Saturday 29 July 2023


(Another look at Pariah Elites, with more PLOT SPOILERS.)

”Blessed is the norm! Watch thou for the mutant!”

Deviation and Progress 

Brian Aldiss, not always Wyndham’s greatest fan, described ’The Chrysalids’ (1955) as his best book. About which he may well be right. But in a more unarguable point, it’s about a pariah elite possessed of mutant powers. So it fits into our series like a six-fingered glove. (See here for list so far.)

Then on the other hand... The original Penguin version of his breakthrough novel, ’Day of the Triffids’, had described it as “a modified version of what is unhappily known as ‘science fiction’,” his earlier career in American pulps politely elided over. For his writings were now aimed squarely at the regular reader. Which means what has been our standard model, that mutant powers act as a metaphor to big up science fiction fans’ self-image, no longer applies.

But that other hand may be six-fingered too. It only needs a little tweaking…

As we saw last time, ’Day of the Triffids’ essentially came from the culture of the Forties, even if it was published early in the next decade. But much of what makes a good popular writer is the ability to act as an antennae for the zeitgeizt. And this mid-Fifties book, conversely, looked forwards. If van Vogt’s credo was in essence “fans are slans” (even if he didn’t devise that phrase himself), Wyndham’s is “kids become butterflies, adults just stay grubs”.

The conceit is similar enough to ‘The Tomorrow People’ for two different covers to use the same splayed-hand image as it had in its opening credits. But when that specified puberty as the point your powers manifested, here its a more general youth. And that wider range makes it a coming-of-age story. Powers increase with age and, significantly, its the youngest who is the most powerful. While even the older sister of protagonist David lacks them.

In a later introduction, M. John Harrison commented on its appeal to the post-war generation: “They had more in common with each other than with their parents. Their social expectations were raised… they were in possession of a new language… the generation gap was opening up.”

(Wyndham had gone to the ‘progressive’ public school Bedales, which a couple of generations later would be pretty much the type of background the leaders of the Sixties counter-culture came from.)

This being post-nuclear world where only the margins remain inhabitable it’s set in Labrador, Northern Canada. Or a version of it. Much is made of this being Wyndham’s only work to have a fantasy setting. But what that really means is that it’s not set in contemporary South-East England. If strictly speaking it has no real-world equivalent it’s a setting we quickly recognise from elsewhere. It’s a Western, just one where the past-the-border badlands is populated by mutants rather than outlaws. Strictly speaking, it’s Western crossed with a pioneer town of devout Puritans as in ’The Crucible’ (1953). But the two mingle easily enough, especially to us British readers.

Labrador is more Kanas than Oz. And the abnormal, after all, only has meaning in relation to the normal, the mutation to the standard.

Now, you may be about to say that Science Fiction is almost always relabelled Westerns. But this isn’t Flash Gordon, shootouts against a more exotic backdrop. It’s very much set in a material world where people till their own soil, fix their own carts, and hunt with bows and arrows (plus the occasional primitive gun).

And this makes the introduction of telepathy juxtapositional, as strange an interruption to this world as it would be to ours. The adults are obsessed with rooting out ‘deviation’ (as they call mutation) but spend much of the novel looking for it in the wrong place, outer rather than inner, getting all het up over an extra toe. (The novel is somewhat fuzzy over when the young folk first recognise their powers will count as deviation.)

Added to which, telepathy is the only one of the Tomorrow People’s three T’s to be incorporated. And here it means just mind-talk, no mental control or powers of suggestion. There’s a narrowing of unbelievable things, until there’s only one asking to be believed. Which is itself subject to material constraints, a point reiterated even if they’re hazily defined.

”The Shortcomings Of Words"

At the same time telepathy isn’t just phone calls without phones. Telepathy is qualitatively different, a higher form of communication…

“Even some of the things he did not understand properly himself became clearer when we all thought about them.”

Unlike all those other Ts, telepathy only works as a group power. Telepaths can only contact other telepaths. And this ‘thinking-together’ is about the young folk’s ability to immediately put their heads together, similar to Brian Eno’s dictum “everyone is smarter than anyone.”

But it’s more than that…

“I don’t suppose ‘normals’, who can never share their thoughts, can understand how we are so much more part of one another. What comprehension can they have..? Wwe don’t have to flounder among the shortcomings of words; it is difficult for us to falsify or pretend a thought even if we want to: on the other hand, it is almost impossible for us to misunderstand one another.”

We’re told that pre-apocalypse people "were shut off by different languages and different beliefs”, suggesting telepathy is a universal language that will by its nature overcome such divisions. True, there’s limits to this. We’re also told no-one can know David’s love interest Rosalind as well as him, even the other telepaths. But its simultaneously suggests that telepathy enables them to achieve a higher form of love, much as van Vogt did in ’Slan’.

Wyndham’s ‘big three’ novels are surely this, ’Triffids’ and (coming up) 'The Midwich Cuckoos’. Yet while the others have been adapted multiple times, this has only had a 1981 radio version. And surely a main reason is the difficulty of visualising this ‘thinking-together’.

As with ‘The X-Men’, their powers are essentially given a double explanation. Ostensibly they’re mutations due to post-nuclear radiation. But it would be hard not to see teleological evolution’s hand here too. And, as with the X-Men, these two explanations seem rather shoehorned together. In something closer to a ‘serious novel’ than a four-colour comic, where we might expect better.

But they perform different tasks. The first is diegetic and plot-functional, to give the adults a reason to fear the children. The second is more symbolic, closer to a metaphor even within the story. To quote Harrison again: “Telepathy in fiction is often a metaphor for communication, for empathy, for an open style of human relationship.”

For ‘thinking-together’ is set against a society predicated on conformity. (“The more stupid they are, the more like everyone else they think everyone ought to be. And once they get afraid they become cruel and want to hurt people who are different.”) Labrador becomes a caricature of the ordered, rule-bound world of the Fifties, of strictly enforced dress codes and table manners, where the over-riding requirement is to fit in.

And further to Harrison telepathy is also something of a metaphor for the reading experience, symbols placed in your head across a distance, showing you things as others see them, accessing what can feel like a higher level of space. And it can feel that others who don’t seem to get the same experience from reading as we do are in some way missing a sense, are mere norms.

”Condemned to negatives”

As with ’Slan’, the narrator occupies different ages as the novel progresses, giving different ages groups their own opportunity to plug in. And the notion that they equalled stasis while we represented change, that went on to become a very counter-culture concept. The Jefferson Airplane song ’Crown Of Creation’ (1968) wasn’t just inspired by the book, most of its lyrics were barely modified quotes from it. To them it meant generation-war militancy. While its argument may boil down to a credo coined by Frank Zappa: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

But other readings were available. Philip Womack, writing in the Guardian, said:

“I first read ‘The Chrysalids’ when I was 12, an age when any child is beginning to wonder about where he or she fits into the world…. Wyndham's evocation of David's ability… left me reeling with envy and desire; I remember sitting in the library, ‘sending out’ thoughts in the hope that someone, somewhere might catch them.”

The novel’s predicated on breaking away from your elders and their narrow world. David’s parents are the wicked step-parents of fairy tales, in every way apart from them literally being step-parents. They beat him if he’s bad, and lecture him not to be bad if he’s not currently being bad. In general, bar one kindly Uncle, the adult characters only exist insofar as they intrude on the young’s lives, a sense enhanced by the first-person narrative. Which may well be the way you do view adult authority figures when young.

Plus the Fringes provide an evil Uncle, effectively giving us two versions of ‘bad Dad’. They make up the types of Abraham and Cronos, the authoritarian unyielding rule-giver and the malevolent monster who’d destroy his son to steal his girlfriend from him. At twelve we might be more wary of Abraham, feeling these confines are strictures are there to mould us into his own image, prevent us growing into our own person. And notably it’s the older David who encounters the evil Uncle.

Further, when young we often do lead a double life which in a way makes us two selves, acting differently at home with our parents to out with our peers. And it can be easy to imagine one is your true unsullied self, the other an act.

So life in Labrador is in upshot presented as entirely and explicitly negative, a place to flee:

“We had a gift, a sense which should have been a blessing but which was little more than a curse. The stupidest norm was happier; he could feel that he belonged. We did not, and because we did not we had no positive - we were condemned to negatives, to not revealing ourselves, to not speaking when we would, to not using what we know, to not being found out - to a life of perpetual deception, concealment and lying. The prospect of continued negativeness stretching out ahead.”

The early section of the novel read like a ticking clock, a countdown to when they’ll need to go on the run. Whereupon they have to stay ahead of pursuers while awaiting the arrival of Sealand, a telepathic community they’ve managed to make contact with. So Sealand give regular status updates on their rescue, a cross between the Seventh Cavalry and Deliveroo. And in these communications it’s specified how superior Sealand feel to mere norms.

When they do show up, inevitably for the finale, it’s effectively in the form of a UFO. Which again seems uncannily prescient of imagery running through hippie culture, the “silver spaceships” of Neil Young’s ’After The Gold Rush’, the tall Venusians of David Bowie’s ’Memory of a Free Festival’ or (them again) Jefferson Airplane’s ’Have You Seen the Saucers?’ (all 1970).

Their weapon to subdue the norms is a petrifying web, surely a metaphor for the rigidities of their stifling culture. Which might at first appear a mere incapacitant, the humane method of a superior culture. The equivalent of the Tomorrow People’s stun guns, weapons without violence. But this seems done just to later inform us its effects are fatal.

The final chapter’s then given over to the Sealand woman justifying this, in a not dissimilar way to Dr. Vorless calling time on morality in ’Triffids’. Her argument seems to boil down to “it’s okay to kill a thing already dying”. In one of the passages quoted by Jefferson Airplane, she says: “in loyalty to their kind they cannot tolerate our rise; in loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction.” The seemingly tangential ‘fighting cocks’ cover, not a thing which appears in the book, is presumably designed to represent this. And notably, the one good Norm - kindly Uncle Axel, who would make a more inconvenient corpse, disappears from the narrative before his point.

And, as we may be used to by now, this homo superior business is justified by reference to teleological evolution:

“Did you ever hear of the great lizards? When the time came for them to be superseded they had to pass away.”

The argument is not “there was conflict, the situation became them or us”. The argument is, and quite specifically, “this evolutionary path ain’t big enough for the both of us.” Which, frankly, seems less evolution than eugenics. For one thing, the dinosaurs most likely died as a result of a cosmic accident rather than some grand plan, and besides some reptiles - including fairly big ones - survived to this day. Life on Earth is made of a combination of ancient and more recent species, like you’d expect. For deviation from the norm does not in fact necessitate killing the norm. But the unspoken element of her argument is “we get to say what is dying.”

Which is not something unusual with the Pariah Elites trope. As we saw, in Sturgeon’s ‘More Than Human’, a human character who serves a similarly thwarting plot function is casually killed just to sweep her off-stage. But here the dead don’t even get counted. It’s not the most fannish but the most mainstream instance of this trope which is the most indifferent to loss of life, as soon as it can be labelled ‘norm’ or ’old’.

This sense of generational conflict as something perpetual and innate in human society, it’s very reminiscent of the Futurist manifesto. The Sealand woman’s explanation that one day they too will be replaced finds it’s fore-echo in 1909:

“When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts..! They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and… will hurl themselves forward to kill us. ...And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.”

And like the Futurist manifesto you can’t deny the heady excitement of the appeal. While being at the same time aware that this is Social Darwinism speaking.

This was the bullet ’The Tomorrow People’ had wished away through a conspicuous display of performative niceness. ("We're superior, we just don't like to say so.") ’The Chrysalids’ takes it head-on, effectively painting a target on its own chest. And it doesn’t help in the slightest. We just move straight on, as if it hadn't happened, to get to the happy ending.

The very concept of ‘thinking-together’, which binds the book, bakes this in. We can communicate at a higher level, go on to create a better form of living. But not with you. It seems likely that one of the main reasons to give this book its foreign setting was to avoid showing the menfolk of a quaint English village getting it in the neck. The counter-culture notion that we can frolic off into a perfect future, just as soon as we’ve bumped off those troublesome squares, that was already there in 1955.

Saturday 22 July 2023


(Beware, triffid-size PLOT SPOILERS ahead, ready to lash out at you!) 

“In an environment reverting to savagery it seemed that one must be prepared to behave more or less as a savage…”

Let’s look at this through a Q&A format…

So this novel is now infamous for pioneering the cosy catastrophe? What’s that? 

By law, you cannot discuss John Wyndham’s 1951 novel without using the following Brian Aldiss quote, from ’Billion Year Spree’. I’m going to start off with it, just so I don’t get into any trouble.

“The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking), while everyone else is dying off.”

But so many bad things happen! Bad things can’t be considered cosy.

This one comes up a lot. Yes, bad things happen. A blinded Doctor, realising his situation, asks to be directed to a window then jumps from it, before we’re mid-way through the first chapter. But at the same time post-catastrophe guests are still served “the best brandy”.

Because this objection is - to use the terminology of the day - piffle. ‘Cosy catastrophe’ is two words, and the genre aims not to repress but to exploit the oxymoron. Wyndham makes a point of using real place names throughout, down to specific London streets, each iteration evoking this disjunction.

Similarly, the cover of the 1979 Penguin edition is a remarkably akin to a still from the 1981 TV adaptation. (Widely considered the best.) The sinister plants rear menacingly before a reassuring suburban semi. (Dilapidated in the drawn version, perhaps harder to achieve in a real setting.)

The back cover blurb to the Sphere edition of John Christopher’s ’Death Of Grass’ talks of “civilized values… now as out of place as a dinner jacket is in a slaughter house.” Which may be the most cosy catastrophe passage ever written. Aldiss is using the term in a derogatory fashion, but I don’t think he’d deny any of this.

And our narrating hero Bill Masen exemplifies this. Having no real social ties and a knowledge of triffids, objectively speaking he’s well-placed for all this. As he says: “curiously what I found that I did feel - with a consciousness that it was against what I ought to be feeling - was release…”

So within that juxtaposition, upsides can exist. The rupture is such that some are able to swap their Burtons suits for fine dinner jackets, which they wouldn’t have got to wear any other way, so every cloud…

But Bill also tells us early on …

“This is a personal record. It involves a great deal that has vanished for ever, but I can’t tell it any other way than by using the words we used to use for those vanished things, so they have to stand.”

Now this is almost certainly Wyndham writing the only way he knew, about the only sort of person he knew. It wouldn’t be a huge leap of faith to suggest that he based Masen on himself. But this is just to describe what writers do, turn necessity into invention. And it does create opportunities….

We have precisely the wrong narrator to tell us this sort of thing. And that’s the point, that we understand the true horror of it all will be beyond his powers of description. We’ll only see their shadow. He writes in the inverse, for a future audience to who its our world which needs explaining. (In fact, had I been Wyndham’s editor, I’d have told him to promote that quote from the start of the second chapter and open the book with it.)

What else did Aldiss say?

Glad you asked. He also complained it was…

“…totally devoid of ideas but read smoothly, and this reached a maximum audience, who enjoy cosy disasters.”

Which, despite being the lesser-known quote, is if anything more vituperative. Presumably ‘walking killer plant’ is considered just a trope, the elements so borrowed mere plot mechanisms, and so on. The argument seems to be this is a novel which functions well, but no more. It’s been engineered rather than written, a prototype for mass production.

But ’no ideas’ rests on a somewhat narrow definition of ‘idea’. Yes, there’d been post-apocalypse stories before, but there’d been political dystopias before ’Nineteen Eighty-Four’. And it seems a strange critique for something so stuffed with ethical debates. One chapter, ’Conference’, is literally a formal ethical debate. Wyndham started writing for the pulps, but his style from hereon in was to intersperse dramatic action with pipe-puffing philosophy. His intent, at the very least, was to pack the book with ideas.

Well all of that’s as maybe but, ‘Day of The Triffids’, that’s all about fighting off triffids, surely?

Actually no. It would be cute to say that in the land of the blind, the deadly plant species is now king. But it would be more accurate to say that in the land of the blind people fall out a lot. 

The triffids rarely intrude. Most die from disease. The survivors forget about them in between, and it's clear we readers are supposed to as well. They lurk around the edge of events, strike, and are gone again. If you struck out every scene that referred to them, the book wouldn’t be that much shorter and would still largely function. It might be less memorable, true. But it would still function.

Okay, not triffids then… wait, this being a Cold War novel - the meteor shower that makes almost everyone blind, that symbolises the bomb, right?


Oh, its definitely a Cold War novel. The whole business of the triffids spreading worldwide comes from a botched attempt to smuggle them out of the Soviet Union, a mirror image of the way nuclear secrets were being smuggled West to East. A terrible disaster from which few survive unscathed, that scenario may have already been in use, but the Cold War certainly expedited it.

But the meteor shower would be a very shonky symbol for the Bomb. Of course, looking at a nuclear blast could strike you blind. But that has little to do with its representation in popular culture. Which were more to do with the Bomb instantly vaporising all and sundry. (Think for example of the 1950 Ray Bradbury short story ’There Will Come Soft Rains’, when an automated house keeps working while it’s inhabitants have long since become mere shadows on the wall.)

Besides, the whole point is the way people unknowingly flock to watch the meteors, like a kind of free firework show. It’s less a social disaster we bring upon ourselves, more a personalised disaster that each individual takes their own eyes to.

But most of all, the text brings up the comparison. In order to rule it out.

“From 6 August 1945 [the first bombing of Hiroshima], the margin of survival has narrowed appallingly. Indeed, two days ago it was narrower that it is at this moment… there might have been no survivors, there might possibly have been no planet. And now contrast our situation. The Earth is intact, un-scarred, still fruitful… we have the means, the health, and the strength to begin to build again.”

The whole novel is informed by the Cold War. It couldn’t have been written, at least not the way it is, in the Thirties. But ‘informed by’ is not the same thing as ‘about’.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, what is this novel about then?

Class war.

Come on Gavin, you say everything is about class war.

True. But this is very definitely about class war. A cosy kind of class war, as you might expect. But class war all the same. Rather than Aldiss, it would be better if the quote everyone knew was from John Brosnan in ’The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’:

“The atmosphere is rather too cosy; in fact [it] sometimes takes on aspects of a middle-class, rural paradise, what with the disappearance not only of all those smelly cities but also of the working classes.”

True, this may be because he’s not actually talking about ’Day Of the Triffids’, instead its the later TV series ’Survivors’. But it's equally applicable. 

Here’s a sample of dialogue…

“‘Ere we are, gents one an’ all. Piccabloodydiddly Cirucs. The Centre of the World. The ‘Ub of the Universe. Where all the nobs had their wine, women and song.” 

In fact so many ‘aitches are dropped in dialogue, you ‘alf wonder if Wyndham wore out the blinkin’ apostrophe key on his typewriter, guv. This is the head and (literally) the eyes of a rampaging mob speaking, unapologetically after booze and women. Without the good example set by their betters the proles become more prole-like, revert to drunken savagery.

Yet not all of them. Some make a moral argument. Coker insists that now eyes are in short supply they must be rationed out, each sighted person looking after a group of blind. Which contrasts with Doctor Vorless, insisting the only priority is that “the race is worth preserving.” (“Different environments set different standards…. The conditions which framed and taught us our standards have gone with it. Our needs are now different, and our aims must be different.”) And as Corker becomes a literal interlocutor between sighted and blind, so…

“His voice was a curious mixture of the rough and the educated so that it was hard to place him - as though neither style seemed quite natural to him, somehow.”

Vorless and Coker become like two Kings, standing certainly on either sides of the chessboard of London. Each is certain in his proclamations, while everyone else wanders about the board blindly. (Ironically, in the circumstances.)

It’s also noticeable that the two sides in this formal debate stay largely off-page. Coker only appears as a character after this debate has been resolved by events. He admits, in fact he re-appears largely to admit, he was wrong. Vorless, after delivering his set-piece speech, never reappears and never talks directly with Bill.

Is morality merely socially contingent, where new conditions will call for new forms of it to be devised? It’s arguable, to some degree or other. Yet one thing which can clearly exist only in a social context is class. That society collapses and it doesn’t much matter who was a milkman or a merchant banker yesterday. But this book turns this upside down, its conception of class is essentialist just as much as it’s sense of morality is relativist.

Further, while the proles can follow moral guidelines, it’s only the educated elite with their leadership role who must set them. The proles just continue to clutch a rule book that’s lost its relevance, while the educated elite write a new one.

And this confrontation resembles a lock-out, with the workers arguing they have a right to life so it follows they must have a right to work. Bill is later kidnapped and literally shackled to a party of blind people, who he must lead at the same time he’s their prisoner. There seems more than a slight critique of the Welfare state here. The 1942 Beveridge report had promised to slay five “giants”, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. All but the last of these now reappear, as facts of life. The surplus proletarians must be allowed to perish.

Much is made of the lead characters having a head versus heart dilemma, wanting Coker to be right while knowing its Vorless. And it may be that, in these circumstances, Coker is wrong. In this situation there is nothing to be gained by prolonging the blinded’s misery.

But then the whole point of this elaborate set-up is to make Coker’s argument wrong, which feels a bit like loading the dice. What use will Supplementary Benefit be if the whole world gets blinded and then killer plants attack? Yeah, good point mate. Better watch out for that one.

And this is the bizarre thing - this formally so innovative novel was in its content not the start but the end of something. The 2005 BBC documentary states the book was begun on Valentine’s Day, 1949, which might seem suspiciously precise. But we do know it was first serialised from January 1951. The novel version then appeared in December that year.

Which was two months after a Tory electoral victory, from which they stayed in power for over a decade. But by that point they had come to accept the changes already made, leading to what was effectively a class truce. The proles agreed to stop rocking the boat so much, and in return the bosses agreed to better seating arrangements.

It’s arguable that times of social upheaval have a tendency to return to Wyndham. 1981 saw a TV version of ’Triffids’, and a radio adaptation of ’The Chrysalids’, followed by a TV version of the later ’Chocky’ in ’84. A period which marked the first term of another long-running Tory government, but this time one intent on tearing up that class truce.

But at the time a novel written on the perils of class war appeared just after a class truce had been called. The bourgeois fear of the immediate post-war years, that we were heading for some Stalinist system, where the Ministry of Tyranny would seize your family heirlooms in the name of the people, that did not transpire. The social fears it channels were already being submerged, as soon as it was published.

So what connection is made between the mass blindness and social class?

There isn’t. Its not referred to in the text in any way. In fact it flatly contradicts what we’re told about the meteors, “everybody’s out watching them.” But it’s there. Now and then we do run into someone posh but blind, so the diegetically unsupportable connection doesn’t seem too clear-cut.

There may be an underlying symbolic one, that we naturally divide between visionary leaders and dutiful followers waiting to hear fresh orders. But its latent at best.

But then what about the Christian camp?

Some claim this book to be a paean to right-wing individualism, the strong surviving by shunning the weak. Perhaps because later iterations of this genre did often overlap with survivalism. And it’s true that Robinson Crusoe, the fictional totem of that thinking, is once referred to.

But in fact Bill decides early it’s a situation you can only hope to live through by joining a group. And the end of civilization proves a handy opportunity for some social climbing. He tries to get with the proper toffs from the side, after seeing (and a chapter’s named after it) ’A Light In the Night’.

From an early point the book is structured as a series of attempts by Bill to find the community they’re founding, but with events conspiring to take him somewhere else. It’s repeatedly explained that it won’t be any kind of panacea even if he can get there, that life there will be harsh, that it may even fail, its just our best shot. Yet at the same time it occupies the same place as utopia often does in fiction, a deferred end goal, always around the next page. And he’s waylaid by first the working and then the middle classes.

True for much of this he’s more after his new-found girlfriend. But then how’s she first described?

“Her clothes, or the remains of them, were good quality. Her voice was good too [and] it had not deteriorated under stress… She looked as if she had strength [which] had most likely not been applied to anything more important than hitting balls, dancing, and, probably, restraining horses.”

She’s from St. Johns Wood. She’s such a society gal she missed the meteor shower by sleeping off a party. And she’s named Josella. I mean, Bill and Josella? Bill’s class climbing is mostly achieved by marrying into the family. And though she’s first encountered in a damsel-in-distress state, overall she adapts to the new normal better than him.

It’s also notable that, as Coker’s gang are limited by their lower class-ness, the Christian camp are led and dominated by women, and thereby beset by all that emotionalism they inevitably exude. They can’t hook the lights up because they don’t understand machines, so instead darn by candlelight. True, Josella is an exception to this. But then she’s a proper toff.

It’s quite surprising how much this conventional morality is specified as Christian. At least they insist on this, and no-one contradicts them. Which is close to saying Christianity now needs to be jettisoned, and (at least in the novel) that this point is unarguable even if people persist in arguing about it. Which must have seemed heady stuff back then.

But Wyndham doesn’t depict religion, at least organised religion, positively. He might well mark the point where the implications of Darwinism finally superseded a more static Christian morality. Notably, all three of his best-known books quite centrally feature evolution.

Okay, so what connection is made between the meteor storm and the triffids? 

There isn’t. The triffids are already in place prior to the meteor storm. And throwing both into the mix does seem to be over-egging it. You’re half tempted to ask if the Loch Ness Monster showed up at the same time. And this is made somewhat worse by the association, where the Triffids strike to blind.

Adaptations, perhaps unsurprisingly, see this duality of the disasters as a plot hole to be filled in. The 1963 film, for example, has triffid spores arriving with the meteor shower. (Something explicitly ruled out in the book.) There’s also a fan theory that the triffids called it down, in some unspecified way. (Which, like many a fan theory, is baseless.)

But what this does in terms of tidying up the plot regularises the content, standardises everything. Much of the appeal is that no-one knows very much about the triffids, how smart they are, whether they can even communicate. As Josella says, “they’re so different!” And this unknowing adds to their menace. The triffids are there precisely so we can’t understand them, and much would be undone by saying more.

As Miles Link says: “The triffid is not simply the negative image of what bourgeois post-war life values: it does not merely connote collectivity rather than identity, or evolutionary shift rather than stability. Instead, the triffid cancels the order upon which those values are built.”

In other words, we cannot just attach our negative words to them, for we cannot attach any words to them. They’re beyond our terms of reference, and this is precisely what makes them horrific. (NB I don’t always agree with Link’s analysis, but do here.) This means Wyndham can’t place them centre stage and use them as he wants. So he doesn’t.

(Were I Wyndham’s editor I might have suggested the meteor storm somehow activated the triffids, making them mobile, more motivated, more poisonous or similar. I wasn’t Wyndham’s editor.)

However, if not an connection there is an association, which we’ll come onto later…

Okay, this being ‘Day Of the Triffids’, what do the triffids represent? Surely something!

There’s no shortage of theories, but few convincing ones. Aldiss again: “Either it was something to do with the collapse of the British Empire, or the back-to-the-land movement, or a general feeling that industrialisation had gone too far.”

Taking up the first of these, Jerry Maata has described them as “distorted metaphors for the colonised people of the British Empire, coming back to haunt mainland Britain much as the Martians did in Wells.”

The Wells comparison is odd. His Martians weren’t colonial subjects out for revenge but greater colonisers, bigger kids who came to pick on us just as we had the Tasmanians. Perhaps the idea is that the triffids are more like Zulus, seeming primitive push-overs who turn out to be tougher than they looked, speaking their own inscrutably private language. The analogy’s insulting, of course, but that scarcely seems a reason to deny it.

But Josella has already pointed out the flaw here. The triffids are too otherly, too de-anthropomorphised, for this to stick. It’s the same problem as explicitly granting them sentience. It doesn’t convey what they represent, it takes it away. You don’t gain stuff, you lose stuff.

Aldiss’ second and third suggestions really run together, and run into the other big theory, ’Nature’s revenge’. This might seem to be almost explicitly ruled out. We’re told “one could not even blame nature for them,” because they’re “the outcome of ingenious biological meddlings.” And yet… it’s suggested the meteor storm itself wasn’t the problem, but it striking a satellite containing some chemical weapon that causes blindness. Or later, that a satellite malfunctioned into disgorging it’s cargo, and everyone took it for a meteor storm.

And satellites were at this point science fiction, the first successful launch not until six years after publication. (Placing the book in an odd interchange where satellites and cinema newsreels coexist.) Wyndham has to explain to readers what they are. So what we have is a mixture of our hubris bringing us down, and nature getting pissed off with being meddled with and so meddling back.

“The countryside is having it’s revenge, all right… It rather frightens me. It’s as if everything were breaking out. Rejoicing that we’re finished, and that it’s free to go its own way.”

And the significant thing there it that it’s the countryside getting its own back, with the triffids just its strike force.

People today sometimes scoff at attempt to make plants scary, as if back then you could scare an audience with hydrangeas. And it is true that most of its inheritors went for zombies, seeking to up the scary stakes. As Aldiss (yes, back to him!) said “the catastrophe novel supposes that one starts from some kind of established order, and the feeling grew that even established orders were of the past.” The obvious example is ’28 Days Later’, which borrows heavily from the book in terms of form, but takes it mood more from ’Night Of the Living Dead’. Its classic quote is:

“This is what I've seen in the four weeks since infection: people killing people. Which is much what I saw in the four weeks before infection, and the four weeks before that, and before that, as far back as I care to remember - people killing people. Which, to my mind, puts us in a state of normality right now.”

But was abandoning plant life a necessity? Making the triffids scary, that’s more a problem for the adaptations than the book itself. Wyndham refers to how the perambulating plants were first seen as comical, but came to be feared - a change more easily conveyed in print. Even the cover illos can struggle with this. The 1954 depiction isn’t just literally bollocks, the design suggests at it teaming up with the Penguin on the logo.

However, when Wyndham perambulated plants he also stuck a snake in them. He calls it a whorl, but it’s effectively the same. Like snakes, they’re slow to move but quick to rear and strike. Which is just the way some illustrators depict them, such as the Eighties edition below. (See a gallery of Triffid covers here.) 

Mostly this objection suggests that we spend less time with plants today than people used to. Wyndham’s original inspiration was walking down a country lane in near-dark, sided by looming hedges. And it’s true up to today that our life on earth is only through nature’s sufferance. There are actual plants aplenty which are poisonous to touch. The one thing they can’t do is walk. But weeds can grow like wildfire, so fast it seems they’re effectively moving, taking over space as soon as your back’s turned.

Take the 1971 Genesis track ’Return of the Giant Hogweed’, which clearly riffs on the triffid trope, but is based on a real-life plant which genuinely came from Russia, genuinely came to be invasive and is genuinely toxic to us. The lyrics, especially when married to the martial-style music, suggest the plants are mobile without ever explicitly confirming it. (“Botanical creature stirs! Seeking revenge…”)

The novel describes how the triffids can withstand extensive damage, like trees. And in this way it may have been prescient. Just when we thought we had nature on the run, that would be time for it to strike. Don’t take your eye off the back garden just yet…

Coming soon! After this brief digression into other things Wyndham, back to the Pariah Elites…

Saturday 15 July 2023


(Another instalment of Pariah Elites, with another set of PLOT SPOILERS. Series begins here.)

“What is it called when a person needs a… person… and the two are like one thing and there isn’t anything else at all anywhere?”

”I Is All of Us”

Alfred Bester, as we've seen, tended to not just set his stories in the future but one stuffed with SF paraphernalia. But, see buddy, he’d write in regular Americanese, to keep things, y’know, rooted for the reader. Theodore Sturgeon does something like the opposite. He less frequently uses future or interplanetary settings. But what’s nominally this world always feels less Science Fiction than Fantasy. Everything - language, characterisation, events - is heightened to the degree that they feel set somewhere else. Which is never the other side of the board to us, more a chess move away.

His style is rich without being florid. He places regular words in unusual contexts, so they catch your attention. ’More Than Human’ (1953), often rated as his best work, has this as its opening paragraph:

“The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear. His clothes were old and many-windowed. Here peeped a shinbone, sharp as a cold chisel, and there in the torn coat were ribs like the fingers of a fist. He was tall and flat. His eyes were calm and his face was dead.”

Sturgeon’s also adept at the slow-burn reveal. Rather than than provide a series of flourishy, out-the-hat ‘revelations’ he expects the reader to pick up on his hints and nods. The classic example here would be the ‘special’ nature of his cast. (Though admittedly the title helps more than a little.) Ten years after ’Slan’, it’s written on the assumption the reader will know these tropes, and doesn’t need them to be reiterated.

However, in ’Slan’, in in ‘The X-Men’, in ‘Tomorrow People’, the fact that we readers don’t have the heroes’ powers is treated as something of a triviality, best overlooked. Because really those powers just symbolise our ‘specialness’, psi abilities standing for smarts and so on. Besides, who’s to say we won’t evolve into them one day?

Whereas here, in perhaps the book’s most unique feature, there’s little attempt to make the ‘special’ characters sympathetic. They’re not necessarily audience identification figures, just who we happen to find ourselves with.

The idiot who starts off the book in the quote above (later named Lone) is telegraphed as being the very opposite of the standard super-smart slan. We’re told he’s composed of “many lacks… lacks, rather than inadequacies, things he could not do and would never be able to do.” His attitude to human society is one of uncomprehending indifference. Meeting him on the page isn’t so far from what meeting him in real life would be. Too remote for any real attachment, you end up just watching what he does. ‘Idiot’ is used in the original sense, of idiosyncratic, being beyond communication. (“A creature so lacking in empathy, who himself had never laughed and never snarled and so could not comprehend the feelings of his gay or angry followers.”)

While Janie is the epitome of the witchy child, whose strange behaviour so spooks adults. She uses her special powers to play tricks on two toddlers, and when that leads to their getting a parental whipping shows no remorse. When they mount a revenge attack she realises they have powers of their own, and straight away decides to ally with them.

As we’ll (hopefully) get on to, John Wyndham took two books to play this trope both ways up, with the para-humans as persecuted minority and as hostile invasion force. Sturgeon shows little interest in either. His para-humans are more alien, yes, but less other-worldly and more… well, alien. Human concerns are not theirs, and so humans are of little interest to them.

With this trope powers are usually plus, as in the term extra-sensory. Telepaths can either speak or think to others, just as they choose. Here despite the title they’re less “more than” and much nearer to other, as if making a different choice. They have senses we don’t have, but lack the ones we do. In ‘The Stars My Destination’, Foyle’s feral nature was seem as an irony given his abilities. Here it seems contingent.

Further, and unlike everything else we’ve seen so far save the X-Men (who won’t appear for another decade after this), each ‘special’ has their own unique power. And that’s then taken a step further. For this is the way “more than” does come into the narrative, and it’s numerical…

These para-humans blesh, which is defined as “group… the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” And it’s this, not those individual powers, which is the crucial distinction. We’re not dealing with Homo Superior but Homo Gestalt. Described by Baby to Janie: “He says he is a figure-outer brain and I am a body and the twins are arms and legs and you [Lone] are the head. He says the ‘I’ is all of us.” (‘Head’ seems to mean something like ‘central node’.)

As the ‘brain’, Baby is less a character than a plot device. In ’Tomorrow People’, Tim is ostensibly a computer, but actually one of the characters. Baby is the reverse, essentially a human super-computer who can only be contacted via intermediaries. The reader never hears from him directly.

Bleshing is later elaborated on. “That was Janie’s word. She said Baby told it to her. She said it meant everybody all together being something, even if they all did different things. Two arms, two legs, one body, one head, all working together, although a head can’t walk and arms can’t think. Lone said maybe it was a mixture of ‘blending’ and ‘meshing,’ but I don’t think he believed that himself. It was a lot more than that.”

And this was quite an audacious thing to write at the height of the Cold War, where the good guys were defined by their commitment to individualism and the bad guys the dehumanising evils of collectivism. It’s notable how many of the covers to this book portray the more-thans as something alien and menacing, contrary to the way they’re actually described.

Or, to look at it more closely… Fans, naturally enough, prized finding other fans and hanging out with them. Slang terms such as ‘slan shack’ (for a group house of fans) evolved for this purpose. And this was more true in pre-internet days, when such things required more effort. But they also very much prize individualism. They’re more like innately solitary creatures which are drawn to one another, while actual encounters are fraught with danger, with rival Bradbury and Asimov fans likely to fall into a blazing row at any moment.

However, it doesn’t read as though Sturgeon’s intent is to pillory the ‘fans are Slans’ trope, even if he wouldn’t have written this book without all that. It’s more that he takes it as his impetus. He asks “what if this thing happened, what if some really were more than human?”, and follows the thought where it takes him.

He said later: “The Gestalt relationship has preoccupied me for so long - the concept of a whole entity made up of very discrete individuals who don't lose their individuality. Gestalt between people is not like an army or a fascist dictatorship where everybody does what he's told. It's not an idea or particular creed that people have or share. It's what they are.”

So, rather than flatter us fans for our superiority the novel’s purposely written on the basis that we are the unbleshed, and when we read of bleshing we essentially bump against a conceptual glass wall. In fact, even among the para-humans there’s a lot more space space devoted to them not bleshing than bleshing.

The book’s compiled from three novellas, linked but not sequenced together, making it a kind of montage. Many is the review which sourly notes that the book’s about a unity between characters, but is so fractured in the way it’s written. The same people probably complain that in ’Turn of the Screw’ the narrator is unreliable…

In ’Demolished Man’, Bester gave us dual (not to mention duelling) protagonists, an audacious step for genre fiction which tends to spotlight the hero. Whereas Sturgeon gives us what’s essentially three protagonists, one for each novella, and no sense which we’re supposed to take as the main one.

There are plenty of plot lines which do come together, and with a satisfying click. But overall its a series of parts which don’t make up a complete picture, which only alludes to a greater whole. Sturgeon often showed an interest in music and these work like musical motifs, sometimes working in isolation, sometimes combining.

Furthermore, each of the three sections does bring the story forward. But, as we start them, we’re thrown back into a state of uncertainty, dropped off somewhere new and left to get our own bearings. The text switches between first and third person narration without explanation, at one point switches between different first person narrators. It’s elliptical, if not fragmentary. The failing of memory is made a major theme. And this is our seeing what it is to blesh, but only from the outside.

Children, They Grow

One key way in which the trope is assumed is that the powers’ basis are never explained, but assumed to be associated with youth. It’s only Lone whose parents we don’t see, and in all cases they’re ‘normal’. There’s a strong element of another trope which often coincides, of free-range children, where you get to live in a den in the woods with all your mates, away from those uptight order-issuing adults.

With few crowd scenes or background characters, the cast list is relatively light. And adults are commonly shown as confining, restrictive and - ultimately - limiting. The first we encounter, Mr. Kew, is a fulminating puritan who keeps his daughters locked up against the evils of the world. But his eldest, Evelyn, gets something of a psychic homing signal to meet Lone, and vice versa. (It’s unspecified, but presumably she’s more-than too.) The quote up top is from her.

Though this is a boy-meets-girl moment, instead of bonking they bond. (“The currents of their inner selves surged between them.”) But the laid-on Spring setting associates this with new birth. And in a more symbolic sense this is where the hybrid is begat. The other characters are introduced from that point on, and in age order.

Though one of those ‘children’ is Lone himself, who’s taken in by the Prodds. A kindly old couple, the most likeable ‘parents’ we come across, they feel more like indulgent grandparents. (“We’ll raise him up just like a child” confirms Mrs Prodd.) Farmers, they take on a role somewhere between Ma and Pa Kent and the blind old man in ’Frankenstein’. It’s they who teach Lone to speak, and more generally to consider others. (When he first takes the other more-thans in, it’s the image of Mrs Prodd which compels him.) Lone spends eight years with them, which might seem an un-necessarily long period until we realise the children are growing up in real time.

And when they do gather together, as often with the feral children trope, they take on a form of the family they’re ostensibly escaping. Lone’s the father, Janie the Mother, the Twins the kids and the knowledge-dispensing but immobile Baby an age-inverted Grandfather.

This is disrupted in the second novella with the (off-stage) death of Lone. New character Gerry, realising he can’t replace him as head, takes them to Evelyn’s sister to be looked after. But in the meantime Alicia (as was) has become Miss Kew, who “looked a lot older than she was, because she held her mouth so tight”. She constantly corrects their grammar, tells them to “stand up straight” and enforces regimented mealtimes. Her name may well be a subliminal antonym for ‘askew’, representing all that’s correct yet wrong.

Against which Gerry brings sullen adolescence into the equation, describing himself as “ninety per cent short-circuited potentials and ten per cent juvenile delinquent.” (Not at all like those well-behaved Tomorrow People.) Realising their lives in this new situation are comfortable but unbleshable, he kills her.

All this is told in, as you might guess, a fragmentary fashion as Gerry visits a psychiatrist in order to recall it all. And framing it this way bounces us into seeing it psychologically, characters in terms of symbols rather than human life. The rather reasonable question “why kill her, why not just leave?” goes unasked. The details of the murder are not just glossed over, their glossing over is itself spelt out.

Miss Kew had to die because of what she represented. If ’Demolished Man’ was a psychological thriller, this is a psychological story. Events might occur, but just as incidences of mental states.

”Powers of Recovery”

The third novella shifts to a character who has up to that point only been mentioned once. Hip, like Lone, is incomplete, asocial and uncommunicative. And like Lone, he’s raised up just like a baby, this time by Janie. So this takes the form of a coming-of-age tale, out of child-like immediacy…

“His afternoons began to possess a morning and his days a yesterday. He tried to remember a bench they had used, a theatre they had attended, and he would lead the way back. She relinquished her guidance as fast as he would take it up until it was he who planned their days.”

But we discover he’s had his memories wiped by Gerry, out of a combination of preserving the gestalt’s secrecy and pure malice. So this follows a similar structure to Gerry’s novella, with Janie as the psychiatrist and he the recovering patient. (“Janie demanded nothing. She only… she only waited.”) Hip is not growing, so much as rediscovering.

We also find out that, even if he can use some of its powers, Gerry has led the hybrid away from bleshing - supposedly the thing he killed Miss Kew over. His “unsullied ego” prevents him getting the thing that ego desires. So they’re not back in the woodland den, but in the abandoned house of Miss Kew’s father, grandiose and monstrous, described as “a great sick mouth” with furniture “so heavy it has never been moved.” Without Janie, Baby is silent to him.

It’s also significant that in the very first novella, Gerry and Hip are introduced adjacently, which sets us up to compare and contrast them from the start. Pre-life-hiatus, Hip was self-confessedly “arrogant, self-assured, shallow”. Losing what he had and getting it back doesn’t just restore him to where he was, it changes him.

It’s sort of strangely impressive that the finale hinges so closely on the distinction between morality and ethics. Not exactly the sort of thing which is focus group tested. While ethics are worked out from first principles, we’re told, morality is when these become codified into binding rules. It’s true that this breaks a rule very commonly associated with morality, that there must be ‘the guilty’ and they must be punished.

But, solving everything by staging a philosophical argument seems reminiscent of the ending to the original ‘Quatermass’, where the solution is to ask the monster if its ever considered being nice. Something which seems to stem from the pre-internet-message-board era.

Plus, me being a materialist type, I’m not keen on the notion that morality is some abstract code which we are taught, rather than something which exists in real-world instances. And if that is the distinction between it and ethics, then quite frankly we only need one of these.

(As we’re rather abruptly told of Lone’s demise, which we never witness but are only told about by the other guy, I had been wondering if he wouldn’t make a surprise reappearance, demanding to know “who’s been bossing in my head?” And I’m not sure I don’t prefer that as an ending.)

But there may be a better way to see it. It could be seen a a story of two adolescents, one of which is able to reach emotional maturity. Lone was lacking, his concerns only immediate. Replace him as the head and wider questions come into frame. Gerry responds to these like an adolescent with powers, who can no longer be told what to do by Miss Kew but has no meaningful notions of his own. While Hip hits upon maturity. And we discover that, before then, the gestalt never truly bleshed.

I See No “I See No Colour”

Bester mentions in passing a black Esper recruit, able to enter a door which whites can’t, bucking the prejudices of his day. Sturgeon makes more of this. He puts reference to the colour of the twins only in the mouths of white racists, it being a matter of indifference to the other more-thans. But first he uses another reader tip-off, not just making their father a janitor (a typically black job to have) but giving him the exaggerated ‘black’ voice of his time. He never quite says “yessuh Mistah Bossman”, but it comes close.

Further, what commonly passed for anti-racism in this era was putting black characters in peripheral roles, thereby granting the nice white characters the chance to demonstrate their enlightened attitudes. And this is somewhat cemented here. The twins say no more that “oop”, “eee” and “hey-ho”, even though they have aged like everyone else. It’s trying to be better, true. But the trying shows up the failing.

Overall… as said in earlier instalments you could recommend van Vogt only to SF fans, but Bester to a the general reader. Sturgeon, in a sense, works only for a similarly narrow group, but quite a different one. It’s the reader willing to actually read, who’ll pay close attention, ask questions, fill in gaps, sometimes skip back over earlier passages. And for some of us it’s refreshing to be trusted to do this, to be treated as adults. It feels kind of special…

Coming soon! More of this Pariah Elites business...

Saturday 8 July 2023


More on Pariah Elites in SF, and more on Alfred Bester, the well-known 1956 work. Again with the PLOT SPOILERS. First part here, more to follow…

“I’ve been a tiger all my life. I trained myself.. educated myself… pulled myself up by my stripes to make me a stronger tiger with a longer claw and a sharper tooth… quick and deadly… I went too far. I went beyond simplicity. I turned myself into a thinking creature.”

The Jaunte Age

The googly ball Alfred Bester tossed into ’Demolished Man’, as we’ve already seen, was telepathy. And telepaths do turn up, if in limited number, in the later ’The Stars My Destination’. But overall, this is the turn of teleportation. The jolly term ‘jaunting’, later taken up by ‘The Tomorrow People’, seems to stem from here.

And this becomes determining. It reads like a much more improvised book than its predecessor, Bester’s mind zipping from one crazy notion to the next as quickly as his ever-jaunting characters. ’Demolished Man’ had a primary setting, even if it left it at will. ’Stars My Destination’ bounces round the map. It’s way more about generating headlong forward trajectory than planting ground beneath your feet. (Typical line: “She broke away from him and swept across the ballroom floor. At that moment the first bombs fell.”) Yet, however bizarrely, the book’s also thick with foreshadowing, and has quite a strong thematic unity.

There’s two peculiarities; first, the way the origin of jaunting is consigned to a prologue. We’re shown the point in our future where the first jaunt happens. Yet it’s presented as an innate human ability, neither dependent on technological advances nor evolutionary leaps. The assumption is that threat stimulates innovation, as the first jaunter hits upon it to save his life. Yet do threats to life not exist in the here and now? The book spends absolutely no time pondering this question.

What’s important is that jaunting isn’t some potent of the ascent of homo superior, but a testament to the power of the survival instinct, technobabbled as to do with “Tigrid substance in nerve cells.” If not an evolutionary leap, it revolutionises society, the consequences are social. (“There were crashes and panics and strikes and famines as pre-jaunte industries failed.”)

Also, in a particularly exquisite detail, the rich carry on using antiquated tools - telephones, coach-and-horses, servants forbidden to jaunt themselves etc. - simply because they can, much like affected toffs today such as Jacob Rees Mogg parade their wealth though affected antiquation.

Tattooed On the Inside

The backdrop is the Solar War, between the Inner Planets and Outer Satellites. Which, not unusual in American SF, is presented as such an anti-imperialist war its almost a class war, fought between the labouring poor and decadent rich. Yet the striving Outer Satellite folk scarcely appear. Their contribution is to continually lob stuff over the dividing wall of what’s in and out of the novel, by their repeated but unexpected missile attacks, sometimes upon ballrooms.

And this is largely to focus those features on protagonist Gully Foyle.

Foyle is functionally much like Powell, the hero of the previous book. His aim is to take down his powerful and well-connected nemesis, Presteign, who left him to die in a wrecked spaceship. And in this mission he travels (not infrequently jauntes) through society, taking in both high and low. There’s the same device of chapters focusing on one or the other of them, with the other then appearing only externally. He also turns out to have a special ability akin to Powell’s, more of which anon… 

But he’s nothing like good cop Powell in character. With all this future tech thrown against him, his defence is essentially his single-mindedness. When he breaks out of the warren of tunnels making up the underground prison of Gouffre Martel, it feels emblematic. This future society is a maze, of conventions and expectations, through which he drives a remorselessly straight path.

Which actually makes him less like the hero and more the villain of ’Demolished Man’. Like Reich, Foyle is not just outside but against society, relying on his own gut instinct to get where he wants. But then Reich wasn’t simply the villain nor is Foyle simply our hero. The polyglot nature of the novel and its refusal to set a moral centre seem related.

At the outset he’s living hand-to-mouth on a wrecked spaceship, a scavenging animal. Then on a foraging raid, he sees a reflection of himself, like an animal having a brief experience of self-awareness. And this is associated with his spying a rescue ship. He is, until that point, willing to survive from day to day until he doesn’t. But when the Presteign-owned ship fails to stop for him he vows revenge, which necessitates escape.

A common feature of pulp heroes is that they express themselves entirely through action. Yet, though he surely was a pulp writer, Bester was pretty much uninterested in heroics. To him, struggles to change things often fail, or cause their own problems. And what may seem like a standard Campbellian ‘overcoming the refusal of the call’ moment is portrayed quite clearly as a mistake. He’s likened to a “beast in the trap” in the first sentence of the first chapter. And that trap widens, into his all-consuming lust for revenge. Had he died in that tool locker, and subsequent events gone unwritten, it would simply have gone better.

True Bester may be having it both ways a touch. There’s times when we’re clearly meant to thrill to Foyle’s acts of derring-do. And his act of rape isn’t seen in a particularly serious light, presented as little more than a character flaw. (Treatment of women… well, we had that last time.) But we’re also made aware that we’re spending much of our time in the company of an emotionally stunted creature who we’d shun in real life, tattooed face or otherwise. 

He’s described alternately, and by those who known him best, as a “brute”, “beast”, “savage”, “ox”, “thing”, “dirt”, “dregs”, “bastard”, “Cro-Magnon”, “caveman”, “ghoul”, “walking cancer” and “a damned tattooed tiger”. (I could have easily missed some.)

Yes, the tattoo… Bester conveys his characters through SF-sized symbols. Robin is a ‘telesend’, with telepathically sends out thoughts but cannot receive them, making her near-on incapable of lying. Dagenham, a dangerous enemy, is literally radioactive, to the point you can only be near him for so long. His ship is yellow-and-black, like a hazard sign. And so on. Foyle has his failing literally written on his face via his tiger-stripe tattoo, where even removing it doesn’t really remove it. (It flushes back as soon as his bloods’ up.)

This mark gets utilised on most of the book covers. And Neil Gaiman, writing an outro to the edition I read, is right to say that the British title of 'Tiger! Tiger!’ is more effective. The other title, in its boldly going, is more Captain Kirk than Alfred Bester. The via-Blake British version is about a thing you cannot help but admire, but wouldn’t want to be near, and for the very same reasons.

But then…

“Without Mercy, Without Forgiveness, Without Hypocrisy”

For much of the time we might imagine that if Foyle started out somewhere beneath us, he will ascend to our level. The tiger that learns first to plan then think like a man, he’ll swap his stripes for morality before the final chapter’s out. In fact, Bester probably leads us to believe that, then shows him accelerating past us. Foyle is not one of us nerds soon to be seen in our true form, no longer needing to hide or conform, the way Jommy was in ’Slan’.

There’s so much talk of space jaunting being impossible, we figure it’ll be along. But when it happens, he’s able to time jaunte too. (Perhaps based on Einsteinian notions of space/time?) And while land jaunting merely shook up the economy, space jaunting is a total paradigm shift.

Interestingly, this occupies the same formal space in the narrative as Reich’s vision, and has the same sense of dark revelation. Except Reich’s universe essentially closes in on him. Whereas Foyle effectively expands to fill his. He starts the book in a tool locker, and ends it jaunting throughout the cosmos, to the point he’s become virtually omnipotent.

And the typographical effects which peppered ’Demolished Man’, but so far withheld here, suddenly appear like never before. Bester could have formatted those earlier efforts on his home typewriter, by playing with the page margins. Whereas here they’re vivid word shapes, like something from a Russian Futurist poem, calligraphy representing onomatopoeia representing synaesthesia. (It also seems remarkably close to the sort of formal experimentation the New Wave in SF went in for, a decade later.)

And what triggers this ability in Foyle is his being caught in an explosion, so he is simultaneously everywhere and trapped in pain. In fact, the two then become almost indistinguishable. (“”He was not only trapped within the labyrinth of the inferno; he was trapped in the kaleidoscope of his own cross-senses.”) The ‘burning man’ images, which people see as foreshadows of him in this moment, have something sacrificial about them - which makes him almost Christ-like. And this is enhanced by the way we’re not with Foyle in this moment, but see him through the eyes of secondary characters.

But it’s also wider than that, the mythological notion of creation coming through an act of primal sacrifice. And, though Bester forever leaps from one crazy notion to the next, I tend to think this is deliberate. Foyle becomes an example of what’s sometimes called the bestial celestial, where the high is to be found in the low and vice versa. It’s not savage to messiah but Savage Messiah. (His voice emits “burning laughter.”)

And, as you’re probably used to by now, Bester then throws in something else. PyreX is a explosive device which can be triggered by the power of thought alone. We’re told several times it’s pronounced like funeral pyre, which feels a little like rubbing the point in. In a fairly unabashed nuclear bomb analogy, whichever side has it wins the war.

And Foyle’s solution isn’t to ban the bomb but decentralise control. Do not think Gully Foyle comes to bring peace on Earth. In fact he’s not even packing a sword, but a shedload of dangerous explosive, then handing each one of us a fuse. 

Everyone having their own access to such powers of destruction, that would be pushing it even for the NRA. But in this sink-or-swim approach to parenting, he seems largely unconcerned about the outcome. There’s no guarantee it will turn out well, and not much sign he cares. The human race will either make it or they won’t. That’s up to us, not Gully Foyle. (“No more secrets from now on… No more telling the children what’s best for them to know… Let ‘em all grow up. It’s about time.”)

And the self-contradictory notion of primal sacrifice extends to here. The PyreX is hidden in a secret religious altar, while Presteign compares it to creation. There’s even the suggestion that PyreX and space-hopping Foyle are equivalents, dark revelations which we may not want to acknowledge but won’t be able to shut out. There’s a prelude to this when Presteign’s daughter Olivia, perceiving a missile attack on Earth through her electromagnetic and infra-red sight, is rapturous:

”the explosions… they’re not just clouds of light. They’re fabrics, webs, tapestries of meshing colours. So beautiful. Like exquisite shrouds.”

Though some of the price paid is narrative coherence. Up to now, everything has centred around Foyle’s feud with Presteign. Their first confrontation happens off-page. Then they meet while Foyle is in disguise. We feel things are being saved up for a final conflict, a page-turner punch-up perhaps atop some space-age Reichenbach Falls. Yet while the two do come face-to-face in the final chapter, it’s with several other characters present, who essentially elbow him to the margins. The central conflict, the novel’s driving force is essentially forgotten about.

Which seems par for the course. If better-known than ’Demolished Man’, this book is considerably less focused. While that had digressions this sometimes feels *all* digressions, pulpily episodic and strung together with frequent daredevil last-minute escapes. Robyn’s line “I’m thinking all over the place” seems apposite. If we were snarky types we’d be calling it ’The Stars My Deviation’. 

In what’s both boon and curse there’s simply too many ideas here, jostling against one another for the spotlight. The upside of this is, much as van Vogt had been, Bester is able to disgorge his febrile imagination onto the page. The downside is that one notion never stays uppermost for long. I’m always fascinated how so many pulp-era SF writers work as if for a graphic novel, throwing new visual and conceptual notions at you in a seemingly endless series. (Bester essentially invents bullet time, decades ahead of *’The Matrix’,* despite it being so visual an effect.)

But out of this cavalcade, what will stay with you? I’m quite sure it will be the ending, the savage messiah making the primal sacrifice, crucified and yet omnipotent.

Saturday 1 July 2023


The second instalment on Pariah Elites in SF reaches Alfred Bester’s classic 1953 novel. With PLOT SPOILERS. First part here. More to follow…

“The mind is the reality. You are what you think.”

Tellin’ it Straight

Science fiction fans often dismiss modern literature as the Emperor’s New Clothes, fancy prose which conceals the lack of any actual substance. Whereas their genre, they contend, is unafraid to speak plainly because it has something to actually say. Like all stopped clocks, this one’s right at times and wrong at others. But it may strike right with Alfred Bester.

Not unusually for an SF author, he wasn’t writing character studies so much as thought experiments carried out under controlled conditions. The characters are more like elements introduced to the experiment to see how they react, and only need developing as far as the experiment requires.

More unusually for an SF author, he knew he was doing this. So the style he adopts isn’t heightened and dramatic but breezy and conversational. If van Vogt is like a sports commentator turned novelist, Bester is like someone who slid onto a barstool in some old-style dive bar on the Lower East Side, and told you a yarn. He isn’t going to start out by telling you that for centuries man has yearned to tread between the stars. He’s more likely to tell you that there was this guy who really wanted to stay faithful to his wife, but you know how it is…

’The Demolished Man’ (1953), is widely seen as one of his best works. While van Vogt’s ’Slan’ bagged a Hugo retrospectively, this was the first Hugo winner ever! The books are written barely more than a decade apart, and were both originally serialised in pulp mags. But one grew out of those roots… 

You could recommend ’Slan’ to a classic SF fan, and probably be thanked. It’s effectively precision-honed for them, but that achievement leaves it less likely to appeal to anyone outside their bracket. ’Demolished Man’, though quite definitely SF and not just a detective story set in the future, is more something you could show to an open-minded reader.

Telepathy As Typography

Paul A Carter wrote ”space opera of the kind ‘Doc’ Smith wrote… tended to treat psi power as just another gadget, like the ray gun. There was some rudimentary discussion of the ethical implications… does it invade privacy, and so on. But EE Smith’s conclusion on this matter was not very different from what J Edgar Hoover’s might have been.” (‘The Creation of Tomorrow’) All that thrilling SF stuff is really just familiar things resized and relabelled, sailboats become spaceships, revolvers turn into ray guns and so on.

And Bester plays with this. Characters catch “the ten o’clock rocket to Venus” the same way we might flights, routine for the world they’re in. But mostly he throws psi powers like its a googly ball, plunging through society and affecting it in unexpected ways.

But there’s an anomaly. He isn’t one of those writers who gives you a neat future chronology in the back of the book, a route map of here to there. Instead he gives us snapshots of his future society, some of which are quite vivid. But they’re fleeting, like passing views out the foreground action’s window. You couldn’t stitch them into anything coherent.

Some see this as a deficiency. But we should read Bester as he asks to be read. Which means focusing on what he focuses on. His interest isn’t outer but inner, in what’s going on in the minds of his cast, what makes the experiment do what it does. He effectively thinks like an Esper, even if he isn’t one.

The scenario is that in the future the existence of Espers (telepaths) make murder impossible, but someone tries anyway. Espers aren’t arising, like we’ve see them up to now, but already integrated into society. Or as much as they’re ever likely to get. There are those who mistrust them, but at the same time corporations strive to hire the more powerful ones.

Their abilities have not led them to become morally more advanced, something ’The Tomorrow People’ took as read. Instead they’re run by a Guild, who impose an Espers Code, rigidly applied if never actually spelt out. Less the ’Tomorrow People’ Prime Barrier and more akin to professional ethics. Transgressors are ruthlessly drummed out. Within that, there are different Espers, with different motivations, just as with any other kind of person.

They’re a hierarchy, a strict tripartite system assigned according to power levels. But their hierarchy is Calvinistically unrelated to the surrounding society’s. The scene where only a “young negro” passes their test feels a little wince-inducing today, but was clearly intended as progressive at the time.

(Someone, somewhere has probably studied the degree of racism in early SF fandom. And that person isn’t me. I’d suspect most fans simply didn’t think about it very much, any more than anyone else did. After all, social conventions of the day served to keep white and black folks apart, and not just in the formally segregated South. And what views there were, there’s no reason to think they were either monolithic or consistent. There was always a tendency in SF to look forward to a future that was more advanced, so naturally had fewer of those ‘primitive’ blacks in it. But there is evidence to suggest that what few black fans there were became part of the group, that they were seen as fellow fans first.)

The first telepathic conversation we come across is between two workers, using their abilities to talk before their boss without him hearing. But the next is an Esper party, presented typographically, words running down the page, and this goes on to be the model. How much this works and how much it just resembles word puzzles is an open question, but it’s a bolder attempt than anything we’ve seen so far. (Though they’re rarely presented as stream-of-consciousness, surely an inherent feature of thought.)

We also learn that, logically enough, Espers also communicate by transmitting symbols. Characters’ names can incorporate these, Akins becomes @kins, Quatermaine 1/4maine and so on. Neologisms abound, such as “clever up”. This isn’t strictly Esper-related, these terms are used in general. But it adds to the overall picture. And all this is partly made palatable by Bester’s clear and direct prose. Mostly smooth sailing, every now and again we come up against something which takes a bit more digesting.

(It’s also bizarre how proto-modern how much of this feels, even if none of us have become telepaths yet. The random order of communications resembles message boards, the abbreviated style txtmsging, the symbols emoticons and Memes.)

That party’s thrown by the detective of the tale, Powell. And this is how he’s introduced:

“Like all upper-grade Espers, Lincoln Powell. Ph.D.1 lived in a private house. It was not a question of conspicuous consumption, but rather a problem of privacy… There were no servants in the house. Like most upper-grade Espers, Powell required large quantities of solitude.”

In short, Espers are introverts, like the stereotypical SF reader. But they have the super-powered ability to do precisely what that reader often struggles with - read people. Added to which, the variegated Esper classes more accurate reflect fan hierarchy than the blissful egalitarianism of ’Tomorrow People’. Fans even had handy acronyms for all this, FIAWOL (Fandom Is a Way of Life), FIJAGH (Fandom Is Just A Goddamn hobby) and so on.

A Mind For Murder

The business mogul Reich is compelled to commit the murder, which Powell investigates. So this is not a whodunnit but a howdunnit. For which there’s two general models. Let’s look at each in turn, and see how well this fits.

The first is a caper movie. In which the balance of power is always against the jewel thief (it’s normally a jewel thief), who has to beat all the security devices armed with zip wires and their own ingenuity. We watch them smartly win out over a situation stacked against them, encountering and overcoming unexpected obstacles. Formally it’s the opposite scenario to an escapologist slipping their chains. But it feels similar. We naturally side with them, the human element winning out over the mechanism. So Reich’s a social over-dog put in a situation which makes him the under-dog.

But it’s also remarkably like ’Columbo’. We watch the murderer carry out the crime, then the detective later arrive, fix on the killer straight away and over the ensuing narrative struggle to pin him. Here the balance of power seems to lie with the killer, the smart well-connected individual, not the crumpled little Lieutenant. The fun lies in watching this balance shift, them starting out with the arrogant assumption they couldn’t do something so common or lowly as to get caught, only to have that eroded.

Plus we see Powell take up other tropes which clever up the reader into following the investigator. As is often, his badge of office gives him access to all levels of society, from the “fashionable corruption” of upper-echelon parties to squatted slums.

And at times Bester seems to not just spot but exploit this paradoxical state. Later chapters don’t just shift between Reich and Powell but take on their perspective. We see things through Reich’s eyes, so when Powell does stuff it happens off-stage and we don’t find out about it until Reich does. Then we swap, and it’s vice versa. An unusual structure for genre fiction. At one point Reich commits a second murder, dresses it up as an accident, goes to hospital, escapes and goes on space safari - all off stage.

It’s also stated quite explicitly that the two respect… to a degree even like one another, and look forward to working together. Reich tells Powell: “We don’t play girl’s rules. We play for keeps, both of us. It’s the cowards and weaklings and sore losers who hide behind rules and fair play… We’ve got honour in us but it’s our own code - not the make-believe rules some frightened little man wrote for the rest of the frightened little men.”

But overall, Reich dominates. In ’Columbo’ the original murder scene is brief, we find out most of the details by following our dogged Lieutenant. After that early party scene for Powell, which seems more concerned with introducing us to Espers than to him, he doesn’t show up and start investigating until a third of the way in.

Reich’s the title character, after all, even if that title also telegraphs his failure. While book covers don’t come character-labelled, typically they seem to star Reich. Including the original cover of ’Galaxy Science Fiction’. We can assume that shifty foreground figure is him, with a suspicious Powell fixing his gaze on him.

GK Chesterton famously said: “The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.” And this book’s summed up by the idea of a critic-detective who’s also a psychoanalyst. It’s less about the discovery of physical clues, the mechanics of crime, and more about psychology.

For advanced, high-ranking Espers like Powell are able to achieve a kind of instant psychoanalysis, like the subconscious is just a subtext, footnotes accessible only to higher reading levels. To beat Reich, Powell will need to read him. So, added to all the other linguistic tricks, the book gets stuffed with ”broken images, half-symbols and partial references”, not to mention Freudian slips.

Which leads to another peculiarity. Psychology is not necessarily the same thing as characterisation, and Bester is clearly interested in one of these much more than the other. (Neither does it work allegorically, as some novels do, where the characters act as aspects of one head – one the id, another the superego and so on. Powell looks inside a head, he isn’t part of it.)

Nevertheless, insofar as there is characterisation it goes to Reich. Tellingly, when the book wasn’t open in front of me, I found I tended to forget Powell’s name. (Though it doesn’t help that Powell’s main character arc involves a young woman witness, whose trauma creepily manifests as ‘Daddy issues’ over him.)

And Reich prizes instinct (principally the killer instinct) and not just defies but opposes analysis. True, he has his own analyst. But he deliberately chooses a low-grade effort, who won’t be able to actually help him. So the novel becomes an attempt to psychoanalyse a character who does his best to refuse analysis.

”A Negative Infinity”

But what of the character who opens the novel, The Man With No Face, who literally haunts Reich’s dreams? Reich assumes this is his soon-to-be-eliminated rival, D’Courtney, and once he’s gone the dreams will go too. He continues operating on this belief, even after being told by an Esper it’s not so. Which becomes the mystery of the murder mystery, who is this figure?

Some canned Freud is opened: “Every man is a balance of two opposed drives - The Life Instinct and the Death Instinct. Both drives have identical purpose - to win Nirvana. The Life Instinct fights for Nirvana by smashing all opposition. The Death instinct attempts to win Nirvana by destroying itself. Usually both instincts fuse in the adapted individual. Under strain they defuse.”

Reich is an excess of the Life instinct, an embodiment of the egoistic belief that only you count, in fact it’s only you who is truly real, so it doesn’t really matter much how you treat others. “The essence of murder never changes,” he’s told. “In every era it remains the conflict of the killer against society with the victim as prize.”

This soon turns to full-on megalomania:

“He jabbed his chest with his thumb. ‘Want to look at God? Here I am. Go ahead and look… I don’t know much about this God business, but I know what I like. We’ll tear it all down, and we’ll build it all up to suit us.“

And there’s also the suggestion that this isn’t just psychosis speaking, that should Reich succeed he may become this powerful and change the nature of reality. Powell says to him: “Do you know how dangerous you are? Does a plague know its peril? Is death conscious?” (Though this isn’t really well developed or explained.)

And Powell’s response is to give Reich what he wants. Just too much of it. He creates a hallucination in which reality dissolves around Reich, first the stars, then the planets, closing in until he’s alone. As we’re told, “infinity equals zero”. Except he’s not quite alone, when all else goes he’s simply left confronted by the Man With No Face. A symbol of this absence that Reich’s crazed psyche always knew, at some level, it was pushing towards.

“Oh, Christ! Where is everybody? Where is everything? For the love of God!” 

“And he was face to face with the Man With No Face who said: ‘There is no God. There is nothing.’

“And now there was no longer escape. There was only a negative infinity, and Reich and the Man With No Face.”

To create this hallucination, Powell must also become greater. But through a means that’s counter to Reich’s megalomania. In fact he risks his own life doing it. In Mass Cathexis all the Espers literally put their minds together, focusing their mental energy on one person. No-one (we’re told) has previously survived being the lens of so much power.

But then a twist on this. No Face is actually a hidden face, or rather “two faces blending into one.” D’Courtney, it transpires, was really Reich’s absentee father. Consciously he was unaware of this, but it drove his subconscious motive to kill him. His victim was not a thing, outside of himself, to be possessed or destroyed, but connected to him - even part of him. Hence he remains when the universe is gone.

Powell also says he’s Reich’s super-ego (or internalised ethics consultant), which often manifests as the Father, and so his sublimated wish for self-punishment.

A Malignant Flower

Yet I don’t think any of that was Bester’s real motivation to write this book. In fact, in a novel full of unconscious motives, I think that motive was unconscious.

Reich’s name suggests both ‘rich’ and ‘reign’, while his corporation, Monarch Enterprises, is somehow a tautology and oxymoron simultaneously. He describes himself as “ABC, audacious, brave and confident.” He’s bold, ruthless, goals-driven, sharp-witted, gruff and short-tempered yet charming when he chooses to turn it on, above all possessed of “the killer instinct”, at one point likened to a Neanderthal hunter. He’s an almost stereotypical capitalist, all that’s missing is the cigar for him to chomp on. And what makes him an effective capitalist is clearly what also makes him an effective killer.

In real life, if someone like Elon Musk committed a murder everyone would know it was him. In fact he’d be unable to stop himself bragging about it on Twitter. But then he’d get off anyway due to money and influence.

But in terms of fiction, this is natural enough. If in Shakespeare’s day bad Kings seemed an effective route to drama, we have bad capitalists. But the specifics differ, in crucial ways. See this seemingly incidental scene introduction…

“Despite all rival claims, pawnbroking is still the oldest profession. The business of lending money on portable security is the most ancient of human occupations. It extends from the depths of the past to the uttermost reaches of the future, as unchanging as the pawnbroker’s shop itself.”

Older than barter, Alfred? Care to tell us what’s on your mind?

It’s pretty well established that the roles given to women in this book are not what you’d call great. You’ve probably picked that up already, even though I haven’t been focusing on it. But it seems unlikely Bester was an active advocate for misogyny, the way (for example) Dave Sim is. More likely, he simply never thought about it and so recycled what was normative for his time.

And it seems similarly unlikely he was an advocate for capitalism, the way (for example) Ayn Rand was. Though active in the Fifties, his work seems uninterested in the perils of Soviet ‘communism’, often seen a staple of the era. As ever, his imagination stretches to visits to other planets, but is socially constrained.

Bester often tops and tails his work with a parable-like point. (You couldn’t really call it a moral, but it occupies the same formal space as a moral in Aesop.) The story in between can often feel like the mid-part of an essay, the working out. This novel’s no exception, and the opener is…

“In the endless universe there is nothing new, nothing different… There have been men without number suffering from the same megalomania; men who imagined themselves unique, irreplaceable, irreproducible, There will be more - more plus infinity. This is the story of such a time and such a man - The Demolished Man.”

But this time, does the point fit what follows? Many are the SF novels which propose a kind of New Feudalism. Were that the case here, Reich could simply have lost his divine right to rule. Instead, the existence of someone like Reich is seen as an inevitability. Capitalism, and Reich as its instance, is seen as a source of gravity, around which everything else must orbit. He can’t be just extinguished.

Powell tells him: “You’re two men, Reich. One of them’s fine; and the other’s rotten. If you were all killer it wouldn’t be so bad. But there’s half louse and half saint in you, and that makes it worse.” (And his murder weapon is described, equally dualistically, as ”a malignant flower.”)

At time Reich is seen in terms of megalomania, his grandiose folly leading to a fall. Then at others other of tyranny corroding kindliness, of a flawed character that can be redeemed. The novel steers to the first then veers over to the second.

And the ground has to be shifted for this to happen. From the title onwards, the threat of being ‘demolished’ hangs over Reich. It’s never explained, like a horror that can’t be stated. Until it actually happens, and we discover it’s some entirely new usage of the term which is actually something much closer to ‘cured’. Reich is psychically rebuilt, made into a model citizen.

Nothing we’ve seen suggests this world is a utopia. In fact it’s seemed a fairly regular dystopia, where the rich throw decadent parties and the poor stay poor, just without the murder. ”Strike riots” exist. (Which sound pretty good, but they’re probably not supposed to.) The very tone of the novel effectively bakes this in, with flip cynicism. (“It’s ten torn acres were to be maintained in perpetuity as a stinging denunciation of the insanity that produced the final war. But the final war, as usual, turned out to be the next-to-the final.”) Only for the gears to suddenly shift as we come across this attitude to the rehabilitation of criminals.

It also grates against all the Freudianisms that have populated the book up till now. Freud was scarcely a utopian, he more saw the human psyche as a battle perpetually fought between warring elements, with balance through stand-off the only thing to hope for.

In fact two things - one immediate, the other distant - are associated by fuzzy logic. We also discover that, in a reversion to the Tomorrow People trope, eventually everyone will become an Esper and it’ll all be fine. “The world will be a wonderful place when everyone’s a peeper and everyone’s adjusted,” explains Powell.

So why should this be? We’re told at one point Powell felt “anger at the relentless force of evolution that insisted on endowing man with increased powers without removing the vestigial vices that prevented him from using them.” (He’s thinking of telepathy, but it applies to capitalism just as well.)

Then later, we’re told just why Reich has to be rehabilitated.

“If a man’s got the talent and guts to buck society, he’s obviously above average. You want to hold on to him. You straighten him out and turn him into a plus value. Why throw him away? Do that enough, and all you’ve got left are the sheep.”

Turns out it wasn’t really humanitarianism, he’s needed because he’s so special. So the circle is squared, we can have our capitalist cake and eat it. We need the ruthless, predatory bosses, you know, the do-ers. But how do we corral them, stop them going too far, get them with the ruthless streak that’s just the right width? How do we allow the wolves to keep moving among the sheep?

The answer is pushed into the future. Even the future of a future-set SF novel in which people can mind-read and visit other planets. Bester is trying to fix the system he lives under, rid capitalism of its contradictions. But to do this, he has to project it into tomorrow. Then can’t make it hold there either, so projects further, into the future’s future. But it’s incoming, here one day, honest. Keep the faith, citizen.

Coming soon! To guess our next destination, look up…