Tag Archives: Science Fiction – Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic

The Gone-Away World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gone-Away World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway The Gone-Away World

Although I came to this novel on the basis of my appreciation of a later work by the same author, it made an eerily good match for the most recent feature film I enjoyed. If you liked the martial arts action, twisted humor, melodramatic pathos, and reality-warping mindfuckery of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, you might find that Nick Harkaway’s doorstop 2008 first novel actually delivers a kindred experience.

The Gone-Away World contains about half a dozen major anagnorises or revelatory plot pivots, each with perfectly adequate narrative preparation and often outright foreshadowing. After getting caught with my pants down by a couple of these, I got really vigilant, paying special attention to what the story hadn’t told me at that point, and my effort was rewarded with being able to anticipate the next big surprise by maybe two or three pages. Then as I kept on reading, feeling pleased with myself, I got surprised again! (Well, I sort of saw that coming.) And again! (OMG, how could I fail to have seen that coming!) It was like losing a sparring bout.

The semi-fantastic post-apocalyptic setting is definitely sui generis (although comparisons others have made to Vonnegut have some merit), and it took me a few of the book’s longish chapters to get comfortable with the narrative framing. But even before that point I found the prose fast-moving and congenial.

There’s possibly an allegory here, certainly a parable. I had to wonder if Harkaway named “FOX”–“the gunk … inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated” (259) that stabilizes reality after the Go Away War has totally disrupted it– as a conscious poke at US propaganda media. The book takes aim at even bigger troubles, though, if you want to read it that way. The repeated tacit references to Andromeda in the final arc were poignant.

On the whole, I liked this novel a lot and found it to be a lively ride. It fell a little short of the tremendously high esteem I have for Harkaway’s Gnomon, but that’s hardly grounds to dismiss it. It is perhaps, as I’ve seen some suggest, more accessible than the later book, while still delivering a considerable taste of what the writer has to offer.

These are the things that life is all about. These moments. It’s not about the rituals. It’s not about getting by. It’s about the stack of tiny little moments of joy and love that add up to a lifetime that’s been worthwhile. You can’t measure them; you can only capture them, like snapshots in your mind. All that joy, all that greatness, that’s God.

C Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Cargill Sea of Rust life moments not rituals not getting by about little moments joy love add up lifetime worthwhile all joy greatness god

“It’s all math to you, isn’t it?” “Everything is math, Brittle. All of existence is binary. Ones and zeros. On and off. Existing or not. Believing anything beyond that is simply pretending.” “That’s all anything means to you?” “Meaning is a function set to zero in this universe. Maybe in the other places beyond us there is something more than simply maintaining existence, but here, in this universe, it is the only thing that matters.”

C Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Cargill Sea of Rust all math everything existence binary ones zeros on off existing not meaning maintaining existence matters

at night they twinkled gaily with geometrical constellations, or else, flood-lighted, pointed their luminous fingers (with a gesture whose significance nobody in England but the Savage now understood) solemnly towards the plumbless mysteries of heaven.

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

Hermetic quote Huxley Brave New World fingers gesture savage understood solemnly towards plumbless mysteries heaven

“This is our land!” he screamed. “It is not your land! I’ve got two big guns, and you ain’t got none. I’ll blow your head off, if you don’t fuck off! This land was made for only me!” He was singing. Angry. Having the time of his life.

C Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Cargill Sea of Rust our land not your land made for only me

It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes—make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge.

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

Hermetic quote Huxley Brave New World idea lose faith sovereign good purpose of life consciousness knowledge

Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherwordly Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherwordly Stories [Amazon, Abebooks] by Leigh Brackett.

Brackett Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories

This book is a Fantasy Masterworks compilation of Golden Age science fiction novellas and short stories set on the habitable and human-populated Mars and Venus of mid-20th century imagination, as influenced by the fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs. By and large, Brackett’s protagonists are rogue archaeologists (self-confessed “tomb robbers”), thieves, and mercenaries. The complete absence of female protagonists might have been in keeping with the general run of the pulps at the time, but I note that her contemporary C(atherine). L. Moore was able to deliver a good lead heroine once in a while. Still, Brackett does include a respectable range of well-drawn female characters. And lest I accuse her of kowtowing to the white male science fiction hegemony, her recurring “Earthman out of Mercury” hero Eric John Stark is black.

Brackett’s ancient Mars–as rendered in the title novella and several of the other stories in this anthology–is a terrific fantasy adventure setting, worthy of role-playing or other crossover exploitation. In addition to the Mars and Venus stories, the book supplies “The Jewel of Bas” on some nameless otherworld, and the short Mars-related “Tweener” set on Earth.

“Black Amazon of Mars” is pretty much Brackett’s version of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” and I liked it very much. Mind-transfer or psychic possession is a theme, usually a dominant one, in at least half of the stories in this volume, and telepathy is common. Once in a great while, Brackett has one of her spacefaring humans venture a “scientific” hypothesis about the mysterious ancient technology of Mars or Venus. These efforts may be somewhat cringe-inducing among educated 21st-century readers, but they are brief and thankfully rare.

Editor Stephen Jones provides a closing essay with a detailed bibliographic overview, for which I was grateful. I certainly look forward to reading more of Brackett’s adventure stories, and Jones has helped me to identify some target titles for my wishlist.