acknowledgements provide a chapter-by-chapter review of scientific justifications for the speculative technological elements of the novel and references to relevant current events. The Valediction is an author’s retrospective on the full Odyssey Sequence. In it, Clarke protests too much perhaps that “it’s all [his] own fiction” (262), disclaiming any co-authorship for the four books, but thus downplaying the significant contributions of Stanley Kubrick to the development of 2001 from “The Sentinel” and the features of the cinematic narrative later retrofitted to the not-sequels.

The Best Ghost Stories of H Russell Wakefield

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield [Amazon, Local Library] by H Russell Wakefield, ed Richard Dalby.

Wakefield The Best Ghost Stories

This collection of Wakefield’s stories is very good. Although there is a slightly larger range of supernatural horror than might be suggested by the title’s category of “ghost stories,” most are in fact about spectral hauntings and the effects of genii locorum — always malign. “The Red Lodge” and “Blind Man’s Buff” are, for example, almost painfully traditional haunted house tales in terms of plot, but told with great skill and effect. Wakefield’s curses and ghosts are never exorcised; at best (and that rarely), the living characters manage to flee and escape their further influence.

A couple of the stories are concerned with sport. “The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster” drew on the author’s own long-term enjoyment of golf, and is in many ways a solid example of his work in the ghost story genre. As usual, the origin and nature of the spirits are much murkier than their effects. “Professor Pownall’s Oversight” is a chessghost story, and not only a good one, but perhaps the best chess ghost story possible.

Another notable feature is in the two stories featuring characters modeled on the magus Aleister Crowley. In “He cometh and he passeth by …” Crowley is made over into the homicidal sorcerer Oscar Clinton, while in “A Black Solitude” Apuleius Charlton is based on an older and more benign Beast: “He was sixty odd at this time and very well preserved in spite of his hard boozing, addiction to drugs and sexual fervour, for it was alleged that joy-maidens or temple-slaves were well represented in his mystic entourage. (If I were a Merlin, they would be in mine!)” (128)

The stories are a rough mix between those in which evildoers meet some justified comeuppance, and others where the supernatural afflicts characters merely mediocre or already cursed with unusual talent. In several cases, there are both, or it is left to the reader to judge which of these categories applies. Wakefield’s work had the admiration of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft alike, and it is easy to see why.