Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, June 27, 2013

1965: The Cyberiad (Lem, Stanislaw)

Tireless themes of absurdity, satire and philosophy (5/5)

I’ve only read Lem’s Solaris (1961), so my expectation for The Cyberiad was definitely skewed towards an eeriness or introspective slant. Regardless of George Clooney gracing the cover of Solaris, the novel was chock-full of fluxing emotions, lapsing moods, and shifting paradigms. I suspected that The Cyberiad, penned only four years later in 1965, would have had a similar ambiance on the pages. Little did I realize, and much to my pleasant surprise nonetheless, that The Cyberiad is composed of (1) the humor of absurdity, (2) the satire of technological progress, and (3) the philosophy of knowledge.

(1) If you can’t find humor in The Cyberiad, check your pulse. The protagonist constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius, are a dynamic opposition at times, but also a synergetic alliance at other times. Their aloof attitude towards each other’s achievements creates a personality clash which usually ends in a few chuckles for the characters and for the reader. From cockamamie poetic devices to poppycock bureaucracy, Trurl and Klapaucius are robot life partners whether they are meant to be together or apart; they are two sides to a coin, a thumb for a finger.

(2) Robots create robots that perform poetry, manifest dragons, entice a woebegone prince, spin endless threads of data, and encapsulate a civilization; these ideas of what a simple machine can go is explored to the nth degree. Lem doesn’t just show the reader what the constructors can do, but also how they accept the responsibility for producing such mechanical heaps of balderdash; where one’s ideas of a weapon of war can be another’s dream of peace or where granting a tyrant full reign over an artificial civilization can be synonymous with the subjugation of real people, Lem understands that technology is wondrous but also dangerous when in the wrong hands.

(3) Caves are apparent in a least three of Lem’s stories: “Trurl’s Machine”, “Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius”, and “Altruizine”. When taken into the context of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, those within the cave are ignorant of the objective reality outside the cave and are content with the subjective reality they see in their own minds; ignorance is the enemy as much as selfish withdraw is the call-to-arms. Lem takes this allegory one step further and introduces the theme of isolation: “The Fifth Sally” with a reclusive king in his kingdom, “The Fifth Sally (A)” with an indestructible behemoth perched on a solitary hilltop, “The Sixth Sally” with an isolated data pirate in deep space, and “The Seventh Sally” with an dethroned king on an asteroid. Each of these isolated characters cuts themselves off from society to indulge in their own respective delusions of selfishness, invulnerability, desire, and power; this hermetical reclusion of self-satisfaction always ends in self-destruction. Therefore, with the themes of Plato’s Cave and hermetic selfishness, Lem pens the stories with the idea of knowledge as a dangerous thing—something to be shared in the open, talked about, and debated about rather than ensconced in ignorance and self-denial.


Rear cover synopsis:
“Stanislaw Lem: author of Solaris, and one of Europe’s most popular, prolific and articulate writers. His work has been translated into almost thirty languages and he is now being recognised throughout the English-speaking world as a brilliant and powerful writer. He has been compared to Jonathan Swift, H. G. Wells, Lewis Carroll and Michael Moorcock; but Lem is unique. Satirist, scientist, philosopher, critic—and one of science fiction’s greatest writers.

The Cyberiad is a brilliant satire on the genius and the futility of man’s capacity for technological innovation, as his rival heroes vie with each other to produce ever more improbable machines for ever more lunatic purposes.”


How the World Was Saved (1964, shortstory) – 5/5 – In all his genius, Trurl creates a machines that can prodce anything that starts with the letter “n”, including noodles, nimbuses, and even night. He invites over his fellow machine/robot constructor, Klapaucius, who tests the machine with three simple queries: first “nature” is created though its manifestation debated, then “negative” materializes in the form of an anti-world, and finally “nothing” begins to occur, scaring both constructors. 6 pages

Trurl’s Machine (1964, shortstory) – 5/5 – Trurl’s eight-storey sall machine is given a simple test to check its mathematical logic: two plus two. It’s answer of “seven” is disputed by Trurl who kicks the machine and insults it, which only infuriates the illogical contraption. Thence, it uproots itself and stalks after its creator through populated villages and dense forest foliage to where to their final standoff at the mouth of a cave. 11 pages

A Good Shellacking (1964, shortstory) – 5/5 – Klapaucius receives a gift from his constructor friend Trurl—the Machine to Grant Your Every Wish. Its limits of creation hardly pushed, Klapaucius asks for only paint, a screw, and sandpaper, but he then requests the ultimate duplication—a copy of Trurl himself! Out pops Trurl, who Klapaucius immediately assails for being an inferior clone, and thereby ensues a cascade of follies and accolades. 7 pages

The First Sally (1965, shortstory) – 4/5 – Upon a voyage into the universe, our  constructor protagonists discover a planet with a single continent divided by a single red line. Wishing to make contact with the royalty of each kingdom, each constructor takes half of the continent in order to peddle their mechanizations which utilize the Gargantius Effect. Both kingdoms wanting all-powerful weapons, each seize the opportunity and confront each other with unified mobilizations. 12 pages

The First Sally (A) (1965, shortstory) – 5/5 – In order to build the perfect poetry machine, Trurl has his creation simulate the universe from the dawn of time all the way through the era of great apes and modern times to the future. It’s this simulates evolution of poetry which enables the machine to express itself emotionally and abstractly to such a high degree that master poets from around the world suicide in despair; banishment is its punishment. 14 pages

The Second Sally (1965, novelette) – 4/5 – Summoned to the planet of King Krool, the “two distinguished constructors” find themselves in a fix—the must create a formidable prey for the king of predation, or face death. Their ideas are numerous and absurd, but none match the wild list of items needed for their outlandish construction. Tooth and claw, snarl and roar have no contest to the fear of red tape in the kingdom. 26 pages

The Third Sally (1965, shortstory) – 3/5 – Dragons are very improbably creatures that the likelihood of their existence is next to nil. However, recent research has shown that the mathematical probability of dragon manifestation can occur and does occur. When soothsayers/dragon-slayers request bounty for the vanquishment of said dragons, one must realize that the ill coincides with the remedy—not all acts of healing are benevolent. 17 pages

The Fourth Sally (1965, shortstory) – 3/5 – His Royal Highness Pantagoon is infatuated with Amarandina Cybernella, the only daughter of the ruler of the neighboring state of Ib, yet is prohibited from seeing her. Trurl is once again summoned to the planet in order to create a vivacious, libidinous, and pulchritudinous vixen to derail his hapless obsession.  However, the construct fails to appeal to the man’s senses of loins, so Trurl concocts a plan to have Ib feel the strain. 9 pages

The Fifth Sally (1965, shortstory) – 4/5 – A mischievous king found of puzzles yet loves the game of hide-and-seek more. The childish king offers a handsome prize for the person who can find the best hiding place for him. Our clever constructors devise a min transferring hat, which enables the king to transfer his mind with Trurl’s, thus resulting in a series of mind swaps that leaves the castle and the village in a broad yet shallow chaos. 17 pages

The Fifth Sally (A) (1965, shortstory) – 5/5 – The Steelypips, even with all their mechanical prowess, can’t budge the burdensome behemoth perched upon one of their mountaintops. Along comes Trurl who offers a form of assistance which is near and dear to him. Typing out an eviction notice with fabricated statutes, Trurl thus begins a bureaucratic process with its notices, forms, notarizations, receipts, injunctions, and sapping of the soul. 8 pages

The Sixth Sally (1965, novelette) – 5/5 – Our intrepid constructors chase a myth found on a scrap of paper, yet fall into the trap set by Pugg. The pirate, “not your usual uncouth pirate, but refined and with a Ph.D., and therefore extremely high-strung” (184), is only interested in data rather than gold or possessions. To satisfy the pirate’s curiosity, Trurl produces a Demon of the Second Kind which pulls data from the air, a steam of endless, captivating data. 20 pages

The Seventh Sally (1965, shortstory) – 4/5 – Trurl passes a desolate rock while cruising in his spaceship and discovers a dethroned king. With no kingdom to reign over, the despondent king begs Trurl to create a miniature kingdom for him to rule. The cuboid contraption is set with parameters for the subjects to adore the king and to run at a vastly accelerated frame of time. Upon telling Klapaucius of his good deed, the two debate life, civilization, and consciousness. 10 pages

Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius (1965, novella) – 4/5 – Contacted by the ambassador to King Genius, who has sealed himself in a cave without want for contact or companionship, Trurl is enlisted to create three electronic bards which spins specific stories to suit the king’s intelligence: one to exercise the mind, another to entertain the mind, and the last to edify the mind. The mise en abyme and morality of narration challenge the king to undo his hermetic selfishness. 75 pages

Altruizine (1965, novelette) – 4/5 – Bonomius abandons his solitude of pious meditation to discover a more selfless world and encounters the illustrious constructor Klapaucius, who tells him of his experience with the race of Highest Possible Level of Development and his effort to simulate the dejected race in order to understand their rise to HPLD and their general despondency. His artificial construction retells the tale and offers a drug to enable peace among “palefaces”. 30 pages

Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal (1965, shortstory) – 4/5 – In order to woo, court, and wed the fair daughter of King Armoric, Princess Crystal, her suitor must be a fleshy paleface. Donning the guise of a human with its collection of effluents, Ferrix is convinced of his own slimy subterfuge and seeks the audience of the renowned princess. His various seepages and reactions convince the princess insofar as nothing beastlier comes by. 13 pages

Monday, June 17, 2013

1981: The Cool War (Pohl, Frederik)

Two ideas dragged out to 282 dry, starchy pages (2/5)

My eighteenth book of Pohl, nearly half of which I’ve given a rating of 2-stars, among them Farthest Star (1975), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Syzygy (1982), and Black Star Rising (1985). I wonder to myself why I keep pursuing to read Pohl novels, and the only logical answer is that I’m still under them objective impression that he’s a “good writer”. My subjective experience contrasts this, alas, I continue.

In the mid- to late-1970s, Frederik Pohl was on a roll with his Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel ManPlus (1976), another Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel Gateway (1977), and a finalist for both awards was his novel Jem (1979). In that same year, Pohl began to publish three stories: “Mars Masked”, “The Cool War” and “Like Unto the Locusts”—the three of which were stitched together, padded, and called a singular novel, The Cool War. Unlike the three preceding novels published, The Cool War didn’t share the same limelight.

Rear cover synopsis:
“One day, the Reverend Hornswell hake had nothing worse to contend with than the customary power shortages and his routine pastoral chores, such as counseling the vivacious Alys Brant—and her husbands and wife. At, nearly forty, his life was placid, almost humdrum.

“The very next day, Horny Hake was first enlisted as an unwilling agent of the Team—secret successor to the long-discredited CIA—and then courted by an anti-Team underground group. In practically no time at all, Horny and Alys were touring Europe on a mission about which he knew zip, except that it was a new move in the Cool War, the worldwide campaign of sabotage that had replaces actual combat.

For the Team and its opponents, though, the Cool War could be as perilous as any hot one!”


Long Branch, New Jersey is home Reverend Hornswell Hake’s church of Unitarianism, where the idle yet content reverend writes his droning weekly sermon for his congregation, lives with the restrictions of power and coal, balances a tiny budget, and acts as marriage counselor to Alys Brant in her four-way marriage. Life is simple, life is good… better than being a paraplegic like he was in seminary school, anyhow.

Horny is pulled from his idle duty and thrown into the conspiring affairs of a secret government organization bent on sabotaging the work of other countries. He considers his role as an agent to be entirely passive—escorting children around Europe; unbeknownst to him, he carries a virus which he had been spreading all across the continent since his arrival. With his return home, the organization revels in its victory from Horny’ passive duty: factory worker absenteeism up 80% in Germany.

The American government, and all governments around the world, is restricted from imparting violence and death upon its adversaries, so the only way to destroy a nation’s morale is through subtle methods. The means to a successful sabotage operation must conform to three requisites: covert, non-lethal, and on foreign soil. While Horny is used without his knowledge at first, he soon gets the training he needs to be a more conniving, more competent, and more resistive agent.

His calm demeanor hides a latent playboy. His interest in Alys is halted by her inclusion in his congregation, but that relationship develops as Alys fixates herself into Horny’s spy life and home life. His ability to woo isn’t limited to temptresses, but extends to one of his fellow spies: Leota. Though of a different nationalist persuasion than Horny, the twosome find their physical proximities invigorating as they are productive to their respective causes.

His extensive training in Texas is interrupted by his assignment, which takes him to Egypt. His mission to infiltrate a hydrogen plant is clear, but Horny’s personal agenda clashes with his professional agenda: he needs to save Leota from her servitude under s sultanate while being shadowed by the sexual aggressor of Alys. With women on his mind and executing a mission with his lingual knack, Horny is also assessing his allegiance to the United States government—are his missions for the greater good, or for the selfish benefit of a failed nation? And is he acting under his own volition or is he under some hypnotic trance?

The mission he was recruited for, the skills which were needed, and the subtle tact that he has since earned have led him to Egypt. All sides of his internal struggles will rear their head while all facets of the international cool war convene for this mission. His strategic importance in the mission gives him power to choose the destiny of mankind as a whole, a path which he must defend against his own government, his own doubts, and the powerful sultanate who holds a country hostage… a very precarious position for a whole who used to simply preach sermons.


There’s nothing wrong with stitch-up novels; I don’t discriminate against serial novels, stand-alone novels or trilogies, but I hesitate to read stitch-up novels because they tend to show their seams. This is the case of The Cool War. The seams between the stories feel protracted, like Horny’s flight to Europe with all the children on board and the training done on the Texan ranch. Pohl drones on and on through the petty portions of this novel, yet pedals right through the most interesting parts: the types of sabotage, the perpetrators of the sabotage, and the effects of the sabotage.

The most interesting thing about The Cool War is the history behind the need for covert actions against other nations, which boils down to the astronomical cost of real war. But the real background to the story is Pohl’s typical world-at-chaos-due-to-energy-restrictions, a theme covered by Pohl again and again through the 1970s and 1980s. In The Cool War, the Israelis bombed out all the oil wells and set fire to all the oil deposits, thereby forcing the world to adopt alternatives: hydrogen and coal. It’s only mildly interesting because it’s this weak foundation on which the entire book floats.

Atop this barely floating plot is Hornswell Hake, a dull man with a dull life through into extraordinary circumstances which don’t render him any more interesting. Mislead yet virtuous, prying yet content, Hornswell Hake is a man who interested in the reality of things but content with whatever answer is given to him while at the same time nursing some off theory of his own, such as hypnotism. Hornswell can’t be liked.

Aside from the interesting yet poorly performing plot of subtle incursions and non-lethal attacks on countries, the last aspect of The Cool Way which failed was Hake’s obsession about hypnotism, as mentioned above. I was an eager reader looking for ways to include hypnotism, entertain a half dozen different ideas about how Pohl could switch things up with dramaturgy, one under hypnosis who is able to act out any given part. Alas, Hake finds out that hypnotism plays no part in his life—Pohl had led the reader on a while goose chase, a path which could have had numerous implication turned out to be a dead end. Wasted words.


Another Pohl read, another 2-stars given. There’s not much else in Pohl’s bibliography which intrigues me. Is this the end of the road for my Pohl readership? This is very, very close to the truth because on my shelves of 100+ unread books, there remains no Pohl. It’s time for this over-rated author to make way for some of the more unknown works on my shelves.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

1967: Born Under Mars (Brunner, John)

Meliorating mystery turns to stillborn assumptions (2/5)

My 22nd Brunner novel happens to be one which was serially published in Amazing Stories (December 1966 and February 1967). This isn’t an usual practice for Brunner, who also published similar serial novels before in 1966 (The Productions of Time) and in 1964 (The Enigma of Tantalus) but also continued creating serial novels throughout his career, such as The Evil That Men Do (1969) and The Stone That Never Came Down (1973). What makes Born Under Mars distinguishable from his other serial novels is the sheer difference in direction and quality between the two halves: the first being a cauldron of mystery which develops flavors as it stews and the second half being heavily salted with assumptions, stereotypes, and genealogical lineage.

Rear cover synopsis:
“When mankind colonized the stars, it developed into two different, antagonistic types that had left Mars behind. As well, they had left behind the dead-end Mars-born mutations—with which man had once testes his adaptiveness—on a world that had since fallen into apathy and decay.

But when secret agents of the two branches of humanity focused their unwelcome attention on the most recent star mission of one such mutation, he had no time to ponder the plight of his home planet.

For Ray Mallin found himself the unwitting key to a secret that could affect the entire future of mankind.”


Once having departed their home system of Sol, two lineages of human stock settled in the north and south: the Bears and the Centaurs. The Bears, “permissive and casual”, and the Centaurs, “rigid and disciplined” (98), left behind the rest of humanity stranded on the bodies of Earth and Mars. Free from the homogenization, social norms, and behavioral governances of the rest of humanity, the two diasporic sects evolved into two drastically different forms of humanity: the Bears “cheerfully accepting randomness as a major factor or life” and the Centaurs with a “society rigidly pre-planned” (145).

Ray Mallin is a Martian who is skilled in four-space engines but stuck out of the system for want of return passage back to Mars. He’s fond of the casual ways of the Bears, especially the welcoming Bear girls, and dislikes the staunchly formal Centaurs, a feeling backed by Earth’s common allegiance to the Bears. A chance encounter allows him a bunk on a Centaur ship, but his entire time aboard is occupied by caring for the splenetic engines of an overpowered linear. Back on Mars and thankful for the return trip, he is immediately taken into custody and subjected to lashes with a nerve-ship. To cope with the pain and clear his mind, Ray uses the teachings and techniques of his childhood teacher, Thoder.

Visiting Thoder at a later time, Ray recaps the time he has spent on Mars since returning on that dreaded ship: tortured to within an inch of his life, dumped on the surface of Mars nearly drowning on sand trickling through his mask, picked up and cared for by an Earth couple, and told of his five-generation lineage on Mars. It had been a bizarre homecoming and Ray wants a few answers, but Thoder isn’t prepared to reveal to Ray the extend of the mysteries behind his return.

Clarity doesn’t come to Ray after he wakes up and realizes two things: he doesn’t own a null-gee bed and more time has elapsed than can be accounted for. His homecoming maintains its surrealism. Returning to the apartment of the Earth couple, Ray is greeted with a hesitant smile and a jerky welcome. The couple produce a lie about caring for a friend’s child, a lie which is established when Ray is further greeted by the visiting “doctor” who has a noticeable Bear accent. Considering Ray’s past few days experiencing torture, lies, and missing time, Ray is getting more irritable as events progress towards an unforeseen apex.

Between the cold warring differences of the Bears and Centaurs is more than the prying schism of culture; rather, they represent two eugenic furcations of humankind’s progress toward an uncertain future. Back in humanity’s home system of Sol, the human genetic code’s obsequence for evolutional superiority has slacked, resulting in a homogenous and stagnant population on Earth and a seemingly flawed genetic pool on Mars. At the center of his genetic proliferation and stagnation is the child… some say rescued, others say kidnapped. This pinnacle of progeny is both mankind’s hope and Ray Mallin’s bane of existence.


Most of the five-paragraph synopsis above reflects the first half of the novel. It’s a great beginning which follows an ordinary Mars man and down on his lucky yet lucky enough to get a trip back home with a generous bonus. The odd series of events which Ray finds himself in generates a great amount of interest in exactly where Brunner is taking this veering plot of his. And just after the halfway point (a dozen pages before the True® cigarette advertisement between pages 96 and 97), things turn sour.

As mentioned in the introduction, this novel is a serial novel. The second half of the novel takes all the tantalizing strings from the first half and, rather than gather them nicely into a tidy skein, Brunner makes a gnarly tangle of the fine threads. The synopsis relays an importance of (1) genealogy, (2) genetic diversity, and (3) social differentiation; these three vague aspects of the plot come into play in the second half of the novel, but their vagueness and interest soon evaporate when the intensity of the subjects becomes too much.

(1)          The importance of the genealogical thread comes late into the game like a second-string team, and, much like a second-string team, the sub-performance is disappointing in light of the great mystery which unfolds in the first half. Too many lineages from too many sects come into fold where all importance is muddled and all interest wanes in the confusion.

(2)          The genetic variety of the Bear and Centaur population seems to be in response to the genetic stagnation of Earth and Mars, but over the course of five or six generations for which the human colonies have separated from Sol system, there seems to be too rigid a system to enable such behavior in the colonies behaviors: the Bears are naturally casual, the Centaurs are naturally disciplined. Brunner attributes these overarching attributes to each sect’s social norms, but formative genetics also plays a role in the scheme.

(3)          The diametric cultures of the Bears and Centaurs is a little tiring, where the reader is reminded of the polar differences three different times, at length (two instances quoted in the synopsis above). As Joachim has said on Born Under Mars, “Cultures are never monolithic, stereotypes are bad and the cultures on other planets (besides Mars) need more description than a few adjectives.” Brunner’s justification for this bipolar diversity is good, not feeble or flimsy, but the simple-minded inclusion of the genetic and social schism between the two populations is generic.

On the one last negative side… Brunner teases the reader by mentioning multi-generational arks seeding the galaxy after the invention of four-space drivers. All authors should understand this point: NEVER tease the reader about multi-generational arks seeding the galaxy! The very idea and limited access to stories (including Brunner’s own “Lung Fish” [1957] in Entry to Elsewhen [1972]) is upsetting to hardcore science fiction readers who crave this sacred niche of their preferred genre. There hasn’t been a decent take on the theme for quite a while now, nothing refreshing from the themes of yore produced by Heinlein (“Universe” [1941]) and Aldiss (Non-Stop [1956]).


This isn’t one of Brunner’s worst novels, a dubious honor held by Give Warning to the World (1959) and The Wrong End of Time (1979), but it does sink to the bottom of the heap of castoffs. This isn’t a keeper. If it were just more focused on the mystery surrounding Ray Mallin, and his unfortunate circumstances with the ship he arrived on, rather than the non-so-exciting manipulation of genetics and society across the stars… saying that, it does sound enticing, but the delivery is of a stillborn plot in the second half.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

1979: The Colonists From Space (Young, B.A.)

Retro when retro was lame, yet stylistically curious (3/5)

Bertram Alfred Young (B.A Young) was best known as a drama critic from the 1960s to the 1990s, but was still able to make a unimpressionable dent in the genre of science fiction with Cabinet Pudding (1967), a rather strange look at British politics in 1996 where the prime minister is a pot-smoking West Indian, and in 1979 with the lamely titled The Colonists From Space. I bought this at the Neilson-Hayes Library annual book sale in Bangkok for 20 baht (65 cents). I was charmed by the simplicity of the cover and the over-simplicity of the book’s title, both of which stood in contrast to the book’s relative modernness—1979.

Though the cover may be have a retro paint scheme and imaging of magazines such as Amazing Stories, Fate Magazine, and Astounding Science Fiction, the cover for The Colonists From Space was done by Ionicus (1913 – 1998) who, more famously, drew the book covers for P.D. Wodehouse novels (Penguin editions) which portray an idyllic English countryside and home life. Ionicus, actually diagnosed as colorblind while in the navy, also drew the covers for a handful of other William Kimber’s publications from 1977-1987, all horror books aside from this lone science fiction portrait.

Inside dustcover synopsis:
“When the green men from the flying saucers land in the Cotswold valleys, they set about their task of civilising the natives with all the pride and integrity the natives themselves once displayed in the virgin lands of Africa. As the Empire is forged on Earth, the chroniclers on the home planet record the adventures of the colonial pioneers with the same fertile imagination that is another context bred Sanders of the River and Tarzan of the Apes.

B. A. Young presents a series of accounts, some from the colonial point of view and some from the native, which tells the story of the exploration and conquest of England by the invaders from outer space. Part science fiction and part satire, this story sometimes has a curiously familiar ring. Light-hearted though it is, is has something to say about the qualities of the imperial spirit.”


The pastoral serenity of Cotswolds, England is dominated by bleating sheep and other roving ungulates which dot the scenic counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. There lives a young boy named Raymond who schemes of defending his home against alien invaders is, or rather when, they invade. Concomitantly zipping through the system are the Skrahl, and aboard that Space Corps vessel is Cadet Dan, who serendipitously discovers Planet 7156 C/s/3 (aka Earth). Though only a cadet, the honor of first footfall and spearheading the first foray is given to the cherubic, green-skinned, humanoid boy.

The humans ponder upon the implications of first contact and concern themselves with congeniality and good manners: “How could comforts be ensured? Should any alteration of our atmosphere be contemplated to ensure that the strangers would be able to breathe it? Would our climatic conditions prove suitable, and if not, how could we vary them?” (16). Yet, when the landing party arrives and eventually makes contact, the Skrahl take the defensive and prepare their battlefield, their grounds of war with the humans—the initial verbal debate. The conscientious Skrahl adhere to their debate protocols and the conventions of debate warfare, but Cadet Dan eyes the opportunity to play the very game the humans do: be brash, abrupt, loud, ignorant, immature, feisty, and irrational. Regardless of his strategy, Dan loses this debate against his designated opponent—the 8-year old named Raymond of Gloucestershire.

The actions of the locals of Gloucestershire stump the colonialists. The invaders don’t really put all that much effort into understanding the ways of the English, the Europeans or even the Earthly ways in general. It seems as if the villagers “amuse themselves by taking pictures of everything they see and either printing it on sheets of paper or transmitting it electronically on ground-glass screens in their homes” and “hunger for such simples goods as long-playing gramophone records and a coarse blue cloth called denim” (46). They can’t make any sense of the English language with all of its erroneous pronunciations, so they dub the country of England by a more phonetically correct name—Ingland.

This single-minded materialism of the humans penetrates the elastic culture of the Skrahl, who export the same popular items to their home which become fashionable at the universities… one of which Raymond attends. Seemingly under the patronage of Cadet-cum-Captain Dan, Raymond is actually gathering information about the alien race in order to plan a counter-insurgency cell which he will call the Inglish Independent Insurrection.

Raymond sneaks back to Earth and maintains a low profile in the physical sense, yet still heads his organization’s efforts to cast off the yoke of alien imperialism. Various strategies to fight the colonialism include raiding weapon depots and planting moles within the aliens’ human servants; Captain Dan realizes that Raymond is behind the counter-insurgency and aims to capture him in order to understand the logic behind the assaults—the Skrahl have given the humans better denim and more long-play records, thereby giving a higher standard of living.


The novel, by its cover alone, looks like a juvenile science fiction novel and its undertaking reeks of either juvenilism or amateurism: humanoid aliens with green skin and yellow blood, saucer cities, saucer spacecraft, and atomic gadgets. Remembering that B.A. Young was a journalist by trade and satirist by quirk, the reader can take note three distinguishing facets of this semi-precious novel.

(1) Nearly each of the fourteen chapters is written with a distinctive prose, unique format or unusual angle of attack: first-person narrative, academic overview with footnotes, casual recount of an amusing incident, diary entries, etc. The introduction of the novel was written by the fictional Emeritus Professor of Earth Studies, Dejah, who compiled the portions of the book to provide “a comprehensive yet readable survey of what colonialism really is” (13). The montage of writing styles is mildly interesting in the macroscopic sense, but… no, it’s mildly interesting at best.

(2) His attempts at humor are reflective of his satire on English life. Some inclusions, such as the native human fixation on denim and LPs, fall flat even when repeated at length throughout the novel and even when the same materialistic possessions are used as a bribe. This garners a smile. Only one chapter of the book provided an excellent perspective on alien logic and use of the author’s humor: chapter 5 entitled “Green Hills of Gloucestershire” is an adaptation of an edition which appeared in the magazine Punch under the title “Symbiosis.

(3) The opposite side of the humor in satire is the more constructive side of pointing the finger of colonialism back on the colonialists themselves—the British. I’m not a historian nor am I keen about Britain’s past colonialism to pick up on the nuances about having the tables turned, but it’s obvious enough that the author is prodding the British collective ego. The Skrahl take their land, change their laws, issue their own licenses, occupy their industry, overthrown their government, and then wonder why the humans are so pesky about the colonization. A few post-WWII examples of stepping out from the shadow of British imperialism: India (1947), Burma (1948), Malaya (1957), Cyprus and Nigeria (1960), Singapore and Kenya (1963), Malta (1964), Guyana and Barbados (1966).


The Colonists From Space is pedestrian for the average reader, but perhaps notable for someone seeking the odd morsels of British sci-fi (i.e. me), a post-WWII decolonization historian or a juvenile reader. It’s weird because the plot simplicity contrasts the unique collection of each chapter’s distinctiveness; it’s silly because the humanoid aliens are so much like the conniving humans yet their alien logic tends to get the best of them; and it’s interesting because of the colonial context of the old British Empire. If you can immerse yourself in one of those three—weird, silly or interesting—then you may enjoy this novel to a greater degree than I did… but because it assumes all these contrasts and stands out as an oddity by its retro cover, I think she’s a keeper for my collection.