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“What dreams may come…”:The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin (1971)

In a previous post I looked at  Ursula’s Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. In this post I  want to look at  her novel The Lathe of Heaven (1971).

Falling into “a dreamless sleep” is a cliche beloved of romantic novelists as they depict the travails of their heroine/hero as she/he slumps exhausted onto their four posted  feather bed. In fact,  we all dream every night,   as our unconscious churns over our day, our fears and desires,  and much else besides.  And when we awake our dreams usually vanish, like early  morning mist under the  rays of the  rising sun. Usually.

George Orr dreams. George is an ordinary man, who does an ordinary job, lives in an ordinary shabby flat in an ordinary city (Portland) in an America some decades ahead of  when the novel was published  (which  in a time paradox means it is now  in our past as readers). There is  just one extraordinary thing you need to know about George: when he dreams the dreams can  come true.

Doctor William  Haber dreams. He dreams of  a more prestigious job, of  a more impressive set of   offices, of a better world for humanity. Don’t we all?  George is sent to Haber, a sleep specialist, after the authorities discover  he  has been illegally obtaining drugs to suppress his dreams. George reluctantly reveals to Haber  that when he was 17 he dreamt that his aunt Ethel, who had been making unwanted sexual advances to him,  had been killed:

“I had this dream. A very vivid one. I could recall it completely when I woke up. I dreamed that Ethel had been killed in a car crash in Los Angeles, and the telegram hadcome. My mother was crying while she was trying to cook dinner, and I felt sorry for her, and kept wishing I could do something for her, but I didn’t know what to do. That was all. … Only when I got up, I went into the living room. No Ethel on the couch. There wasn’t anybody else in the apartment, just my parents and me. She wasn’t there. She never had been there. I didn’t have to ask. I remembered. I knew that Aunt Ethel had been killed in a crash on a Los Angeles freeway six weeks ago, coming home after seeing a lawyer about getting a divorce. We had got the news by telegram. The whole dream was just sort of reliving something like what had actually happened. Only it hadn’t happened. Until the dream. I mean, I also knew that she’d been living with us, sleeping on the couch in the living room, until last night.”

Of course Haber doesn’t  believe  George,  but is  eventually convinced when he witnesses the changes  for himself. Using hypnotism and  an electronic device called the Accelerator (a dream machine, if you like) he takes control of George’s dreaming, ordering  him what to dream. And the dreams come true. At first Haber makes   small changes in the world around them –  a new flat for George, a research institute for himself  – but then he he grows more ambitious, instructing  George to make  drastic  changes in the wider world . But the Law of Unintended Consequences makes itself known,   and the results are not what Haber envisaged.

Distressed, George  seeks help  from a lawyer, the steely Heather Lelache. She  accompanies him  to a dream session at which  Haber instructs George : “You’re going to have a dream in which you feel uncrowded, unsqueezed. You’ll dream about all the elbow room there is in the world, all the freedom you have to move around.”

Heather feels the change at the moment it happens:

“The woman felt it too. She looked frightened. Holding the heavy brass necklace up close to her throat like a talisman, she was staring in dismay, shock, terror, out the window at the view. He had not expected that. He had thought that only he could be aware of the
change. But she had heard him tell Orr what to dream; she had stood beside the dreamer; she was there at the center, like him. And like him had turned to look out the window at the vanishing towers fade like a dream, leave not a wrack behind, the
insubstantial miles of suburb dissolving like smoke on the wind, the city of Portland, which had had a population of a million people before the Plague Years but had only about a hundred thousand these days of the Recovery, a mess and jumble like all American cities, but unified by its hills and its misty, seven-bridged river, the old forty-story First National Bank building dominating the downtown
skyline, and far beyond, above it all, the serene and pale mountains.”

George  has dreamt of a Plague which has  killed billions of people.  He is appalled,  but unable to stop Haber from  misusing his dreams. Still, Haber is not a power-hungry monster, as George admits to himself:

…he’s not a mad scientist, Orr thought dully, he’s a pretty sane one, or he was. It’s the chance of power that my dreams give him that twists him around. He keeps acting a part, and this gives him such an awfully big part to play. So that now he’s using even his science as a means, not an end. . . . But his ends are good, aren’t they? He wants to improve life for humanity. Is that wrong?
Finally Haber himself enters the dream world,  and George,  faced with the loss  of Heather (now his wife) and his whole world , is forced to act.
The theme of novel  is that the best of intentions can lead to  the worst of outcomes. I am reminded of one of  those tales of Arabia in whch someone is granted three wishes by a djinn,  but things don’t go well.  I very much enjoyed this novel and  thoroughly recommend it.
The Lathe of Heaven was made into a television movie in 1980 by WNET. The film starred   Bruce Davison as  George Orr,   Kevin Conway as Dr Haber, and Margaret Avery  as Heather Lelache. You can watch the film here. The two photographs ab0ve are taken fron this production.
You can watch  an interview here  with Ursula in which she discusses the film and the novel.  and  you can read the novel online here.

Finally,   Ursula took the title of the novel  from from the writings of Chuang Tzu,

“To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the  lathe  of heaven.”

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A god of death is born …The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (1972)

Ursula Le Guin is one of the most important science  fiction writers of the twentieth century, whose works such  The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossesed   continue to be very influential.  Ursula  was an activist in the USA in the campaign against the Vietnam War,  and The Word for World Is Forest clearly emerged from that experience. Much of the  war was fought in forests between the Americans,  who had vast  military techonology, and the guerilla army of the  Vietcong, who had no such weaponry, but  were armed instead  with an  unrelenting desire to be free.

The novel  is set on Athshe, a planet  entirely covered by forests  in which live the Athsheans, a  small,  peaceful,  highly intelligent,  humanoid  race whose bodies are  covered  with green fur.  The planet is colonised by  several thousand Earthmen –   who rename  it New Tahiti   –  and begin cutting down the forests and shipping  the wood  back to Earth. They make virtual slaves of the Athsheans,  using them as labourers or  for sexual  gratification as there  few  Earth women.

The  three  main characters are the Earthman Davidson,  the Earthman Lyubov,  and the Athshean  Selver. Davidson is a military man who regards the Athseans  (or “creechies” as the colonists call  them) with contempt: “the creechies are lazy, they’re dumb, they’re treacherous, and they don’t feel pain”. He personifies the masculine mindset,  reflecting  to himself: “the fact is the only time a man  is really and entirely  a man is when he’s just had a woman or killed another man”.  Lyubov,  by contrast,   tries to underestand the Athsheans, their culture of singing , their  symbiotic relationship with  the forest, and the fact that the Athsheans dream when  they are awake as well as when they are asleep.

Davidson rapes Selver’s wife who dies.  Selver now  realises that the Earthmen  intend to destroy the forest,  and therefore his people,  unless they are stopped  – and  begins to dream of a way of achieving this. He tells his people:

If we wait  a lifetime or two they will breed, their numbers will double or redouble. They kill men and women, they do not spare those who ask life. They cannot sing in contests. They have left their roots behind them, perhaps, in this  other forest  from which they come, this forest with no trees. So they take poison  to let loose the dreams in them, but it only makes them drunk or sick. No one can say whether they ‘re men or or not men , whether they’re sane or insane, but that does not matter. They must be made to leave the forest. If they will not go they must be burned out of the Lands, as nests of stinging-ants must be burned out of of the groves of the city…Tell any people who dream of a city burning to come after me..

Selver co-ordinates attacks from  thousands of Athsheans on the Earth settlements , killing many men and women,  and setting fire to the buildings.  His friend Lyubov dies in one of the attacks. Selver  pens the survivors into a compound and negotiates a truce. This is broken by Davidson who  organises attacks on the Athshean cities in the forest. Finally,   Selver captures him alive, and tells him:

Look Captain Davidson..we’re both gods, you and I. You’re an insane one and  I’m  not sure whether I’m sane  or not, But we are gods…We bring each such gifts as gods bring.  You gave me a gift, the gift of killing of one’s  kind, murder. Now, as well as I can, I give you the my people’s gift which is not killing. I think we each find each other’s gift heavy to carry. 

Davidson is not killed,  but put  on a treeless island, to live alone. Emissaries from Earth and other planets  arrive who prepare to evacuate all  the surviving  Earth colonists.  One of the envoys asks Selver whether Athsheans are  now killing Athsheans. Selver replies sombrely :

Sometimes a god comes…He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. A new kind of singing, or a new kind of death. He bring this across the bridge between the dream-time and the world-time. When he has done this, it is done. You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretences. That is insanity. What is, is. There is no use pretending  now, that we do not know how to kill one another. 

As well as the background of the Vietnam War, there are clear resonances in the novel of the way that  native Americans were treated by European  colonists who raped and killed them and took their land; and  the similar  experience of the Aborigine peoples of Australia, who also talk of a “dream-time”.

While  Selver and Lyubov  have some complexity as  characters,  with Selver  feeling that what he has unleashed is dreadful   but also feeling that he has not other  choice, Davidson is  one dimensional,  a man in thrall to  his own needs and desires –   and with no empathy for others.   Reflecting some years later Ursula acknowledged this flaw  in the novel. “….he is purely evil – and I don’t, consciously, believe purely evil people exist. But my unconscious has other opinions. It looked into itself and produced, from itself, Captain Davidson. I do not disclaim him“.

Whether she intended or not, Ursula’s novel is very much a feminist riposte to  Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959)  – written against the backdrop of the Cold War  –  which  imagined  a  future society in which you can only become a citizen by serving in the military. It is in fact a paean to the alleged virtues of the military “code of honour” , a code unpicked  by Ursula in this novel to reveal its true reality: racism and murder.

The Word for World Is Forest had some influence  on “Kinda”,  a 1982 Doctor Who serial  written by Christopher Bailey,  his   first script for Doctor Who.  Like Ursula’s novel “Kinda ” is   set in a forest with a people  confonting colonists and is  a psychological, rather than an action serial, with layers of meaning and  a number  of spiritual  reference.  Bailey says  that he tried to write it without any people being killed, and  that he  name the main  characters after Buddhist terms, including the Mara (“temptation”),  Panna (“wisdom”),  and Anatta (“without self”).    Incidentally Panna was played by the wonderful  Mary Morris who,  among many other roles,  appeared in the BBC science fiction series  A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough as the scientist Madeline Dawnay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Reader I…” “Unwillingly to Earth” by Pauline Ashwell (1992)

Pauline Ashwell was the pseudonym of Pauline Whitby (1928-2015), who  wrote a number of science fiction short stories  and just  two science fiction  novels,  Unwillingly to Earth (1992)  and Project Farcry (1995), both published by Tor.  So far as I know neither has  been reprinted since , which is a great pity.

Unwillingly to Earth brings together  four  of Pauline’s short stories:  “Unwillingly to School”, published by John Campbell  in the  January 1958 issue of Astounding  Science Fiction ;  “Rats in the Moon” published  in the November 1982 issue of Analog; “Fatal Statistics” published in the  July 1988  issue of  Analog;  and finally “The Lost Kafoozalum” published  in the October 1960 issue of Analog Science Fact & Fiction. Despite written decades apart they work perfectly  as a sequence.

The stories all centre on  Lysistrata “Lizzie” Lee,  who recounts her various adventures to us  in gauche, breathless prose replete with  Capital Letters to make sure we get the Point. She’s usually the smartest person in the room, it’s just that the other people don’t know it yet.  I would hazard that her spiritual  ancestors  are Huckleberry  Finn and Tom Sawyer.

The first story “Unwillingly to School” introduces us to Lizzie, the daughter of  a former miner who made a  lot of a money from mining,   and  is now a farmer. They live on a small,  distant  planet Excenus 23 (population 3, 320, 99% men), whose main industry is mining Areopagite. (For some reason I imagine the miners sound like Australians).

Left to her own devices after her father has an accident  and has to go to hospital,  Lizzie gets into a number of scrapes which means she has to leave the planet for a time. With the help of  Dr D J M’Clare, and against  her better judgement, she is shipped off to  Earth to  study  Cultural Engineering at the  Russet Interplanetary College  of Humanities. Cultural  Engineering isn’t just a theoretical discipline involving  the study of  different planetary cultures, it also involves practical fieldwork, as we shall discover.

In the second story “Rats in the Moon” Lizzie goes to the Moon on holiday to visit a friend  and gets caught up in a series of events including  an explosion, being a suspect in a  case of attempted murder, intervening in  interplanetary diplomacy, and taking a court case  in the Piepowder Court.

In the third Story “Fatal Statistics”  Lizzie is sent to do some field work on an obscure planet called Figueroa,  but on landing discovers  that the planet’s society has collapsed and much of the population has left. Those that are still there  – and some visitors  – are in dispute over resources. Lizzie   has to figure how  bring about a peaceful resolution and  also get her and her fellow students off the planet in one piece. At  one point she is chased by a Cybercrane:

..there is a rending Crash as the roof is knocked sideways and I am left crouched in a corner  Staring up at the thing, oh Damn this is a  stupid way to die-

The head suddenly jerks back and I hear the sound which means it is Readjusting  its legs, I suppose this where I should Review my past  life but all I can think of is, I can’t  help closing my eyes but I am not going to Scream. …

Then there is a Flare that burns dazzling white  even through my eyelids and a most godawful Bang! and then nothing happens and goes on happening until I realise I am not Dead after all.

Just the same it is quite difficult to get my Eyes open; when I do, all I can see past the broken edges of the roof is the Sky.

In the final story “The Lost Kafoozalum” Lizzie, her room-mate and  best friend B Laydon (we never discover what the B stands for),  and  some of her fellow students are brought together by Dr M’Clare to solve a problem on a  planet called incognita which has recently been rediscovered. Ingognita was colonised  some centuries by humans who are divided into two sides:

The ship  that  spotted the planet as inhabited did not land, but reported to Central  Governmnet who shipped Observers out to take look….The Observers are not named but stated to be graduates of the Cultural Enginering Class.They put in a few month’s work and sent home unanimous Crash Priority Reports the situation is bad, getting worse, and the prognosis is War.

Brother.

In a group discussion Lizzie comes up with a solution that might  stop the war and plays major role in its implementation. However its execution  goes wrong and  Lizzie has to use every resource at her disposal to put things right, including doing the Dance of the Little Robot. She also comes to a crossroads in her personal life.

This  is a lovely  book which  you should all read  – and soon. I do hope it gets back into reprint along with her other work.

 

If the Victorians had had computers: The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

difference engine novel

Set mostly in 1855, The Difference Engine imagines what might have happened if Charles Babbage had succeeded in creating a workable computer in the 1820s, which he called “The Difference Engine“. It’s part of  a  genre of science fiction which has become known as “Alternative History”: short stories and novels whose plots hinge on  history going down a different route at some cucial point.

My favourites in this genre include  Pavane by Keith Roberts , the Time Patrol  series by Poul Anderson and The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest. Inevitably there is a website devoted to this genre,called  Uchronia. Some of the novels mentioned on this  site look intriguing, but many of them look deathly dull.  Just how many novels in which the South won  the American Civil War does the world need?

In this England  the “Rads”, the Industrial  Radical Party  of industrialists and scientists, backed by the working class, seized power in a revolution in the  early 1830s, overthrowing  the aristocracy and killing the Prime Minister, the Duke of   Wellington. Now Lord Byron is  Prime Minister, while his daughter  Ada  (who in our timeline did indeed  work with   Babbage on his computing ideas)  is known as “The Queen of Engines”.  The “Rads” use the  Engines to enhance their  wealth and power,  and also to closely  monitor its citizens.   Dissent is crushed.

The United States, whose affairs play a minor role in the story, has split into four countries with a northern state, a Confederacy,  and an independent California and Texas. Lord Engels is a cotton magnate in Manchester, while Karl Marx is the leader of a Communist Commune in Manhatten.

The main character is Edward Mallory, a scientist and explorer, who embarks  on a journey across London in pursuit  of  a set of computer cards stolen from Ada Byron. He is aided by his brothers,  and  Fraser,  a secret policeman. They run up against a secret organisation led by “Captain Swing” which is planning a revolution  against the “Rads”. The journey shows vividly  that that in this society there is still rich and poor, greed, corruption and violence. A minor part is played by Sybil Gerrard, daughter of a Manchester Chartist (executed by the Rads twenty years before), who has come into possession of the cards.

difference engine model

This is  a description of the Engines, whose operators are known as “clackers”:

Behind the glass loomed a vast hall of towering Engines – so many that  at first  Mallory thought the walls  must surely  be lined with mirrors, like a fancy ballroom. It was like some carnival deception, meant  to trick the eye – the giant  identical Engines, clock-like constructions of intricately interlocking brass, big as rail cars set on end, each on its foot-thick padded blocks. The whitewasheed ceiling, thirty foot overhead, was alive with spinning pulley-belts, the lesser gears drawing power from tremendous spoked flywheels on socketed iron columns.White- coated clackers, dwarfed by their machines, paced the spotless aisles. Their hair was swaddled in wrinkled white berets, their mouths and noses hidden behind white gauze. 

For me the strength of  the novel lies in portrayal of this alternative London, familar yet alien.  The most interesting character is Sybil  but, disappointingly,   after encountering her at the start of the novel working as a prostitute and becoming involved in the hunt for the cards, she flees  to France after her paramour is murdered, and we only meet her again at the end, now wealthy and established, when she  attends a lecture given by Ada. The male characters are far less interesting, do not change,  and the novel runs out of steam, so to speak, after the defeat of Swing.

The novel ends in 1991 in a glittering crystal future London as , it seems,  an Engine achieves self-consciousness :

Dying to be born.

The light is strong,

The light is clear;

the Eye at last must see itself

Myself…

I see:

I see,

I see

I

!

 

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

 

 

The Man Who Owned the World: “The Sleeper Awakes” by H G Wells (1898) and (1910)

The_Sleeper_Awakes

Graham became aware that his eyes were open and regarding some unfamiliar thing…how long had he slept?   What  was that sound of pattering feet? And that rise and fall, like the murmur of breakers on pebbles? He put out a languid hand to reach his watch from the chair whereon it was his habit to place it, and touchesd some smooth hard surface like glass. This was so unexpected that it startled  him extremely. Quite suddenly he rolled over, stared for moment , and struggled into a sitting position.  The effort was unexpectedly difficult, and it left him giddy and weak  – and amazed.

He rubbed his eyes. The riddle of his surroundings  was confusing but his mind was clear – evidently his sleep had benefited him. He was not in a bed at all  as he understood the word, but lying naked on a very soft and yielding mattrress in a trough of dark glass.

So Graham wakes up after being asleep for 203 years, having fallen into a coma at the end of the C19th.  Wells never explains why this happened, but actually it doesn’t matter, it’s  merely a plot device to project Graham into the  future , and show us what it looks  like through the eyes of a late Victorian man.

Whilst asleep Graham  has not only became a symbol  of  hope for the common people, but  also, because of the investments  made in his name by his friends two centuries before,  which have grown  enormously, he is actually “the Owner”, the Master of the world.  The moment he wakes up, he is plunged into the midst of a revolution as the people,  led by Boss Ostrog,  battle and defeat  the oppressive  White Council, which  was ruling the world  in his name.

Metropolis 2

The London  that Graham knew has vanished. The London of the future, with a population of 33 million,  is a vast, claustrophic  metropolis with  countless levels,  connected by walkways.  It has wind-wheels on the roof;   huge flying  stages for the aircraft of the future;  while kinetelephotographs allow  words and pictures to be projected around the world. The countryside is empty: the small, historic  towns of Graham’s  era have vanished as cities took over the world.  The railways have gone:  instead there are  roads, a hundred yards wide, made of toughened glass called Eadhamite,  along which vehicles on rubber wheels sweep along at high speed.

The Revolution over, Graham strives to make sense of this  new world. He sees that men and women are different:

To Graham, a typically stiff man from a typically stiff period, not only did these men seem altogether too graceful in person, but altogether too expressive in their vividly expressive faces. They gesticulated, they expressed surprise, interest, amusement,  above all they expressed the emotions excited in their minds by the ladies about them with astonishing frankness…The ladies in the company  of these gentlemen displayed in dress, bearing and manmer alike, less emphasis and more intricacy. Some affected a classical simplicty of robing  and sublety of fold…Others had closely-fitting  dresses without seam or belt at the waist, sometimes with long folds falling from the shoulders…Every one’s movements seemed graceful

He discovers the joys of flying,  and insists on being taught how to fly a small aircraft. Meanwhile,  Ostrog gets on with the job of ruling in Graham’s name with minimal interference.  However,  Graham is given a  sharp lesson in reality by Ostrog’s niece, Helen Wotton. She tells him that many  of the people who defeated the White Council in his name are virtually serfs to the Labour Department:

Your days were the  days of freedom…This city – is a prison. Every city is now a prison. Mammon grips the key in his hand. Myriads, countless myriads, toil from the cradle to the grave. …All the shallow delight of such life as you find  about you, is separated by just a little  from a life of wretchedness beyond any telling.  Yes, the poor know it – they know they suffer.  These countless multitudes who faced death for you two nights since – ! You owe your life to them….Nowadays there are no workhouses, no refuges and charities, nothing but that Department. Its offices are everywhere. That  blue is is its colour. And any man, woman or child who comes to be hungry and weary and with neither  home nor friend nor resort, must go to the Department in the end – or seek some way of death.

Helen also  tells Graham that he is not being told what is happening by Ostrog:”The people will not go back to their drudgery – they refuse to be disarmed…give them only a leader to speak the desire of their hearts.” Armed with this knowledge,  Graham confronts Ostrog who confirms that there is indeed unrest: “Multitudes will not go back to work. There is a general strike…They are talking of a Commune.

And at this point we encounter the  worm at the heart of the novel: namely,  racism. Ostrog is planning to bring the black police from Africa,   whom he describes as “fine loyal brutes, with no wash of ideas in their head  – such as our rabble has.” But  Graham orders him not to do so: “I do not want any negroes brought to London.  It is an archaic prejudice perhaps, but  I have peculiar  feelings about Europeans and the subject races…”

Whilst it might be argued that Wells is showing us that the racial prejudices of his era had survived the centuries, unchallenged  and intact, I think that Wells, despite being  a member of the socialist Fabian Society, shared them. For this is by no means the only time in his  work that he  wrote in an openly racist manner.  In his short  story The Lord of Dynamos (1894), set in a electric power room, a   black man Azumi-zi, bullied by the racist and violent overseer, Holroyd,  is shown as coming to worship the largest dynamo to extent of sacrificing Holroyd on the machine, before killing himself in the same way. In another short story, Jimmy Goggles the God (1900),   Goggles, a deep-sea diver  survives an attack on the ship’s crew by local islanders in the Pacific, and emerging from the ocean still clad in his suit, is then  venerated by them as a deity until he is rescued.

Graham decides to explore the city for himself, a city still in ferment with processions of revolutionary banners. He runs across the  Babble Machines on street corners which blair out  constant propaganda: “The Master is sleeping peacefully.. He puts great trust in Boss Ostrog” and so on.

Metropolis

And so they went  through these  factories and places of toil, seeing many painful  and grim things. That walk left  on Graham’s  mind a maze of  of memories, fluctuating pictures of swathed halls and crowded vaults, seen through clouds of dust, of intricate machines, the racing threads of looms, the  heavy beat of stamping machinery, the roar and rattle of belt and armature, of ill-let subteranean aisles  of sleeping places , illimitable  vistas of  pin-point  lights. Here was the  smell of tanning, and here  the reek of a brewery, and here unprecedented reeks. Everywhere were pillars and cross  archings of  such,a massiveness  as Graham had never before seen, thick Titans of  greasy, shining   brickwork crushed beneath the weight of that vast city world, even as these anaemic millions were  were crushed by its complexity.

Learning that the black police have massacred people in Paris,   and are now  on  their  way to London, Graham returns to the surface where he  is nearly captured by Ostrog, but is freed by his supporters amongst the workers.  A second Revolution  breaks out,  this  time against Ostrog, and   there is a  fierce battle for possession of  the great landing stages. At last, as Ostrog’s airfleet nears, Graham decides that he himself  will take off and attempt to stop them. On his way to his aircraft he is glimpsed by a young air mechanic:  “A tall dark man in a flowing black robe he was, with a white, resolute face,  and eyes steadfastly before him.”

In the air Graham successfuly attacks and scatters the fleet,  but is caught in an explosion at one of the landing stages, and, clinging to his craft, begins to fall:

He found himself recapitulating with incredible swiftness all that had happened since his awakening, the days of doubt,  the days of Empire, and at last the tumultuous discovery of Ostrog’s calculated treachery.  The vision  had a quality of utter unreality. Who was he? Why was he holding so tightly with his hands? Why could he not let go? In such a fall as this countless dreams have ended. But in a moment he would wake…. His thoughts ran swifter and swifter. He wondered if he should see Helen again. It seemed so unreasonable that he should not see her again. Although he could not look at it, he was suddenly aware that the  whirling earth  below him was very near. Came a shock and a great crackling and popping of bars and stays.

This novel is a typical Wellsian mixture of  imaginative scientific speculation, social   comment and  plain adventure.  As a modern reader I can  enjoy  these, accepting the era in which he wrote, but I cannot excuse the racism,  the hinge on which the plot  turns.

As a dystopian vision of the future, you can see  influence of this novel  in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) (from which the stills above are taken), in  Orwell’s 1984 (1948), and even in Woody Allen’s film Sleeper (1973).

In his introduction to an edition of this work published by   Oldhams Press in 1921,  Wells wrote that when he penned  the novel  he had considerable belief in its possibility,  but now he doubts it: “Much evil may be in store for makind, but to this immense, grim  organisation of  servitude, our race will never come.” A century  later, in an era of rampant globalisation, massive urbanisation  and growing  economic inequality, I wonder if we are so confident.

Originally called When the Sleeper Wakes on its  publication  in 1898,  Wells rewrote  the novel in 1910 as The Sleeper Awakes,  which is  the version from which  the quotes above are taken.  You can read the original  version here.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

Triffids front cover

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” This is the arresting first sentence  of  The Day of the Triffids, the novel  which made John Wyndham’s name as a science fiction writer and  which has remained in print  ever since its  first publication in 1951.

Wyndham was born in 1903: his full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris!  He had a public school education, including  a period  spent at the liberal school,  Bedales. He tried his hand at a number of professions before turning (like many a down at heel young person)  to writing.  By the early  1930s he was making a living selling science fiction stories to American  magazines such as Amazing Stories, under the pen names of John Beynon,  John Lucas Harris and Lucas Parkes. In 1933  his short story “The Puff-Ball Menace” was published in Wonder Stories,  in which  an enemy  country plants a fungus in Britain which breeds rapidly  and is fatal. He also wrote a  novel Planet Plane which was set on Mars. Its fair to say that none of his work was noticed by the general public.

After serving in the army during the Second  World War he went back to writing, now using a new  pen name  “John Wyndham”  and had his first success with The Day of the Triffids.

John Duttine as Bill Masen

Bill Masen (John Duttine) in 1981 TV adapatation

The narrator is Bill Masen  whom we find at the start of the novel in hospital,   having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages.  He calls repeatedly,  but nobody comes.  Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. He rescues a young woman, Josella Playton, and they  meet up with a group of other survivors, led by Michael Beadley, who  plan to leave London and set up in the countryside. Before they can do do so Bill and Josella are separated, captured by another group of survivors, led by a man called Coker.  Bill is forced  to lead a group of blinded people, finding food for them,  until he frees  himself when they die from a form of  plague. Bill teams up with Coker for a time, seeking Josella,  but they part when  Bill  heads off to Surrey looking for a farm house mentioned by her. On the way he rescues a young sighted girl, Susan, and eventually  they find Josella and her friends, who are blind. They survive by farming,  but are menaced by the triffids, a  plant which  mysteriously appeared around the planet some decades  before. It  was bred for its oil,  but can walk on three stalks and kill with a poisoned lash.

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

After six years the small group is found by a helicopter from the Isle of Wight,  where Coker and  Beadley have established a colony. They plan to go there,  but are  then found by another group, a para-military outfit from Brighton, who plan to turn the farm into a feudal-type seigneury. Bill, Josella  and the others get them drunk and successfully make their escape as the triffids pour into the farm.  The book ends with Bill completing his memoir:

” We think now we can see  the way, but there is still a lot of work  and research to be done before the day that we, or our children, or their children, will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back  and back with ceaseless destruction until we have wiped the last one of them from the face of the land that they have usurped.”

The novel’s  opening grips the reader with its vivid scenes of a London where most people have gone blind, and which quickly descends into  violence  and chaos.  This  is not a sentimental read:  a number cannot face a future without sight and kill  themselves,  while others try and capture a sighted person to act as the guide. This is what has happened to Josella until Bill frees her.  Some can cope. I  like the little vignette  of Bill encountering a blind man who, when he learns what has happened , gives a short, bitter laugh and says “They’ll be be needing all their damned patronage for themselves now,”  and sets off again “with an exaggerated air of independence.

Having set out  the  opening scenes Wyndham goes back  into past to explain the presence of the triffids which, he suggests,  were developed behind  the Iron Curtain for their oil,  but then scattered around the world when a plane was shot down in which a man  was trying to smuggle the seeds  to a company in the West. As a young boy  Bill was nearly killed by one that grew in his garden, but then went on to work with them, which is why he is wary of them from the beginning of the novel unlike others.  He is proved right when the triffids escape from the farms and began  killing the now defenceless humans.

In  Wyndham’s  novels   his male leads, whilst  decent and  resourceful in the face of crisis,  are never   the smartest people in the room.  Josella is  sharper  on the uptake than  Bill;  Walter – his   work colleague at the triffid farm – theorises that  that the plants are using their rattling stalks to communicate (something Bill has never  noticed) telling him, “there’s certainly intelligence there,  of a kind.”;  Michael Beadley points that the world they knew has gone and will never return; Susan,  when grown up at the farm in Surrey, points out that the triffids respond to noise and can act in concert by massing together. Bill is given one  insight  when, towards the end of the novel,  he suggest that the blindness was not a natural phenomenenon,  but  caused by a satellite  weapon which had been accidentally triggered.  Wyndham did not invent the idea of satellites orbiting the earth,  but he was one of the first writers  to suggest their potential as weapons.

Whilst the 1950s has come to be viewed as era of   peace and stability,  this is far  from the truth.  The Second World War had devastated  much of Europe as cities were bombed and burned,  whilst millions died in extermination camps. This was followed by the Cold War  in which both sides stockpiled nuclear weapons: the threat of another, even more destructive war, seemed very real.  Wyndham gives a key speech to Michael Beadley,  near  the beginning of the book,  which sums this up: “From 6 August 1945, the margin of survival has narrowed appallingly. Indeed, two days ago, it was narrower than it is at the moment. If you need to dramatize, you could well take for your material the years succeeding 1945 when the path of safety started to shrink to a tight-rope along which we had to walk with our eyes deliberately closed to the depths beneath us.”  Society, Wyndham suggests, is  so fragile it  could vanish  overnight.  Bill suggests to Josella later in the novel: “You remember  what Michael Beadley said about the tightrope we’ve been walking on for years….Well,  I think what happened was that we came off it – and that a few of us just managed to survive the crash.”

still from 2009 TV version

a still from 2009 TV version

Amidst his vivid depiction of the end  of the world,  Wyndham finds time for some social satire. At  the meeting chaired by Michael Beadley at the University, a Dr Vorless, a Professor of Sociology, shocks some of  the audience when he tells them  that conventional social morality is dead and that in order to survive, “The men must work and the women have babies…In our new world, then, babies become very much more important than husbands.” He suggests men should have three partners, one sighted, two blind. Bill is  taken  aback,  but Josella  reassures him, “You won’t need to worry at, all, my dear,  I shall choose two nice, sensible girls.”Oh“,  says Bill.

Wyndham gives a misogynist speech  to  Coker  who,  after  he and Bill have  made  their way a manor house  being used  as a refuge by survivors,   discovers that they are using candles. He  gets a plant going to provide electricity, but then  rails against a young woman: “You know perfectly well that women  can and do  – or rather did – handle the most complicated and delicate machines when  they took the trouble to understand them. What generally happens is that they’re too busy to take the trouble unless they have to. Why should they bother when the tradition of appealing helplessness can be rationalized as a womanly virtue – and the job just shoved off on to somebody else? …Men  have played up to it by stoutly repairing the poor darling’s vacuum cleaner, and capably replacing  the blown fuse. The whole charade has been accepatable to both parties.” This  feels like somehing said by a travelling commercial agent after several gins in the saloon bar of a Tudorbethan pub in Surrey. Did Wyndham personally  believe this  or did he wish to define Coker’s character more strongly?

John Wyndham

John Wyndham

Wyndham was interviewed on the Tonight programme on 6  September 1961. He said, “what one starts with is the theme, and then you work it out to the logical conclusion as far as possible…The upper limit of sheer invention is what is acceptable to the public whom you are hoping to please, whose attention you are hoping to keep.  Somebody once said that  the heart of fantasy is the willing suspension of disbelief. But you must not go beyond a certain barrier,   if you can find it, in which that willing suspension is shattered.” He explained  that the idea for the triffids came one night when he was walking along a dark lane in the country: “the hedges were only just distinguishable against the sky and the higher things sticking up from the hedges became rather menacing, one felt that they  might come over  and strike down or sting at you. The whole thing eventually grew out of that.” You can watch the  whole interview  here.

Overall The Day of the Triffids certainly stands the test of time as a well-plotted and  imaginative read. It sold very well and was followed by a number of other successful novels that I will be looking at in future posts.

Barbara Shelley

                     Barbara Shelley

The book was adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service  in July 1953. In 1960 the  BBC  broadcast  another adaptation, written  by  Giles Cooper,   with Patrick Barr as Bill and Monica Gray  as Josella.  Another version was broadcast  in 1968, also written by Giles Cooper, with Gary Watson as Bill and Barbara  Shelley as Josella. You can listen to both versions here . The 1968 version has music created  by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidentally, Barbara Shelley appeared in a number of films,  including  The Village of the Damned (1960) (an  adapation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos) , the film version of  Quatermass and the Pit (1968),  and also on television in  The Avengers‘ episode “From Venus with Love” (1967) (in which Jon Pertwee also  appeared).

An adaptation by Lance Dann in two 45-minute episodes for the BBC World Service was first broadcast on 8 and 22 September 2001. It was directed by Rosalind Ward , and the cast included Jamie Glover as Bill and Tracy Ann Oberman as Josella.

You also can listen  to the book being read by Roger May   in 17 episodes  here

In 1962 The Day of the Triffids was filmed with Howard  Keel and Jannete Scott  in the main roles,  while Carole Ann Ford had a small part( later to play Susan in Doctor Who in 1963). It’s not very good,  but if you feel you must,  you can watch it here.  In 1974 a triffid, presumably left over from the film, was amongst the props offered for sale in a huge clear-out at Shepperton Studios.

In 1981 the BBC broadcast a six part  adaptation,   written by Douglas Livingstone,  produced by David Maloney and directed by Ken Hannam. It starred  John Duttine as Bill and  Emma Relph as Josella. It been  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good, but you can judge for yourselves  by  watching  it on Daily Motion, beginning here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achived a measure of fame.

Finally there is whole website devoted to the book:  The Readers Guide to Day of the Triffids.

Review

“John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids writes a Wellsian fantasy and raises up a truly sinister vegetable for the chastisement  of mankind. He has imagination and wit, but to the averagely bedevilled awareness, his use of them here may seem mal a propos”. Paul Bloomfield,  The Guardian,  24 August 1951, p. 4.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

In my next post I will be looking at The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1910)

A storm from the desert: The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

The Andromeda Breakthrough, broadcast by the BBC,   June to August 1962

Cast:  Earl Cameron (Yusel), Claude Farell (Mlle Gamboule),  Susan Hampshire  (Andre),  Peter Halliday (John Fleming),  John Hollis (Kaufman),  Barry Linehan (Colonel Salim),   Mary Morris (Madeleine Dawnay), Jean Robinson (Lemka) David Saire (Abu Seki)  and others.

Producer: John Elliot   Directors:  John Elliot and John Knight

Andromeda Breakthrough

In the previous post I discussed  A for Andromeda. In this post I will discuss the sequel,  The Andromeda Breakthrough.

Even before  filming had finished on A for Andromeda,  Fred Hoyle was working on  a follow up, sending his  initial ideas in June 1961  to John Elliot, who then worked  them up into an outline of a six part series. Initially the BBC hierarchy was not at all  impressed  by Hoyle’s  storyline,  which Donald Wilson, Head of  the Script Department,   described as “an intellectual exercise in cops and robbers” rather than  “a new and exciting science-fiction basis for a seria.l”  However,  after Elliot came up with a new storyline,  and  convinced by the high ratings of the first series, the BBC  agreed in January 1962 to proceed with the sequel,  which they wanted to air before the summer was out with   Elliot and John Knight directing.

At this stage the title  of the second series  was Andromeda in Azaran. Some preliminary filming was done in March  by Peter Halliday and Julie Christie at Tenby, but then a problem arose. Originally it was only intended to feature Andromeda  in three episodes (the original outline had actually killed her off),    but  in the latest rewrite she would  now appear in all six episodes. But the BBC had left it too late.  Julie was  now contracted to appear in a film,  and would not be available for  the filming required. It was decided, therefore,  to cast another actress, Susan Hampshire, in the role. (The footage already shot of Peter carrying  Julie across the beach and a brief glimpse of her in the boat with Peter  was still  used in the first episode).

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

The sequel (now  entitled The Andromeda Breakthrough)  picks up exactly where the first  series had  left off.  Returning to the cave  Fleming discovers that Andre has not, as they thought,   been drowned,  but was sucked underwater into another pool in the cave complex,  and is still alive, though badly injured.   He flees with her in a boat and they take refuge on a small island with Adrian Breen, a writer and  former CND supporter,  who  handily has a gun about the place.  Andre remembers nothing of the computer. Fleming secretly meets  Madeleine Dawnay at an airport  and gets the healing enzyme from her  to cure Andre’s burne dhands

With the computer gone Dawnay goes to the Embassy of Azaran (a small  Republic situated  supposedly somewhere between Turkey and Iran),  to see the Ambassador, Colonel Salim,  who has asked her to work  for his country   on environmental projects. At the Embassy she  is drugged and reveals  Fleming and Andre’s  location. Kaufman sends an armed team is sent  to  kidnap them,  but Breen and Fleming fight them off, killing several.  The British  military arrive and take Andre and Fleming to London.  Held in a  supposedly safe house,  they are then  kidnapped at gunpoint by Kaufman  and flown to Azaran.

Salim  and Mlle  Gamboule from Intel (played by Swiss actress Claude Farell as the epitome of a svelte, chic French woman) reveal that they have built a second indentical  computer in Azaran  – using the plans stolen by Bridger -,   but it is not working.  Fleming is loath  to help them,   telling them to destroy it, but when  Andre goes to the computer it starts to  work,  and she comes alive as before. “It speaks to me,” she cries. Andre  reveals that  she has seen the message and intends to save human civilisation before it destroys itself in  a war in 150 years time and will take a thousand years to recover before the cycle repeats itself “unless something better happens”.  Fleming objects: “...the world must be free to make its own mistakes, or save itself“, but   Andre replies: “I have chosen. It has already started“.

Mlle Gamboule

Mlle Gamboule (Claude Farell)

The last  three episodes   interweave storylines about science,  knowledge, the environment and the future of humanity.  These include  Andre’s attempt to  use Intel  and its power in Azaran for her own ends to protect the computer, recruiting Mlle Gamboule to her side by showing  her the message in the computer; Fleming and Dawnay’s realisation that the computer placed a harmful  bacteria in the sea at Thorness  a year ago which is now sucking the nitrogen out of the atmosphere and creating worldwide storms;  the ebbing of life from Andre who is dying from a fault in her metabolism; and finally an internal political battle in Azaran with Salim attempting to overthrow the President in a coup.

Gamboule shoots Salim dead  and takes over Azaran for Intel,  but  is then killed in a storm;  Dawnay and Fleming succeed in creating an anti-bacterium  for the oceans after Andre programmes  the computer for them;   Kaufman, now in charge in Azaran,  wants to market this through Intel and make a fortune for the company, but is stopped by Fleming and others who give the anti-bacterium to the world for free. Finally Dawnay and Fleming work together and succeeded in creating a metabolic  fix  which saves Andre. Now assured of life Andre  tells Fleming  that she is fully huma, n “I’m flesh and blood, Dawnay’s mixture“,  and they kiss.

As life flows back into Andre, so it also flows back  into the land as Spring comes to Azaran (cue shots of blossom and flowers).  The couple put a tape in the computer which, when  activated the next day,  will wipe its memory completely. As night falls Andre and Fleming  drive to an ancient  temple in the hills  and look at the stars in the night sky, includng the  far distant Andromeda Galaxy.   Fleming changes his mind: they will use  the computer for the good of humanity: “The new Renaissance starts in about an hour,” he tells Andre as they race off   in their car back to the computer centre.

I enjoyed The Andromeda Breakthrough because of the ideas bobbing around in John Elliot’s script. It was prescient of him  to set the series  in a country in the Middle East, rather  an Eastern European country,  which  might have seemed the logical choice  given that the Cold War was then in full spate.  The notion of  Intel as a ruthless multi-national anticipates the future, as in our own time we are used to global corporations ransacking  the planet at will, but this  was a less familar  idea in  1962. The series continues the theme of modernisation. In A for Andromeda the British Prime Minister spoke  of a new and finer  Industrial  Revolution: in The Andromeda Breakthrough  Salim and Abu Zeki regard themselves as modern men, eager  to use the knowledge and advanced  technology that Intel is offering –  at a price.

Another theme running through the series is what  the consequences of the work of scientists are upon the rest of  us.  The President says to  Madeleine Dawnay,  “Hundreds of thousands more may have to die correcting your mistake. The errors of politicians are sometimes expensive, and businessmen sometimes do their best to profit from them. But you scientists, you kill half the world. And the other half cannot live without you”;  Lemka, the widow of Fleming’s assistant, Abu Zeki,  (shot by Kaufman in the final episode) tells him bitterly in one of  the most powerful  scenes in the series : “You involved us  allYou save the world from your own bungle, so now you think it is all right. How can you be so arrogant? You don’t believe in God,  you don’t accept life as his gift. You want  to change it because you think you are cleverer … You try,  and we suffer”;  and finally  Madeleine Dawnay  confesses  to Andre, “You do something that seems perfectly correct and suddenly you lose control of it. It slips away from you and grows into something you lost control of…”

Dawnay and Fleming

Madeleine Dawnay (Mary Morris)  and  John Fleming (Peter Halliday)

The outdoor filming was done in Cyprus,  but the actors never got to go  there: they were confined to the studio. The cast is very good, with Mary Morris particularly outstanding,  and you wish she had been given a spin-off   Doomwatch-type  series called  something like “Madeleine  Dawnay Investigates”.

One odd thing, the character of Judy Adamson (Patricia Kneale), who played a prominent  role in A For Andromeda – including a an  affair with Fleming –  does not appear in the sequel, not even at the start in Thorness, even though she had been in the caves and on the beach with Fleming and Quadring  at the end of the first series.   The writers offer no explanation for her  disappearance, either in the television series or in the subsequent novel.  In the original outline for the sequel Judy had played a major role,  so I assume  that  in the rewrite they  decided that the character was no longer needed,  and just dropped her, not even bothering to explain her absence to the audience.

Although set in the Middle East a number of the actors playing Azaranis are  clearly  Europeans eg Colonel Salim is played by Barry Linehan, an Irish actor, and appears to have been  made-up  for the role.  This was not an uncommon practice until surprisingly recently. In David Lean’s film of  A Passage to India (1984)  Alec Guinness is made-up to play an Indian, Professor Godbole; in the Doctor Who serial “The Talons of Weng Chiang” (1977) John Bennett is made-up to play the Chinese magician, Li H’sen Chang; finally  the BBC light entertainment show The Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1978  and was very popular, which gives you pause for thought. That it would be unacceptable now is a sign of the cultural  change that has occurred on this issue at least.

I will leave the last word on this intriguing series to Madeleine Dawnay: “You know what life is? A spot of soot, carbon, nitrogen, add various bits of dirt to taste, mix with water and stir well, and that’s life. When you put this commonplace stuff together it suddenly becomes very precious. No matter what form you give it, it’s  always the same. What you do with it, it’s up to you…”

The Andromeda Breakthrough was nowhere near as popular with the public as A for Andromeda had been: the ratings never  reached the height that they did with the first series,  instead hovering around 6 million viewers on average for each episode. It may  have been the plot that lost audiences –  which is more about politics and the environment than the menace of the conputer as in the original series –   or perhaps they were disappointed by the loss of  Julie Christie as Andromeda , although Susan Hampshire is perfectly fine in the role to my thinking.

The series  led to John Elliot developing the themes of politics, business  and  technology into  a drama about the oil industry called Mogul (1965)  which  then turned into  the  long-running, and very popular, series The Troubleshooters (1966-1972) which I used to watch regularly as a teenager.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

John Elliot’s novel of the series was published by Souvenir Press in October 1964.  There are some odd discrepancies between this novel  and  the television series and the previous novel eg  it mentions Dawnay have  burnt  by the computer  at Thorness which did not happen and also mentions Fleming and Bridger having  been shot  at which also did not happen. Perhaps Elliott was writing the novel at speed and relied on his memory for what happened previously. The scene with Arab dancer  when Fleming gets drunk is omitted.  Finally Elliott leaves out  Dawnay’s speech about life quoted above, which  is surprising as it is one of the best passages of the dialogue in the whole series. The novel ends thus:

He bundled Andre into the car.  After he had walked round to the driving seat he paused for a second, looking up to the sky, already paling with the false dawn. The stars were going out. Very dimly, between The Lady  in the Chair and  the Pole Star, he could make out the hazy light of the great Andromeda galaxy across the immensity of space.

In 2006 the BBC released a DVD  of A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough, which  included the surviving episodes and telesnaps, extensive notes on the production history  of both series researched and written  by Andrew Pixley (which  have been  invaluable for this post),  and interviews with  some of the then surviving  cast members, including Peter Halliday,  Michael Hayes, Patricia Kneale, Frank Windsor and Susan Hampshire. Sadly,  since the interviews with cast members were filmed, we have lost Peter Halliday  and Michael Hayes.

This series is available on Daily Motion.

Incidentally, Peter Halliday and Susan Hampshire worked together again in a drama called “Red Sky in the Morning,” made by Southern Television and broadcast in the Thirty Minute Theatre slot on 12 December 1963.

Reviews in the press

The Middle  East conflict has always been a hotbed of disturbance and most spy stories emerge from there or gravitate to there. So it wa rather disappointing to find that when Fred Hoyle’s computer girl Andromeda started on a new lease of life last night…the story was already veering towards oil and Araby. This seems bit mundane,  but actually there is more life and vigour in the new serial.  This may be because it is largely out of doors, and now that the computer is destroyed, most of the action happened on the wild, storm tossed, shores of the western Scottish isles. We seemed to be back in a traditional BBC serial, drawing in gulps of fresh air among beautifully photographed cliffs, waves, shores, gulls, and lonely cottages. I never found the first ‘Andromeda‘ very clear in plot and I always found John’s Fleming’s reasoning and actions  hurried and muddled. He is still the same impulsive  scientist, and he has rescued Andromeda,  who has not drowned in the pool after all. Now he calls her André or Andry and she grows more human every minute. They took refuge with a charming hermit-scholar who was promptly shot by the pursuit party who came after Fleming. I think it would take the combined brains of the Pilkington Committee to find out what it is all about and I should like them to write a brief, lucid report on it.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian,  29 June 1962, p.9.

Something about The Andromeda Breakthrough reminds me more and more of late lamented  ITMA. The behaviour of the characters  in the crazy little  Eastern set-up where Andromeda, Fleming and Madeline Dawnay have all arrived;  the sinister Intel whose agent Kaufman is just  as the famous Funf would have been, though we use donly to hear his voice; the beautifil Mlle Gamboule, a really sprightly vamp,  all are here, the old familiar voices. Gamboule? What a name, a perfect ITMA name. Last night the computer had revealed its secret to Andromeda, but her promise that she would make it work for good rather than evil was foiled when the villainous Salim  effected a coup d’etat, deposed  the President, and abducted the girl. When it comes to talking about the computer’s mysterious powers, Hoyle and Elliot are past masters of not saying anything definite, but stringing us along until the next time. When it is not like ITMA, the fun in Azaran with the computer spewing out observations like sporting editions slipping off the printing presses and little men rushing around in the hot Eastern sun is just like stories I used to read in the Boy’s Own paper long ago.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 13 July 1962, p.9.

“Then there was The Andromeda Breakthrough which careers on with more delicious absurdity every week, and now has reached such a pitch of  sci-fi folly that I cannot bear to miss an instalment. All the oceans are proliferating a horrid bacteria that sucks the nitrogen out of the air, all the winds of heaven blowing a great gale, and the Cabinet Minsters suffering from rapid respiration.  I take it really as a warning against having any science  at all. Down with science  (except in fiction).”  Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 21 July 1962, p.5.

Where else have I seen them?

Earl Cameron played an astronaut, Williams,   in the Doctor Who serial “The Tenth Planet” (1966). Earl was born in Bermuda in 1917 and  arrived in England in 1939, taking any job that came up.    His first acting role was in 1942 in the stage show Chu Chin Chow after one of the actors didn’t turn up. Earl survived on small parts in regional repertory until 1951 when Basil Dearden cast him in a leading role as Johnny Campbell, a Jamaican merchant seaman, in the film Pool of London, a thriller evocatively filmed amidst the real docklands of the capital. Earl recalls, “Pool of London still remains the best part I’ve ever had in a film. It was important for the fact that I was the first black actor to have a relationship with a white girl, although it didn’t develop very far…”

In real life Earl got married to Audrey, a fellow actor from a Jewish background, whom he had met in repertory. Her parents weren’t happy but, as Earl says, “Audrey…did what she wanted to do and that was that.” Mixed-race couples often experienced a great deal of hostility. His other films in Britain  include Sapphire (1960), also directed by Basil Dearden, a detective thriller  in which he plays a doctor whose sister, Sapphire, has been murdered; and Flame In the Streets (1961), directed by Roy Ward Baker,  which dealt with racial prejudice and tensions at work and in the streets.

Peter Halliday appeared in Doctor Who four  times. In The Invasion (1968) he plays Packer, Tobias Vaughn’s not very bright henchman,   and is  excellent  in the part. (The company  that Vaughn runs is called  International Electromatics, by the way, which could be shortened to Intel, perhaps). He is even better in Carnival of Monsters (1973), playing Pletrac, one of the annoying rulers of the planet Inter Minor. He had a small part in  City of Death  as a soldier, holding the Doctor at swordpoint when he goes back in time in search of Leonardo da Vinci. Finally he had a  cameo role in Remembrance of the Daleks as a  blind priest., presiding over  the Burial of the Hand of Omega.

Mary Morris appeared in Doctor Who  in Kinda (1982) , playing the shaman Panna,  and is  wonderful in the role.  She  lived in Switzerland  and was  so intrigued by the mystical nature of Christopher Bailey’s script, one of most beguiling in the history of the show, that she drove across Europe to take part. She also appeared in The Prisoner as Number Two, in an episode called “The Dance of the Dead” which  you watch here.

John Hollis played Kantwich in The Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven”  (sounding very like Kaufuman). He played in the Doctor Who episode ” The Mutants”.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me directly , fopsfblog@gmail.