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A visitor from Oitar: The Sykaos Papers by E P Thompson (1988)

As a socialist   historian I am naturally  very familar  with Edward Thompson’s contribution to labour history, particularly  The Making of the English Working Class,   which was very  influential  on a whole generation of  young historians  and  political activists in putting working class agency at the centre of his narrative.  In addition  he was very active in the 1980s in the anti-nuclear movement, speaking at countless meetings up and down the country,  stalking the plaform like an C18th  Methodist preacher. He wrote  the pamphlet  Protest and Survive, an evisceration  of the government leaflet on how to cheerily  prepare your home  for a nuclear attack,  Protect and Survive. What I didn’t know was that he had written a science fiction novel The Sykaos Papers, published in 1988.

The full title  is The Sykaos Papers,  Being An Account of  the Voyages of  the Poet Oi Paz to the System of Strim in the Seventeenth Galaxy; of his Mission to the Planet Sykaos; of his first Cruel Captivity; of his Travels about its Surface; of the Manners and Customs of its Beastly People; of his Second Captivity; and of his Return to Oitar.  To which are added many passages from the Poet’s Journal, documents  in Sykotic script and  other curious matters.

Essentially this  lengthy novel  is Gulliver’s Travels  in reverse, a satire on society, language, culture,  science, politics, governments,  the media, sexual mores and much else.  It tells the story of Oi Paz, a poet sent by the planet Oitar (who have established a base on the Moon) to reconnoite Earth (which they call Sykaos and its people Sykotics)  as a possible candidate for colonisation. The story is told through Oi Paz’s  journal, official reports, media accounts and the field notes of Helena Sage.

Oi  Paz crashes to Earth and is promptly run over by a car.  Recovering in hospital,  and bemused by the culture he discovers on Earth,  he is eventually judged an impostor and kicked out into the street after being relieved of his gems. Mistaken for the Emir  for Quotar he  meets Mrs Thatcher  briefly. He is then taken up by a promoter  Nigel Harmer and tours the world as  Sapio the Spaceman with his own television show, kept docile with copious amounts of alcohol

After some months, following observations of activity on the Moon,   the authorities realise Oi Paz  is telling the truth and seize him, keeping him captive at Martagon Hall  in England,  run  by  a top secret  government organisation called FARCES (internal code LUNATIC). They bring in  anthropologist Helena Sage to get to know him  and  to seek to understand Oitarian culture. This is a sample of her first field notes on Oi Paz:

Tall, exceptionally well built. Dark complexion upon  somehat European (Caucasian?) features ..Moves with deliberation and grace, yet in some way distancing himself from the movemnets of his own body as if his limbs were delicate prosthetic tools. All senses seem sound. Hearing remarkably acute (detected mice scratching wainscot, informed me there were three) …Impressive yet passibe peroanlity, almost a “vibe” coming from him, not hostile, yet aloof and alert at the same time …Robes (quite gorgeous!) looked like a hand-weave  but, cldn’t identify with certainty, nor identify material (cottony texture but sheen of silk) Elaborate  belt – seems to contain some instrument (micro-computer?)  at right hip – with large ornamental  gold clasp in which a phallic catch (rt) engaes with wheel-symbol (lft). 

In time Helena and Oi Paz become close, intimate even.

Much of the novel is in a comic vein,  lancing the pomposity of the establishment, but  in the final  part the mood darkens as international political tensions invade Martagon Hall,  and the ending is sombre.

This is  far from a light read, and there are  nearly 500 pages,  but if you feel like taking on the  challenge, this might be the novel for you.

 

 

 

 

E P Thompson

 

 

 

 

 

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One response »

  1. Thank you for reviewing the novel! I was trained (I suppose) as an Althusserian, but of course E.P. is the one who really knows how to write!

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