This was Jane Palmer’s first novel, published in the pioneering Women’s Press science fiction series. It begins, probably uniquely in the realm of science fiction writing, with a woman discussing her menopause with a male doctor. Diana is asking about Hormone Replacement Therapy, but he advises her against this. “I’ve heard of of women losing their fingernails and others being stuck with headaches for weeks – and do you really want to go on having periods until you are past seventy?’
Diana riposts tartly:
‘I’ve already worn my finger-nails away by climbing up the wall and give my daughter regular headaches by screaming at every animate and inanimate a thing that gets in my way… And will not live to be seventy if I carry on at this rate.’
Diana is a single mother, has a seven (and a half) year old daughter, and works in an open air museum of architecture where she take parties of bored school children on tours of their iron-age huts. At night she hears (or thinks she hears) a voice which says, “Moosevan”… “Moosevan”….
She has an elderly Russian neighbour, Yuri, who spends his time drinking gin to excess, observing the asteroids, and making arcane calculations about their orbits. Then there is Diana’s friend Eva, a scientist who work at a huge radio telescope right next door to the open-air museum, (I love this juxtapostion of ancient and modern). Eva calls Diana “Mog” , by the way.We never find out why.
Yuri becomes convinced that someone is moving some asteroids to different positions, which if completed, will turn into a new planet and destroy the Earth. Nobody is paying him any attention, but he’s right, of course. It’s part of a plan by a planet dweller, Moosevan, to create a new home for herself, unaware that the Earth is inhabited. Moosevan is being threatened by a thoroughly nasty alien The Mott (we know he is nasty because he has big ears and big teeth), who wants to evict Moosevan and colonise her planet. Mott is being aided by renegage Olmuke genius Kulp and his two hapless sidekicks, Jannu and Tolt.
It had been difficult for the Mott to accept that the rest of of the galaxy did not love their empirebuilding species, especially as they hasd bestowed such benefits as advice and bombs in exchange for their freedom…
Opposing the Mott are two ancient beings who have taken temporary forms as Torrans (complete with tails) and temporary names, Dax and Reniola.
Back on earth Yuri enters a dazzling portal which has popped up in the middle of a fairy ring, and finds himself on Moosevan’s planet. She tells him:
‘I am old…’ Moosevan tried to rationalise. ‘I am. ..Your touch pleases me…’ she added as that was the most dominant thought in her mind.
‘I must be half as old as this galaxy’.
Yuri looked up again at the sky scattered with the debris of so many stars. Normally he would not have have sniffed at a show of affection coming from a mature woman, but one ninety thousand million years was in his opinion taking things to far.
I won’t go any further into the details of the plot, except to say that by the end of the book everything is resolved satisfactorily.
The shadow of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe surely looms large over this attempt by Jane to write a comic science fiction novel. Adams succeeded brilliantly, so much so that Hitchhikers, like the Goon Show, is now part of the mental furniture of anyone interested in surreal comedy. Adams was a genius and made his writing look easy, but it’s not, of course. For me this novel only partly works, but I still enjoyed it.
The wonderful front cover illustration of the novel is by Jane herself. She has written a number of other science fiction novels, including The Watcher (1986) and Moving Moosevan (1990), both also published by Women’s Press, Babel’s Basement (2010) and Duckbill’s Soup (2011), another in the Moosevan series.