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Monthly Archives: December 2017

Howzat! Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by James Goss (2018)

This book seems to have dropped through a wormhole in the Space-Time Continuum. According to the pre-publication publicity it’s not meant to be available until 18 January 2018,  but I  found it last week  on the shelf  at Manchester Central Reference Library.

The Krikkitmen began life as a story that Douglas Adams pitched   to Robert Holmes and Anthony Read, the outgoing and incoming producers of Doctor Who,  along with  The Pirate Planet.   They opted for The Pirate Planet (broadcast in the autumn of 1978),    but suggested that The Krikkitmen  might make a good film.  In the meantime the first radio  series of  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  was broadcast  in 1978  and  made Adams famous. This led him to becoming  script editor on Doctor Who in 1979 for a year: during his time on the show  he also  wrote City of Death and Shada (which  was never broadcast because of a strike).

Adams worked on The Krikkitmen for several years, but the film, like most films,  was never made,  and in time was almost forgotten (although Adams did use some of his ideas in Life, the Universe and Everything.)  But when researching in the Douglas Adams archive in Cambridge for his novelisation of Shada,  James Goss was shown  a detailed 33 page treatment for the film, including dialogue,  which led him to write this novel. The treatment  is included as an appendix.

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen features the Fourth Doctor and Romana. The original treatment  featured a companion called Jane, but James Goss decided that Romana would be more appropriate. In the novel she is clearly the cleverest person for millions of light years around. It also features K9, the cleverest robot dog  for millions of light years around. The Doctor  is…the Doctor.

The story begins in that most English of settings, Lord’s cricket ground during the Ashes. Romana is bemused by the game and wonders  why they are there, the Doctor doesn’t seem  like  to much like cricket either (unlike the Fifth  Doctor).  Things  get a bit more interesting when  the game is interrupted, not by rain or a streaker,  but  a cricket  pavilion  which suddenly materialises. It’s not empty:

…eleven figures, all attired in perfect cricket whites, strode out of the pavilion and towards the podium. The eleven were, to all intents and purposes, role models, from their tidily laced plimsolls to their neat helmets protecting their faces. Even their bats were polished so much they shone. …but there was one thing missing. There was nothing inside the uniforms. They were empty suits of gleaming white armour, marching in unison. 

The killer robots  (for this  is indeed what they are) start  attacking the crowd, lobbing explosive  cricket balls, wielding their razor sharp steel bats,  and then depart after stealing the Ashes.  leaving chaos and burning grass. It turns out that they are from the planet Krikkit,   who were a peaceful,  happy  people when they believed that they were the only race in the Universe. But  one day a spaceship crashed onto their planet.  This enraged them so much that  they built  spaceships  and the Krikkitmen,  and  then set about  destroying every other race in the Universe.

They were finally  stopped by the Time Lords,  who sealed Krikkit in Slow Time several million years ago. Now some Krikkitmen have  escaped  and are  intent in  freeing Krikkit from  Slow Time  and recommencing  the annihilation with millions more Krikkitman. To do this  they need to reassemble  the Wicket Gate, comprising three vertical sticks,  the Gold Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace.

Of course the Doctor  and Romans set out  to stop them. The rest of the novel is a dizzying swoop to  and fro  across the universe from planet to planet and  back and forth in time. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are shot at, imprisoned and  then escape (several times). They meet  the Elders of Krikkit, the  ineffectual  Krikkit rebels (who are stymied by lack of a  mission statement), Alovians, the Great Khan, Mareeve II (an unfriendly planet),  Devalin (a planet where they used to fish but now they don’t),  Bethsalamin (a friendly planet), Professor Chronotis,  a big red off and on  switch, and a super computer called Hactar who seems to hold the key to everything (but perhaps doesn’t.) Oh, and there’s a  Supernova Bomb that will destroy the Universe. Just  thought  I’d mention it. It all  ends where it began, at Lord’s.

James  Goss does an  excellent job of channeling Douglas  Adams’ prose style:

The Doctor, K-9 and Romana were running.

Romana had,  in her  time with the Doctor, learnt a good deal about fleeing. If anyone shouted ‘Hah’ or ‘ Stop’ or  ‘Wait!’ you ignored them. They were normally taking aim.

If given a choice between running upstairs and running downstairs, always go down. Even if the lights weren’t working. Often, yes, there’d be something with tentacles lurking in the dark, but you could cross that nightmare when you came to it. Also, with a little bit of dodging, you could let it devour any pursuers while you got on with surviving.

Running upstairs ended badly. You’d find yourself on a roof with nothing but a long drop beneath you and a  pressing need to do some fast talking…

Shoes. In her early days aboard the Tardis Romana had worn a variety  of imposing footwear. The TARDIS wardrobe  was delightfully unlike the wardrobes of Gallifre , and so offered her the chance to enjoy experimenting.  Boots. Pumps. Ballet shoes. But she quickly learned that anything with heels was out. They were good for making an entrance but hopeless for an exit.

Finally,  always follow the Doctor unless he was clearly heading somewhere absolutely idiotic. If it only looked mildly idiotic (eg a time corridor or burning building) then fine. But if it was towards a squadron of Daleks then perhaps not.

When fleeing, keep an eye on local signage. Signs indicating “This way to the Forest of Knives” or “Turn left for the Swamp of Death” were best avoided. Signs never indicated where there was a large amount of cover, or something blast-proof to hide behind. The Universe was disappointing like that.

There are 42 chapters, by the way.

Don’t buy it from Amazon, though please  buy it from the real Amazons at the independent  News from Nowhere bookshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s a gas, gas, gas….In the Days of the Comet by H G Wells (1906)

In-The-Days-Of-The-Comet-H.G.Wells-First-Edition

In the Days of The Comet takes  us down one path, a narrative of a love triangle, but then half way through unexpectedly   races off down another.

In the short prologue  we are introduced  to an old man who tells  us,  “I have  set myself to write the story of the Great Change, so far as it has affected my own life and the lives of one or two people closely connected with me, primarily to please myself.” The narrative that follows  is therefore peppered with his comments from the perspective of the future.

You must understand--and every year it becomes increasingly difficult
to understand--how entirely different the world was then from what
it is now. It was a dark world; it was full of preventable disorder,
preventable diseases, and preventable pain, of harshness and stupid
unpremeditated cruelties; but yet, it may be even by virtue of
the general darkness, there were moments of a rare and evanescent
beauty that seem no longer possible in my experience. The
great Change has come for ever more, happiness and beauty are our
atmosphere, there is peace on earth and good will to all men. None
would dare to dream of returning to the sorrows of the former time,
and yet that misery was pierced, ever and again its gray curtain was stabbed through and through by joys 
of an intensity, by perceptionsof a keenness that it seems to me are now altogether gone out of life. Is
it the Change, I wonder, that has robbed life of its extremes, or is it perhaps only this, that youth has left me--even the strength of middle years leaves me now--and taken its despairs
and raptures, leaving me judgment, perhaps, sympathy, memories?

The old man is Willie Leaford,  fifty years ago a   young man living in the Potteries, a socialist angry at the world who is love with Nettie. Leaford loses his job while Nettie throws him over for Edward Verrall, a wealthy young man,  and they elope.

I had grown so accustomed to think of Nettie as inseparably
mine--the whole tradition of "true love" pointed me to that--that
for her to face about with these precise small phrases toward
abandonment, after we had kissed and whispered and come so close
in the little adventurous familiarities of the young, shocked me
profoundly. I! I! And Rawdon didn't find me indispensable either.
I felt I was suddenly repudiated by the universe and threatened
with effacement, that in some positive and emphatic way I must at
once assert myself. There was no balm in the religion I had learnt,
or in the irreligion I had adopted, for wounded self-love.

Willie buys a revolver and pursues them to the coast. So far so conventional. But these  personal  events are taking place against a background of two momentous events.

Firstly, the approach  to the earth of a comet:

Comet

...the comet which had been on the first occasion only a dubious speck 
in the sky, certainly visible only when it was magnified, was 
now a great white presence, brighter than Jupiter, and casting a shadow
 on its own account. It was now actively present in the world of human
 thought, every one was talking about it, every one was looking
 for its waxing splendor as the sun went down--the papers, the 
music-halls, the hoardings, echoed it.

Leaford,  in conversation with his fellow socialist Parload,  invokes the comet:

We were presently abroad, walking through the warm summer's night
and talking all the more freely for that. But one thing that I
said I can remember. "I wish at times," said I, with a gesture at
the heavens, "that comet of yours or some such thing would indeed
strike this world--and wipe us all away, strikes, wars, tumults,
loves, jealousies, and all the wretchedness of life!"

Secondly, the outbreak of war with Germany in which battleships fight each other along the  very coast where Leaford is in pursuit of the lovers:

On, on! I groaned with the violence of my effort. I staggered
again and swore. I felt the concussions of great guns tear past me
through the murk.

They were gone! Everything was going, but I kept on running. Once
more I stumbled. There was something about my feet that impeded
me, tall grass or heather, but I could not see what it was, only
this smoke that eddied about my knees. There was a noise and spinning
in my brain, a vain resistance to a dark green curtain that was
falling, falling, falling, fold upon fold. Everything grew darker
and darker.

I made one last frantic effort, and raised my revolver, fired my
penultimate shot at a venture, and fell headlong to the ground.
And behold! the green curtain was a black one, and the earth and
I and all things ceased to be.

The whole of humanity  is put to sleep by a green gas created by the comet. Leaford awakes after several hours:

What was this place? How had I come to be sleeping here?

I could not remember.

It perplexed me that somehow my body felt strange to me. It was
unfamiliar--I could not tell how--and the barley, and the beautiful
weeds, and the slowly developing glory of the dawn behind; all
those things partook of the same unfamiliarity. I felt as though
I was a thing in some very luminous painted window, as though this
dawn broke through me. I felt I was part of some exquisite picture
painted in light and joy.

The comet gas wipes away the desire for violence and war,  for competition  and even for countries. A world state is created, while the old grimy smoke-ridden cities are torn down  and rebuilt for beauty alone.

All these vast cities have given way and gone, even as my native
Potteries and the Black Country have gone, and the lives that were
caught, crippled, starved, and maimed amidst their labyrinths, their
forgotten and neglected maladjustments, and their vast, inhuman,
ill-conceived industrial machinery have escaped--to life. Those
cities of growth and accident are altogether gone, never a chimney
smokes about our world to-day, and the sound of the weeping of
children who toiled and hungered, the dull despair of overburdened
women, the noise of brute quarrels in alleys, all shameful pleasures
and all the ugly grossness of wealthy pride have gone with them,
with the utter change in our lives. As I look back into the past
I see a vast exultant dust of house-breaking and removal rise
up into the clear air that followed the hour of the green vapors,
I live again the Year of Tents, the Year of Scaffolding, and like
the triumph of a new theme in a piece of music--the great cities
of our new days arise. Come Caerlyon and Armedon, the twin cities
of lower England, with the winding summer city of the Thames between,
and I see the gaunt dirt of old Edinburgh die to rise again white
and tall beneath the shadow of her ancient hill;

The gas hasaslo  wiped away jealousy,  and Willie becomes friends with Nettie and Edward. In time Willie begins a relationship with Anna and they have a child. But towards  the end of the novel Nettie comes to him,   and they recognise that they are still in love.  She  suggests a new kind of relationship in which the two couples share a home: “… we four from that time were very close, you understand, we were friends, helpers, personal lovers in a world of lovers.”

This is  the part of the novel that shocked some Edwardian readers, and  even some members of the Fabian Society of which Wells was a  leading figure,

Strip away the love triangle  and In the Days of the Comet  boils down to a vehicle for Wells to advance his critique  of early C20th industrial capitalism and his remedies eg the world state, a notion  that he was to return to in later novels and other  writings. The first half of the novel has life , whereas the second half is curiously lifeless, a common fault of Utopian novels I have discovered.

You can read the novel online here.

Adam Roberts has written a short sequel to the novel called In the Night of the Comet in which a second comet reverses the changes. Oh dear…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old man i

 

 

 

 

 

A short holiday in Utopia: Men Like Gods by H G Wells (1923)

Men Like GodsIn Men Like Gods H G Wells takes us to his vision of Utopia. He follows in the wake of a number of other Utopian novels by socialists including  Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy,  News from Nowhere by William Morris, The Sorcery Shop by Robert Blatchford and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The novel’s hero Mr Barnstaple is a typical Wellsian hero, an ordinary man who gets caught up in extraordinary events like Bert Smallways in Wells’ 1908 novel The War in the Air.

At the start  of the novel Mr Barnstaple is feeling stifled by his family;

He was a man of strong natural affections; he loved his family extremely
so that he knew it by heart, and when he was in these jaded moods it  bored him acutely. His three sons, who were all growing up, seemed to get leggier and larger every day; they sat down in the chairs he was just going to sit down in; they played him off his own pianola; they filled the house with hoarse, vast laughter at jokes that one couldn’t demand to be told; they cut in on the elderly harmless flirtations that had hitherto been one of his chief consolations in this vale; they beat  him at tennis; they fought playfully on the landings, and fell downstairs by twos and threes with an enormous racket. Their hats were everywhere. They were late for breakfast. They went to bed every night in a storm of uproar: “Haw, Haw, Haw–bump!” and their mother seemed to like it. They all cost money, with a cheerful disregard of the fact that everything had gone up except Mr. Barnstaple’s earning power.

He manages to escape  on a holiday on his own, but as he is  quietly motoring along near Windsor  he suddenly  finds himself  plucked into  another world, the result of a scientific experiment  that has gone wrong. A number of other cars have also been transported,  his companions in this new world include a Lord, a Cabinet Minister,  an entrepreneur, a Catholic priest and  a society beauty.

The visitors  dub this new world “Utopia” and the  barely clothed inhabitants “Utopians.”  The Utopians  have advanced technology and live  in a world of mountains, meadows and lakes  from which  war, disease and  poverty have been banished.

As they approached these mountains, broad stretches of golden corn-land  replaced the green of the pastures and then the cultivation became more diversified. He noted unmistakable vineyards on sunny slopes,  and the number of workers visible and the habitations multiplied. The little squadron of aeroplanes flew up a broad valley towards  a pass so that Mr. Barnstaple was able to scrutinize the mountain scenery. Came chestnut woods and at lastpines. There were Cyclopean turbines athwart the mountain torrents and long, low, many-windowed buildings that might serve some industrial purpose. A skilfully graded road with exceedingly bold, light and beautiful viaducts  mounted towards the pass. There were more people, he thought, in  the highland country than in the levels below, though still far
fewer than he would have seen upon any comparable countryside on earth.

Once their guests have been made comfortable, the Utopians –  Urthred, Lychnis, Serpentine and others –  explain the history of their society in a very lengthy  exposition.  It seems they are  thousand years in advance of Earth, having evolved from  what they called “The Age of Confusion”, an era  very similar to Earth in the C20th.  The world is a single entity with no countries,  no central government and no private property.

“We have been through that stage. We found at last that private property in all but very personal things was an intolerable nuisance
to mankind. We got rid of it. An artist or a scientific man has complete control of all the material he needs, we all own our tools
and appliances and have rooms and places of our own, but there is no property for trade or speculation. All this militant property,
this property of manoeuvre, has been quite got rid of. But how we got rid of it is a long story. It was not done in a few years.
The exaggeration of private property was an entirely natural and necessary stage in the development of human nature. It led at last
to monstrous results, but it was only through these monstrous and catastrophic results that men learnt the need and nature of the
limitations of private property.”

After many cycles of  rapid growth followed by decline and  catastrophe, the Utopians evolved a new form of society as a Utopian explains:

 He made it clear that the change over in Utopian affairs had been no sudden revolution. No new system of laws and customs, no new method of economic co-operation based on the idea of universal service to the common good, had sprung abruptly into being complete and finished. Throughout a long period, before and during the Last Age of Confusion, the foundations of the new state were laid by a growing multitude of inquirers and workers, having no set plan or preconceived method, but brought into unconscious co-operation by
a common impulse to service and a common lucidity and veracity of mind. It was only towards the climax of the Last Age of Confusion in
Utopia that psychological science began to develop with any vigour, comparable to the vigour of the development of geographical and
physical science during the preceding centuries. And the social and economic disorder which was checking experimental science and crippling the organized work of the universities was stimulating inquiry into the processes of human association and making it
desperate and fearless.

The  visitors have brought bacteria  with them –  unknown in this world –  leading to sickness  and death among the Utopians. They are  thetrefore placed in quarantine  in a castle on a crag. Here the novel (in which frankly not a great deal has been happening up to now ) changes gear slightly  moving into a satire on  the  colonial reflexes of Europeans. Only Mr Barnstaple has fully accepted what he has seen,   the rest regard the Utopians as weak and decadent, ripe for takeover.  Mr Catskill  (a character apparently based on Winston Churchill) explains  his plans:

“They will not know what to do. Do not be deceived by any outward shows of beauty and prosperity. These people are living, as the
ancient Peruvians were living in the time of Pizarro, in an enervating dream. They have drunken the debilitating draught of
Socialism and, as in ancient Peru, there is no health nor power of will left in them any more. A handful of resolute men and women who
can dare–may not only dare but triumph in the face of such a world. And thus it is I lay my plans before you…We have to turn this prison into a capitol, into the first foothold of mankind in this world. It is like a foot thrust into a reluctant door that must never more close upon our race.”

They intend to take hostages as a first step, but only succeed in killing several Utopians. Mr Barnstaple escapes as the Utopians encircling the crag  with a power cable. As they do so Mr Barnstaple notices something above :

Abruptly something black and spear-shaped appeared beside the little group of Earthlings above. It seemed to jump up beside them, it
paused and jumped again half the height of a man and jumped again. It was a flag being hauled up a flag staff, that Mr. Barnstaple had
not hitherto observed. It reached the top of the staff and hung limp.

Then some eddy in the air caught it. It flapped out for a moment, displayed a white star on a blue ground and dropped again. This was the flag of earth–this was the flag of the crusade to restore the blessings of competition, conflict and warfare to Utopia. Beneath it appeared the head of Mr. Burleigh, examining the Utopian coils through his glasses…

The throbbing and humming in Mr. Barnstaple’s ears grew rapidly louder and rose acutely to an extreme intensity. Suddenly great
flashes of violet light leapt across from coil to coil, passing through Quarantine Castle as though it was not there.

For a moment longer it was there.

The flag flared out madly and was torn from its staff. Mr. Burleigh lost his hat. A half length of Mr. Catskill became visible
struggling with his coat tails which had blown up and enveloped his head. At the same time Mr. Barnstaple saw the castle rotating upon
the lower part of the crag, exactly as though some invisible giant had seized the upper tenth of the headland and was twisting it
round.

And then it vanished.

The imperial  adventure is over.  At the end  of the  novel the Utopians succeed in returning Mr Barnstaple to his own world, and he returns home, wiser and more thoughtful,  where his wife notices that he has grown several inches taller.

She looked up into his eyes. As though she was very glad indeed to have him back with her.

But Mr. Barnstaple remained lost in thought. “It must be the extreme freshness of the air. I have been in some wonderful air….
Wonderful!… But at my age! To have grown! And I _feel_ as though I’d grown, inside and out, mind and body.”…

Mrs. Barnstaple presently began to put the tea-things together for removal.

“You seem to have avoided the big towns.”

“I did.”

“And kept to the country roads and lanes.”

“Practically…. It was all new country to me…. Beautiful….
Wonderful….”

His wife still watched him.

“You must take me_there some day,” she said. “I can see that it has done you a world of good.”

The problem with Utopian novels is that  they are little more guidebooks to an imagined future, and thus  barely function as novels at all, making them quite dull.  Men like Gods  has a little more incident  than most, which is not saying  a great deal.  It’s an unfortunate truth that dystopian novels are usually much more readable eg  Wells’ earlier novel The Sleeper Awakes.  Apparently Aldous Huxley was moved to write Brave New  World  (1932) after reading Men Like Gods, writing to a friend, “I am writing a novel about the future — on the horror of the Wellsian Utopia and a revolt against it. Very difficult. I have hardly enough imagination to deal with such a subject. But it is none the less interesting work.”

In its very enthusastic  review of Men Like Gods  the Manchester Guardian said:

The charm and absorbingness of this novel may be taken for granted. It is most remarkable. No other writer could have achieved a smilar triumph. Mr Wells has always been able to see clearly and with beauty into a  highly sanitary ideal world. He can do this because  of  his really passionate love of human-kind  and desire for the betterment  of its lot. His hatred of contemporary squalors, of the system of greed and squalor and sprawling ineffectiveness  which  makes the world a sprawling mess, is so intense that to  Mr Wells restless and reforming spirit passive endurance is impossible. He must attack and destroy and rebuild – the process being one continuous movement  of his immense vital energy….The author’s passion for education, for knowledge and health have never been more brilliantly expressed. ..It is full of fine thinking and fine understanding. 

You can read Men like Gods  online here.