Tag Archives: Science Fiction – Action & Adventure

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.

Logan’s Run

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Logan’s Run [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

Nolan Logan's Run

This short novel was the basis for the 1976 film, subsequent television show, and sequel novels: a dystopian action-adventure in the twenty-second century very much along lines laid down by Huxley’s Brave New World. The principal addition to the scenario is the idea of dealing with population pressure by using the global technocratic state to impose a maximum lifespan of twenty-one years. The protagonist Logan is a “Sandman”: a policeman/executioner assigned to eliminate “Runners” who fail to report for their scheduled euthanasia. Contrary to the jacket copy and many synopses, Logan is not a desperate Runner himself, but is in fact a thoroughly ambivalent character, attracted to a Runner whom he accompanies in order to infiltrate the Runner network and reach the rumored Runner destination of Sanctuary and its architect Ballard. 

A sense of impending climax is structured into the novel with chapter numbers that count down from ten. There are two plot twists at the end of the book, neither of which was ever translated into the screen adaptations. One concerns the location of Sanctuary, and the other is about the identity of Ballard. The first works fine, but the second I did not find compelling after the contrary setup. 

The book is very fast-moving, with plenty of sex and violence — though not quite so much that it seems like a mere pretext for them — and seems to have been written with the intention of inspiring screen adaptations. The film and television show actually made from it were toned down by setting it another century further into the future, and raising the age of “Lastday” from twenty-one to thirty. They also added the spectacular euthanasia ceremony of Carousel, to replace the simpler “Sleepshops” of the novel. Another film version is apparently in the works with a projected release date of 2014, and rumor has it that they’ve brought several points of the scenario (most notably the maximum personal age) back in line with that of the book. 

This is not a philosophical work by any stretch of the imagination, and yet it includes interesting material for meditation. The idea of engineered neoteny as a response to socio-economic and political stresses is not so very far-fetched. Certainly, in the 1970s wake of the youth counterculture it must have seemed very credible. It is doubtless one of several such programs available to the Crowned and Conquering Child.

2061: Odyssey Three

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2061: Odyssey Three [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 3 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clark 2061 Odyssey Three

In his foreword to 2061: Odyssey Three, Arthur C. Clarke wrote that scientific advances kept this book from being a “linear sequel” having “perfect consistency” with the previous volume, let alone the original 2001 (vii). Unlike the case of the first book, though, he did not allow the changes in the cinematic version of 2010 to usurp the narrative of this novel. The fate of the Chinese exploratory vessel Tsien, so important to the second book and omitted from the film, is still a fact in this third book.

Despite teasing out at great length a plot reveal regarding Mount Zeus on the Jovian moon Europa, this book does not have the sort of cosmic “punch” of either of the two previous volumes. It is a pleasant read, though. By 2061, interplanetary travel is on its way to being routinized as a luxury product, and we are treated to centenarian Floyd hobnobbing with the cultural elite.

The story stirs in some normalized homosexuality in the persons of Floyd’s longtime friends George and Jerry. And there is a curious little thumbnail history of gay military conquerors in Chapter 40 “Monsters from Earth.” By Clarke’s standards, he was really tipping his hand here, but I can’t help noticing that Delany had already written Flight from Nevèrÿon a couple of years earlier.

Clarke thought the Beatles would descend into obscurity by 2061 (220). I suppose that will be true in the event of a civilizational collapse, but not in the interplanetary expansion of the Anglosphere that this book contemplates.

I have been attending to esoteric readings of the Odyssey Sequence, and while this volume seems to have less to offer on that front, there is some packed into the final chapters. . . (Spoiler: hover over to reveal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . There is also a strong suggestion that the artificial star Lucifer presides over an apocalyptic Millennium from 2001 to 3001.

“If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely. They’re beastly to one. Do you know, they shut me out of absolutely everything? When the other boys were sent out to spend the night on the mountains—you know, when you have to dream which your sacred animal is—they wouldn’t let me go with the others; they wouldn’t tell me any of the secrets. I did it by myself, though,” he added. “Didn’t eat anything for five days and then went out one night alone into those mountains there.” He pointed. Patronizingly, Bernard smiled. “And did you dream of anything?” he asked. The other nodded. “But I mustn’t tell you what.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Huxley Brave New World different lonely shut out sacred animal wouldnt tell secrets did it myself went alone mountains dream anything mustnt tell you

2010: Odyssey Two

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2010: Odyssey Two [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 2 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2010 Odyssey Two

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Odyssey sequence” straddles strangely the media of cinema features and text novels. 2001: A Space Odyssey was plotted by the author in collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and then written in dialogue with the production of the movie. The mutually-informing parallel products were not identical; a few significant differences separated their plots. Clarke’s book 2010: Odyssey Two is a sequel to the 2001 movie. In every case where narrative continuity forces him to choose, he follows the film. No doubt he was motivated by the hope (fulfilled in 1984) that 2010 would also be a movie, and he wanted to make the book digestible into a screenplay without extra retconning.

In fairness, it’s likely that many more people saw the 2001 movie than read the novel. So the choice made sense for their sake as potential 2010 readers also. Still, it creates some strangeness for a 21st-century reader now approaching the books as a series.

After reading 2001 and detecting an esoteric pattern in its structure, I wondered if there would be similar references and effects in the next book. I believe there are. The most conspicuous of these is the title shared by the final section and its last chapter: “Lucifer Rising.” While it seems unlikely that Clarke took this title from the 1972 avant-garde film by Kenneth Anger, they may have had some occult inspiration in common. Another echo of magick was in the title of the second section “Tsien” (the name of the Chinese spaceship in the story) after the onetime GALCIT rocketry colleague of Jack Parsons in Pasadena.

The central character of 2010 is Heywood Floyd, the protagonist of the early lunar “TMA-1” section of 2001. Understood via a Rosicrucian-Thelemite template, Floyd is an astronaut-initiate who becomes an adept by means of his 2010 adventure to Jupiter, in a mission to recover the lost Discovery and to advance human knowledge regarding the great black monolith at the Lagrange-1 point in the Jupiter-Io system. The Star Child who had been Dave Bowman serves as a magus of the ineffable gods, giving a Word to humanity, who struggle to comprehend it.

Floyd’s 2010 expedition is a joint USSR-USA undertaking, which had become historically impossible before the end of the 20th century. But Clarke could duck any plot adjustments for those political eventualities in the next book 2061: Odyssey Three, which he managed to write a few years prior to the end of the Soviet Union. Of greater concern to Clarke was accounting for scientific developments, especially the 1979 disclosures from the probe Voyager.

Although the pacing and voice of 2010 are very similar to those of 2001, I thought the effect of the second book was much different than the first. Bowman’s ascension had been awfully lonely. The crew of the Leontov, by contrast, produce two marriages, and they witness the appearance of a new “companion” on an astronomical scale, and even the solitary Star Child redeems an old friend in 2010.

Although I know that the set-up in the first two books differs enough from the reality of our 21st century that 2061 will tell an impossible tale, I am looking forward to the first book of the sequence that we haven’t already caught up with on the calendar.

Fugitive Telemetry

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fugitive Telemetry [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Martha Wells, book 6 of the Murderbot Diaries series.

Wells Fugitive Telemetry

“I guess the feed isn’t adequate for all forms of communication, particularly those that involve a lot of glaring.” (13)

And I’m all caught up on Murderbot. In this most recent book, it looks as if there might be a significant shift from considering Murderbot someone who commits murders to someone who solves them. The action is restricted to the orbital station of the world Preservation, and begins with fresh corpse, unidentified and clearly murdered.

Jacket copy describes this volume as a “standalone adventure in the … series,” which is intended to hearten anyone who hasn’t read the other five books, I guess. But this one didn’t seem too heavy with orienting exposition, or notably any more independent of the series than any of the other books. While it does document a possible pivot in Murderbot’s professional career, its contribution to the overall character arc and plot development of the series is in fact negligible.

If future Murderbot stories do consolidate the character as a sort of space opera Sherlock Holmes, then this book will probably become an ideal point of entry to the series. In any case, it was interesting to see Pin-Lee in the Mycroft role, and Indah made a good Lestrade. The Watson part went to — Ratthi?

As usual, it was a fast read. I wasn’t planning to read it in a single sitting, but I did.