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Category Archives: Women’s Press science fiction

“Watch the skies!”: my selection of science fiction to read or watch or listen to… above all to enjoy!

A dalek spacecraft from the film “Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150AD”

Watch…

Things to Come (1936)

The film is based on H G  Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933)   in which he imagined a future history of the world, beginning with a world war in 1940 which destroys much of civilisation.  After societal collapse humanity is eventually rescued  by a group of aviators. The film version (which Wells assisted) was  produced by  Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies,  and starred Ramond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.

You can watch the film  here. 

You can read Wells’ novel here.

 

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The film was   based on the 1938   novella Who Goes There  by John W Campbell.  An American base in the Arctic discovers something buried in the ice – and someone. The scene in which  the   exploring party members  spread out across the ice  – and realise what they have found is a classic. The film ends with an urgent appeal:  “Watch the Skies!”

You can watch it here.

 

X The Unknown (1957)

An early  Hammer film in which a  prehistoric radioactive substance emerges from out of the earth causing   death and  destruction in its  mindless pursuit of radioactive  sources to feed itself. It was produced by  Anthony Hinds, written by Jiimmy Sangster and directed by Leslie Norman and Jospeh Losey. The cast included Dean Jagger, Leo McKern   and  Edward Chapman –  and a  cameo from youthful  Frasier Hines.

You watch the film here

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

One of the best British science fiction films of the 1960s, directed by Val Guest.  Simultaneous nuclear explosions by the USA and USSR send the Earth out its orbit and towards the Sun. Only another explosion may perhaps save the world. The  story is told through the eyes  of Peter Stenning (Edward Judd),   a reporter on the Daily Express. The film  include scenes in the newpsaper’s  offices and also makes extensive use of London locations.

You can watch the film  here.

 

A for Andromeda (1961)

This  series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  The plot involves a radio telescope receiving a signal and data from the direction of the Andromeda galaxy which enables scientists  to create a computer and  then life, a young woman they call Andromeda. But who is she and what is her real mssion?  The cast included Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris, Julie Christie and John Hollis. Sadly only the penultimate  episode “The Face of the Tiger”  has survived in its entirety.

You can watch “The Face of the Tiger” here.

You can read my post on the series here.

 

The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

Due to the success of A For Andromeda the BBC quickly commissioned a  six part sequel.  As  the BBC had failed to offer a  Julie Christie in time, the part of Andromeda was  now played by Susan Hampshire. Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris and John Hollis reprised their roles, joined by Claude Farell and Barry Linehan.   You can read my post on the series here.  The first four episodes are available on Daily Motion:

Part 1 Cold Front

Part 2, Gale Warning

Part 3, Azaran Forecast

Part 4, Storm Centres

 

These are the Damned (1963)

A British film directed by Joseph  Losey and starring  Sally Ann Field, Macdonald Casey and Oliver Reed.   Hoilday makers  at the  seaside discover a group of   children hidden away  in  a secret government  bunker who,  owing to  an accident  are resistant to nuclear radiation.

You can watch the film  here.

 

The Stranger (1964, 1965)

An Australian science fiction children’s television series written by G K  Saunders and  produced by ABC. In the middle of a rain storm a stranger arrives on the dootstep of a  family claiming  to have lost his memory. Who is he? Where has he come from ?  What does he really want? The stranger was played by Ron Haddrick who lifts  the series out of the ordinary. He went on to become one of Australia’s  best known actors. The series sold well abroad: I watched it on the BBC  in 1965.

You can watch the series here.

 

UFO (1970)

This live action series c was reated by Sylvia and Gerry   Anderson  (creators of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet etc). It follows the exploits of a secret organisation called SHADO set up to fight attacks by alien spacecraft. It’s set in 1980 by the way. Odd that the purple wigs never happened.  Only one series of 26 episodes was made.

You can watch the series here.

 

Space 1999 (1975-1977)

A massive explosion on the Moon  sends it out of orbit on 13th September 1999  and on a journey across the galaxy. The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha  meet a variety of aliens along the way – some friendly, some not, of course. The series was created by Sylvia  and Gerry Anderson. Two series were made.

You can watch series 1 here.

You can watch series 2 here.

 

Children of the Stones (1977)

Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas)  and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin)  arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.   Increasingly strange phenomenon are happening,  while  many of the villagers are in thrall to a cult, the “Happy Ones.” The series  was filmed  in Avebury.

You can watch the series  here.

 

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

A  BBC dramatisation of the novel by John Wyndham,  which  is by far  the best version, scripted by Douglas Livingstone. The cast includes John Duttine, Emma Relph and Maurice Colbourne.

Bill Masen is 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. Can humanity survive this catastrophe?

Other than updating it to the 1980s the producers sensibly left the plot intact. You can read my post on the novel here.

You can watch the six episodes  as follows

Episodes 1 and 2

Episodes 3 and 4

Episodes 5 and 6.

 

Blakes 7 (1978-1981)

Created by Terry Nation this BBC series  ran for four seasons.  In the far future a group of resistance fighters led by Blake (Gareth Thomas)   and later Avon (Paul Darrow) take on the oprressive Federation. Their chief opponent  is the effortlessly cool and  unfailingly evil Servalan (Jacqueline Peace)

You watch the series here.

 

Quatermass IV (1979)

Often overlooked, the conclusion to the Quatermass series. The four episode  series  was written by Nigel Kneale, of course,  and starred John Mills as Bernard Quatermass.

It is set in a near future in which large numbers of young people are joining a  cult, the Planet People, and gathering at prehistoric sites, believing they will be transported to a better life on another planet. Professor Quatermass arrives  in London to look for his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson, and witnesses  the destruction of two spacecraft and the disappearance of a group of Planet People at a stone circle by an unknown force.

You watch the series here

 

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

I dream.  You dream. We all dream. Every night. And then forget them. Mostly.  But suppose our dreams came true?  This is the intriguing premise  of Ursula Le Guin’s 1971 novel  which follows the dreams and story of  an ordinary man George Orr  with an ordinary job living in an ordinary flat who has  an extraordinary ability. The Lathe of Heaven was made into a television movie in 1980 by WNET and  starred   Bruce Davison,   Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery.

You can watch the film here.

You read my post on the novel here.

 

Chocky (1984)

A Thames  television series,  based on John Wyndham’s  last novel,  and written by Anthony Read.  Matthew  is 12 and has an imaginary friend called Chocky  whom he insists is real  to the increasing alarm of his parents. But  just how imaginary is Chocky? The cast includes James Hazeldine, Carol Drinkwater  and Andrw Ellams.

You can watch the series here.

It was followed by two sequels, not based on the book,  but using some  of the the same characters.

Chocky’s  Children  (1985)  which you can watch here

Chocky’s Challenge  (1986) which you can watch here.

 

Listen…

The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895)

One of the novels in the 1890s  in which Wells invented modern science fiction. The story of an unnamed scientist whose   time machine  takes  him far into the distant future, AD 802701.  Here humanity has evolved into the Eloi, childlike creatures who live on fruits and whose simple  life seems idyllic. But this Eden has serpents. The traveller discovers that   in the depths underground there are other, darker, creatures..

The Time Machine was dramatised  on the radion by the BBC in 2009. The cast included Robert Glenister , William Gaunt, Jill Cardo and Dan Starkey.

You can listen to this broadcast here.

 

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 1938

On 30th  Ocober 1938 the Mercury Theatre  on the Air made a radio broadcast  on Columbia Radio of the  H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897), adapted  and directed by Orson Welles, who  transferred the story to contemporray USA. After an inital announcement music was played for half an hour until it interrupted by a newsflash announcing that  a projectile had fallen in New Jersey. Then the story is carried forward with a series of dramatic  news bulletins  and  vivid  outside broadcasts describing the Martians emerging from the cylinder and then  using a heat ray.  The first half  of the broadcast ends  with a reporter on a skyscraper  describing  New York being enveloped by black poisonous gas.

Some listeners, who had missed the start of the broadcast,   believed that what they were hearing was real and there was a panic in some parts of the East  Coast, but not as much as the  myths about the broadcast  might have you believe.

You  can listen to the broadcast here.

This  is an article about the broadcast.

 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells  (1897)

The novel begins with a mysterious traveller staying in an Inn  In West Sussex whose  actions  and appearance  increasingly draw suspicion  from the locals. Who is he?  And why does he conceal his face?

You  can listen to a dramatisation  starring John Hurt  here.

 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

One of the most influential and pessimistic novels of the twentieth century, It is  set in a socialist  England (EngSoc)  (now called Airsrip One)  in which the citizens are  controlled and surveyed at all times  by an all powerful state headed by Big Brother. The Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth are the chief organs of the state.  Winston Smith  attempts his own personal revolt. Can he succeed?

It was dramatised for the radio by the BBC in 1965.  The cast included Patrick Troughton. You can listen to this here.

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen, having based themselves in the ocean deeps.

In 1998 the BBC broadcast an adaptation  by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was played by Saira Todd.  You can listen to the series   here.

In 2004 the BBC broadcast a reading of the novel  in 16 parts, read by  Stephen Moore. You can listen to this  here.

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

Set in a future in which most of humanity  is packed into  “caves  of steel” –  huge underground cities – the novel is a murder mystery.  Detective Elijah Bailey,  who has been  given the task of finding out who murdered a Spacer  ambassador, is assigned a robot –  R Daneel Olivaw –  as his partner, much to his horror.

Thel novel  was dramatised in 1989 by the BBC,  adapted by Bert Coules. The cast included Ed Bishop,  Sam Dastor  and Matt Zimmermann.

You can listen to this here.

 

The Chrysalids  by John Wyndham (1955)

The novel set in the future, perhaps several centuries after our own time. The story is told through the eyes of David Strorm as he grows up in a rural part of Labrador. This is a religiously fundamentalist society, fearful of any kind of physical difference in human bodies. “Watch Thou For The Mutant!”is drummed into the population. . We, the readers, soon divine that the “Tribulation” of which they talk was in fact a nuclear war, and that this is the society that has somehow survived, plunged back into a subsistence way of life, based on farming, with no technology. But within this ossified society the seeds of a new kind of human being are emerging into the light. In my opinion this is John Wyndham’s masterpiece.

The novel  was dramatised by the BBC in 1981 in an adapation by Barbara Clegg. The cast included Stephen Garlick, Amanda Murray. Judy Bennett and  Jane Knowles.   You can listen to  the series   here

You can read my post on the book here.

 

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham  (1957)

The story begins with a small ordinary English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle unconscious for a whole day on Tuesday . The authorities outside cannot get in: an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village with “a pale oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly come to call  “the Dayout”.

Some months later, however, every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. When the children are born they have golden eyes and,  as they grow up,  reveal disquieting powers.  Who are they and what is their real mission?

The novel was adapted by William Ingram for the BBC World Service in  1982. The cast included  Charles Kay, William Gaun , Manning Wilson  and  Pauline Yates.

You can listen to the radio series here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Slide by Victor Pemberton (1966)

A  chilling seven part  radio series in which a small seaside town  is menaced by an eruption of  sentient mud which seems to have a  mental hold on some of the inhabitants. I listened to The Slide when it was broadcast, aged 11,  and it left a vivid impression  on me.  When I listened again more than  40 years later, I thought it was still very effective.

The cast included  Roger Delgado, Maurice Denham, David Spenser and Miriam Margolyes. The producer was John Tydeman and the sound effects were, of course, by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Victor Pemberton  also wrote the Doctor Who serial “Fury from the Deep” (1968).

You can listen to the series  here.

 

The Dispossesd by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

In her new introduction to the Library of America reprint in 2017, Ursula  wrote:

The Dispossessed started as a very bad short story, which I didn’t try to finish but couldn’t quite let go. There was a book in it, and I knew it, but the book had to wait for me to learn what I was writing about and how to write about it. I needed to understand my own passionate opposition to the war that we were, endlessly it seemed, waging in Vietnam, and endlessly protesting at home. If I had known then that my country would continue making aggressive wars for the rest of my life, I might have had less energy for protesting that one. But, knowing only that I didn’t want to study war no more, I studied peace. I started by reading a whole mess of utopias and learning something about pacifism and Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. This led me to the nonviolent anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. With them I felt a great, immediate affinity. They made sense to me in the way Lao Tzu did. They enabled me to think about war, peace, politics, how we govern one another and ourselves, the value of failure, and the strength of what is weak.

So, when I realised that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres.”

You can listen to a dramatisation of this novel by CBC radio  here.

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

 Lighting Out

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?

The Vorkuta event.

The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation

 

Read…

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

Jules Verne invented a good deal of what later came to be called “science fiction,”  his work was  widely read not just in France but in Anglophone countries as well.   In this early novel the Baltimore Gun Club decide to visit the Moon, not using a rocket,  but instead  by  building  a huge gun In Florida  and firing a shell towards our satellite.- with themselves inside ! The novel was adapted as the opera in 1875, with music by Offenbach. It also  inspired the first science fiction film A Trip to the Moon.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel All Around The Moon (1870)  (and find out  if the  three adventurers  survived the trip) here.

You can watch  A Trip to the Moon here.

 

20,000 Leagues under Sea  by Jules Verne (1871)

Three adventurers in pursuit of what is though to be a giant narwhal which  has been attacking  shipping  discover it  is in fact  an electric powered submarine  and are taken aboard. Commanded by Captain  Nemo,  the Nautilus  roams the world’s occens gathering scientific knowledge but also attacking ship in a personal vendetta by Nemo.  it has been filmed several times.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel  The Mysterious Island here.

You can watch the 1916 silent  film of the novel  here.

 

When The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1898)

Graham wakes up after being asleep for 203 years, having fallen into a coma at the end of the C19th. Whilst asleep he  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, which have grown enormously during his time asleep, 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. The rest of the novel follows his adventures in this future society,  whose real nature he only slowly comes to comprehend.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Sorcery Shop: an Impossible Romance by Robert Blatchford (1907)

In The Sorcery Shop Robert Blatchford attempts to describe what a Socialist utopia might look like, imagining the grimy, smoke-clogged city of Manchester, which he knew very well, transformed a sunlit city of flowers, fountains and crystal towers. It is of a piece, therefore, with other socialist utopian novels of the period, including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), H G Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), and Charlote Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915)

Robert Blatchford and his friends were the founders in 1891 of the Clarion newspaper: the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, which created thousands of Socialists and inspired a whole social movement.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle (1966)

In his introduction to this novel Hoyle writes: “The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…”

Hoyle’s novels often have a scientist as the main protagonist, but in this novel it is a musician and composer named Dick: accordingly each chapter is named after a musical theme or style eg “Fugue” and “Coda.”. The novel begins in 1966 when he runs into an old university friend John Sinclair, now a scientist, and on an impulse they set off together on a trip to Scotland. Something very odd happens here. Sinclair disappears for half a day, and on returning cannot explain or recall what has happened to him. The trip is cut short when Sinclair is recalled to the USA to assist in the investigation of a strange solar phemonena. Dick accompanies him to Hawaii, where Sinclair and others establish that the Sun is somehow being used as a signalling device with an enormous amount of data being transmitted. Barely have they absorbed this astonishing fact when all contact is lost with the USA: it is feared that a nuclear war has begun.

Dick and Sinclair manage to get places on a plane sent to investigate what has happened. Flying above Los Angeles there is no sign of a war: the city is simply no longer there, just woods and grassland in its place. Journeying on, they see the same across the continent. Crossing the Atlantic they find to their relief that the England of 1966 is still there but Europe has reverted to 1917 with the First World War raging. The rest of the novel explores the implications and possible cause of this extraordinary situation. .

You can read the novel online here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Mutant 59: the Plastic Eater by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (1972)

Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler met in 1966 when Gerry was the script editor at Doctor Who, and was looking for a scientific advisor to inject a greater degree of scientific speculation into the programme. Kit was head of a research unit at the Institute of Opthamalmology at the University of London.

Kit suggested that the newly built Post Office Tower, then the tallest structure in London, could be used by a computer to take over the capital using the telephone network to control the minds of humans. This evolved into the serial The War Machines, broadcast in the summer of 1966, featuring the computer WOTAN and its war machines. They then came up with the idea of the Cybermen: humanoids who have replaced so much of their bodies with technology that they have lost all emotion and empathy. Their first story featuring the Cybermen “The Tenth Planet” aired in the autumn 1966. The silver monsters were a big hit with the public, and were quickly brought back in “The Moonbase” (February 1967) and then in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (September 1967). After Gerry left Doctor Who Kit worked with Victor Pemberton on “The Wheel in Space” (May 1968), and with Derrick Sherwin on another Cybermen serial “The Invasion” (November 1968). This was Kit’s last involvement with Doctor Who.

By 1970 Kit was becoming disillusioned by science and increasingly alarmed about the effect that technology and the headlong rush for economic growth at all costs was having on the environment. He, and many others around the globe, feared the possibility of ecological collapse. Working together again, Kit and Gerry created a series for the BBC called Doomwatch. “Doomwatch” is the nickname for special government unit established to monitor environmental and other threats to the public. The first series created a sensation with storylines on issues such as transplants, genetic mutation of rats, chemical poisoning, and a crashed nuclear bomb on the south coast. The extensive scientific research done by Kit for the series meant that the storylines appeared to anticipate news stories.

After Doomwatch Gerry and Kit wrote three novels together, the first of which was Mutant 59, partly based on a storyline in Doomwatch.

You can read the novel  here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

You can read a 1973 interview with Gerry and Kit here.

You can read  my post on their second  novel  Brainrack (1974)  here.

You can read my post on  their third novel  The Dynostar Menace (1975) here.

 

The Exile In Waiting by Vonda  N McIntyre (1975)

The novel is set on a future Earth, turned into a desert  by some environmental catastrophe.  The only surviving city is Center,  an underground city run by a handful of wealthy families who control the air, food,  power and water.  Many of the inhabitants are little more than slave in thrall to the familiess.

Mischa is a teenager, scraping a living  in the back streets of Center by any means possible, including stealing. She is also an empath who senses the moods of others, including her sister Gemmi with whom she has a strong emotional  link that keeps her trapped in Center. The novel follows her quest for freedom and happiness.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Dreamsnake by Vonda N  McIntyre (1978)

The novel seems to be set in the world outside Center. Snake is a healer who uses  her three snakes to cure people. But her  very rare dreamsnake  is  killed and she needs to find another. The novel follows her quest and her adventures and encounters on the journey.

You can read the novel here.

 

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre (1983)

Often overshadowed  by  Vonda’s first two novel. Laenea Trevelyan, has her heart replaced with a machine so she can survive faster-than-light travel and become a pilot. Orca, a diver, divides her time between starships and the Strait of Georgia, where her relatives include a family of killer whales and a group of other divers, human beings who can exist underwater.  Radu Dracul, a colonist from the alien world Twilight, having chosen to leave his home and become a starship crew member, discovers he has abilities he never dreamed of…

You can read the novel here.

 

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

A Tulip for Lucretius

Earth Hour

Jesus Christ Reanimator

 

Learn…

Andrew Pixley

For the last 30 years Andrew has  written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t… He has made many  contributions to the Doctor Who magazine,  worked as a consultant and researcher on tv documentaries  such as Thirty Years in the Tardis, written The Avengers Files and The Daleks; a history from BBC Video,    as well  providing the accompanying notes to  a variety of  boxsets of televison and radio series,  including  Doctor Who,  A for Andromeda, Callan,  Public Eye, The Prisoner and Journey into Space.

You can read his posts on the Critical  Studies in Television blog   here 

 

Bergcast

A podcast  about Nigel Kneale and the Quatermass series.

 

Blogtor Who :the definite article you might say.

Extensive news and resources site  on Doctor Who, Big Finish releases. etc.

 

Doctor Who

The  official  BBC site with many  resources on the series, past and present

The Early Days of a Better Nation

Science fiction Ken Macleodreflects on science fiction, socilaist politics and much else. the title comes from two sources: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray. “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Now in its third edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls (emeritus) and Graham Sleight (managing). It has more than 18,000 entries  which are free to read online.

 

Galactic Journey. 55 years ago science fact and fiction

The website looks back 55 years to another world, another time,  with sections on science  fiction, music and much more from 1965.

 

H G Wells Society

The H.G. Wells Society was founded by Dr. John Hammond in 1960. It has an international membership, and aims to promote a widespread interest in the life, work and thought of Herbert George Wells. The society publishes a peer-reviewed annual journal, The Wellsian, and issues a biannual newsletter. It has published a comprehensive bibliography of Wells’s published works, and other publications, including a number of works by Wells which have been out of print for many years.

 

K U Gunn Centre for the Study of Science Fiction

This site provides a wealth of information and informed commentary about science fiction and the Center’s programs, including awards, course syllabi, writing resources, and much more.

 

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

A non-circulating research collection of over 80,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.

 

The Time Ladies

“A blog for all Doctor Who fans, ran by female Doctor Who fans.”

 

Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, Toby Hadoke embarked on an epic quest: to interview someone from every single Doctor Who story. Feeling Doctors or companions are a bit too easy, he travels the country meeting legends from the show’s history from both in front of and behind the cameras, and chats to them about their time working on Doctor Who and the lives they have led since (and, indeed, before).

The interviews are in the form of podcasts on the Big Finish website, which you can download or stream here, or subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or other podcast outlets. All episodes are free, so if you’ve enjoyed Toby’s chat, all he asks is that you give a donation to a charity nominated by the interview subject.

Una McCormack

Una  is a New York Times bestselling science fiction author. She is passionate about women’s writing, science fiction, and helping people find their words and voices. Her work includes Doctor Who novels and  Doctor Who stories for Big Finish eg Red Planets as well as  Star Trek novels and other work.

 

Univerity of Liverpool; Science fiction collection.

The book stock at Liverpool is mainly formed by the Science Fiction Foundation Library. It represents the largest catalogued collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and related literary criticism in Europe, totalling over 35,000 books.

 

Unwilling Adventurer

Run by sisters Katie and Claire and devoted to their varied  interests,  including Hartnell era Doctor Who.

 

Ursula Le Guin

Put simply Ursula was the most influential science  fiction  writer of the past half century.

 

Verity Podcast

“A Doctor Who podcast where a rotating cast of six women, from across the globe, talk all things Doctor Who. We have opinions.”

 

Wells at the Worlds End.

Adam Roberts  read through the whole of HG  Wells’ work  for a book and blogged about each book as he went along. The book  H G Wells,  A Literary Life, was published by Palgrave.

 

The work of Lisa Yaszek

Lisa is Professor of Science Fiction Studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, where she researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. She is particularly interested in issues of gender, race, and science and technology in science fiction across media as well as the recovery of lost voices in science fiction history and the discovery of new voices from around the globe

“A grim fantasy” : remaking American history in Octavia Butler’s Kindred

 

Women’s Press Science Fiction series

Between 1983 and  1990  the  Women’s Press published a series  of feminist science fiction novels and collections by women writers. The titles included a mix of classsics  and new work.  Some  bear rereading, some less so.

You can read  reviews I have written  of  a number of the novels here.

You can read more about the series   here –  SF Mistressworks website

 

Moving Moosevan by Jane Palmer (1990)

In a previous post I reviewed The Planet  Dweller by Jane Palmer. Moving Moosevan is sequel to that novel, also published by Women’s  Press in 1990 in  their groundbreaking science  fiction series.

Moving Moosevan follows directly on from The Planet Dweller with many of the same characters and some new ones.   Neighbours  Diana and   Eva are once again  caught up in the battle to save the world from   invasion by the  malodorous Mott,  asssisted by  Yuri,  and  also  Drax and Reniola, two inter-galactic super-intelligences able to  shapeshift into other forms, including a cat and a woman who looks disconcertingly  like Mrs Thatcher.

Inept  frog-like Olmuke underlings Kulp, Tolt and Jannau are assisting the Mott invaders  by  trying to open a portal to earth from  the Mott planet.  And there are some new players  in the game:  Yat and his fellow androids on  the Mott planet scheming to take the earth for themselves.

The planet dweller herself,  Moosevan, now firmly entrenched below ground  starts to make  changes  to the earth, unhappy with what humanity has done to the  planet’s environment. Britain and Ireland start moving southwards, for instance, and mountains topped  with observatories grow much taller:

Under the curious  gaze of the Pole star even stranger things were begining to happen. The ozone layer, seasonally shredded by pollution, was reknitting itself. The palls of smoke which regularly hung over so many parts of South America were inexplicably doused and trees with manic growth rates began to reforrest the scarred land. …In the north of the continent similar dramatic acts of land reclamation were underway. All the open-cast mines and  quarries whch  had scarred the land were inexplicably filled in.  The ground was being shaken up and put back in its original shape. Topsoil was strewn over the blasted land and vegetation shot up like a tapestry to weave it into place before the winds could scatter it again. Being so public an exercise, no land agent could persuade buyers to claim a plot of this miracle pasture. Even prairie dogs thought twice about taking up residence.  It was no place for the God-fearing, superstitious or nervous rodent. So, like belladonna, being allowed to fruit, beauty was left to  prosper.

Industry flanking the Rhine slowly sank, and plants once more secured the eroded banks of the Ganges and Brahmaputra

Oh , and there is Salisbury, “a tall, lean, friendly-looking man, ” who unknowingly  is Moosevan’s new object of desire.

By the end everything is resolved in a good way, although humanity has been moved to a new home, Titan. So a sequel beckons.

Jane Palmer designed the book jacket.

 

A country without men: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)

Originally published in the USA in 1915, Herland was published in the Women’s Press science  fiction series in 1986,  with an introduction  by Ann J Lane.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)  was a suffragist, a socialist, a writer on women in society  eg Women and Economics,   and a  poet,  amongst  many  other  things. She   defied social  convention by leaving her husband and getting a divorce,  earning her own living  by running a boarding house and later  by travelling the country as  lecturer.  Charlotte  ended her own life with chloroform in 1935  after being diagnosed with cancer.

Herland first appeared in monthly instalments in Gilman’s magazine  The Forerunner which she wrote entirely herself and   comprised  critical articles, book  reviews, essays, poetry and fiction. Herland  was the second  in a trilogy of utopian  novels  –  Moving the Mountain, Herland and With Her in Outland  -which  challenged the social mores of her own time, specifically  the role of women in society and  how they were  treated by men and what femininity and masculinity actually  meant when examined dispassionately.

Herland begins with three  male travellers   – Vandyck, Terry and Jeff  – flying by biplane  to a rumoured land  of women. (It  is Vandyck’s account of their adventure that we are reading.) After landing  they encounter their first women:

We saw short hair, hatless, loose, and shining; a suit of some light firm stuff, the closest of  tunics and kneebreeches, met by trim garters.  As bright and smooth as parrots and as unaware of danger, they swung before us, wholly at ease, staring as we stared, till first one, and all of them burst into peals of delighted laughter.

Making their way  to a town of fine stone buildings – set among tilled fields and tended garden-  they meet a crowd of older  women:

They were not young. they were not old. They were not, in the girl sense, beautiful. They were not in the  least  ferocious. And yet, as I looked, from face to face, calm,  grave,  wise , wholly unafraid, evidently assured and determined, I had the funniest feeling…It was the sense  of being hopelessly in the wrong that I had often felt in early youth…We felt like small boys, caught doing some mischief in some gracious lady’s house.

When they refuse to go into a building  resisting,  and even firing  a shot in the air,  they are  seized  by the women and bundled in. ” We were borne inside, struggling manfully, but held secure most womanfully, in spite of our  best endeavours.” It’s  the first of many  demolitions by Gilman  of male authority, in this  case the supposed superior strength of men.

Held  captive in congenial  surroundings over the next few months they learn the language of the women  – and teach their own to thrree women, Somel,  Zava and Moadine. Faced with a new kind of society they flounder,  with   Jeff observing, “They don’t seem to notice our being men…they treat us – well – just as they do one another. It’s as if being men was a minor accident.”

They learn that  there have been no men in this country for two thousand years, but after they died off the women left began giving birth to girls.  The ideal of “motherhood” is the centre  of the civilisation, the women worship a Mother Goddess. You see, they had had  no wars. They had had no kings, and no priests, and no priests, and no aristocracies. They were sisters – and as they grew  together – not by competition, but by united action.

In these  session the gentle  but  persistent  questioning of the women   exposes the  hypocrisies of the society of 1915, despite the  stuttering  efforts of the men to justify the status quo.   The women  are shocked at the treatment  of cattle,  and the way that dogs  are left to roam the street at will.  They are puzzled that  many women  work and yet are  still poor, and have the most children.  Moadine explains

The children in this country  are the one center and focus of all our thoughts. Every stage of our advance is always considered in its effect on them  – on the race. You see, we are Mothers, she repeated, as if in that she had said it all.

Terry rejects this. “it’s impossible!” he would insist, “Women cannot coooperate, it’s against nature.”…Terry had to learn a good  many  things he did not want to…Terry’s idea of motherliness was the usual one, involving a babe in arms;  a motherliness which  dominated soiety, which  influenced every  art and  industry, which  absolutrely  protected all  childhood, and gave it the most perfect care and training, did not seem motherly – for Terry.

Eventually  the three men are considered  safe enough to be let out to see the country, accompanied by their three  tutors. It is the size of Holland with a population of three million. Vandyck contrasts  the reality of what they see with what they had imagined:

We had expected them to be given over to what we called “feminine vanity”–“frills and furbelows,” and we found they had evolved a costume more perfect than the Chinese dress, richly beautiful when so desired, always useful, of unfailing dignity and goodtaste.

We had expected a dull submissive monotony, and found a daring sociali nventiveness far beyond our own, and a mechanical and scientific development fully equal to ours.

We had expected pettiness, and found a social consciousness besides which our nations looked like quarreling children–feebleminded ones at that.

We had expected jealousy, and found a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence, to which we could produce no parallel.

We had expected hysteria, and found a standard of health and vigor, a calmness of temper, to which the habit of profanity, for instance, was impossible to explain–we tried it.

...What left us even more at sea in our approach was the lack of any sex-tradition. There was no accepted standard of what was “manly” and what was “womanly.

…They loved their country because it was their nursery, playground, and workshop–theirs and their children’s. They were proud of it as a
workshop, proud of their record of ever-increasing efficiency; they hadmade a pleasant garden of it, a very practical little heaven; but most of all they valued it–and here it is hard for us to understand them–as a cultural environment for their children.

The three men do succeed  in starting relationships with three women, the women they had  first met on landing:  Jeff  with Celis, Vandyck with  Ellador,  Terry with  Alima. However the women  have a  very different  idea of what is going on, and what the future might hold:

To these women we came, filled with the ideas, convictions, traditions,of our culture, and undertook to rouse in them the emotions which–to us–seemed proper. However much, or little, of true sex-feeling there was between us, it phrased itself in their minds in terms of friendship, the one purely personal love they knew, and of ultimate parentage. Visibly we were not mothers, nor children, nor compatriots; so, if they loved us, we must be friends.

Despite this,  the six are “married” at the  insistence of the men in  a ceremony  they have made up,  attended by a vast,  curious   crowd. The women refuse to change their name those of their  “husbands” and have no concept of what being  “a wife” in the men’s terms means. They  carry on with their work as foresters, and  reject the notion of living with their “husbands” in a separate house.

We ARE alone, dear,” Ellador explained to me with gentle patience. “We are alone in these great forests; we may go and eat in any little
summer-house–just we two, or have a separate table anywhere–or even have a separate meal in our own rooms. How could we be aloner?”

This was all very true. We had our pleasant mutual solitude about our work, and our pleasant evening talks in their apartments or ours; we had, as it were, all the pleasures of courtship carried right on; but we had no sense of–perhaps it may be called possession.

“Might as well not be married at all,” growled Terry. “They only got up that ceremony to please us–please Jeff, mostly. They’ve no real idea of being married.”

Then  there is the question of sex. Vandyck discusses this  with Ellador.

Then I did my earnest best to picture to her the sweet intense joy of married lovers, and the result in higher stimulus to all creative work.

“Do you mean,” she asked quite calmly, as if I was not holding her cool firm hands in my hot and rather quivering ones, “that with you, when people marry, they go right on doing this in season and out of season, with no thought of children at all?”

“They do,” I said, with some bitterness. “They are not mere parents. They are men and women, and they love each other.”

“How long?” asked Ellador, rather unexpectedly.

“How long?” I repeated, a little dashed. “Why as long as they live.” …She was silent, thinking.

…“If I thought it was really right and necessary, I could perhaps bring myself to it, for your sake, dear; but I do not want to–not at all. You would not have a mere submission, would you? That is not the kind of high romantic love you spoke of, surely? It is a pity, of course, that you should have to adjust your highly specialized faculties to our unspecialized ones.”

Whilst Vandyck reluctantly accepts this comradely  non-sexual relationsship. Terry  will not. “You needn’t talk to me,” he snapped at Jeff one day, just before our weddings. “There never was a woman yet that did not enjoy being MASTERED. All your pretty talk doesn’t amount to a hill o’beans–I KNOW.”   Terry  tries to take Alima by force.

It did not work. I got a pretty clear account of it later from Ellador, but what we heard at the time was the noise of a tremendous struggle,
and Alima calling to Moadine. Moadine was close by and came at once; one or two more strong grave women followed.

Terry dashed about like a madman; he would cheerfully have killed  hhem–he told me that, himself–but he couldn’t. When he swung a chair over his head one sprang in the air and caught it, two threw themselves bodily upon him and forced him to the floor; it was only the work of a few moments to have him tied hand and foot, and then, in sheer pity for his futile rage, to anaesthetize him.

Alima wants Terry killed but instead, after a trial,   he is sentenced to being expelled from the country. Jeff elects to stay with Celis.  Vandyck also decides to go,  accompanied by Ellador,  and what happens  when they go to the USa is recounted in the sequel With Her in Outland.

Herland is an  elegant sustained  attack  by Gilman on the received wisdom of her own  era, the notion that men and women  are destined by their   biology to play very  different roles in society; that men are naturally  destined to rule over women; that men are athletic whilst women are delicate; that men are the explorers, philosophers and scientists while women are the homemakers and  the nurturers.

It also confronts an ugly truth; that the supposed chivalry shown by men  towards  women  is a charade and can be torn aside  in a moment. Gilman  suggests that “masculinity” and “femininity” are entirely social constructs which could be changed so that we could  become human beings who happen to be  of different sexes.

Forgotten for many years, Herland was rediscovered by  the 1970s feminist  movement,   as were many of Gilman’s  other writings such as The Yellow Wallpaper.

You can read Herland online here.

 

 

 

 

 

“Mrs Peel, we’re needed”: Passing for Human by Jody Scott (1986)

Passing for Human  was published in 1986  in  the Women’s Press science  fiction series.

This is a roller coaster  of a read, which   hits the road at speed  on page one  with  our  alien heroine   Benaroya racing down a Californian highway  in a stolen Mustang, outrunning the highway cops,  and engaging in a speed  duel with another motorist which ends in her rival’s Lotus  crashing and exploding, “Metal, glass and bits of human flesh rained down for hundred yards in every direction.” Ouch.

Benaroya  is an anthropologist, a member of the Rysemian race sent to Earth to assist in the construction of an intergalactic rapid transit system. Their spaceship  is in orbit above the Earth.

Preparing for this expedition, the Rsyemians had obtained several hundred Earthie movies including “The Godfather,” “Marked Women,”, “Duck Soup” and “You Were Never Lovelier.” They had analyzed and studied these films meticulously. They observed that humanity was epitomized in such specimens as Jack Oakle, Ronald  Reagan, Rochelle Hudson and  Hattie McDaniel. The mannerisms and speech patterns, songs and dances of many celebrities  had been carefully memorized.  and since the Rysemains were telepaths and could awlays probe to find out what was expected, fitting in would be no problem.

The Rysemians, who are large  aquatic dolphin-like creatures,  are able  to  disguise themselves as “Earthies,” changing bodies as easily  as changing a dress. Benaroya thus  spends part of the novel  as Emma Peel from The Avengers (which is why Emma Peel appears on the cover).

They face an enemy,  Scaulzo,  who is planning to takeover the   Earth, a task  which  the Rysemians think will be easy for him. 

Large crude, stupid, barbaric  males with criminal tendencies are worshipped. Flattering movies about them are churned out by the hundreds. They  run government, busines, religion, sport and  crime, which are actually  all the same thing.

The action moves around the globe like a Bond m0vie as Benaroya (now disguised as Virginia Woolf and packing a gun) and Scaulzo  move towards  their final confrontation.

Humour and satire  in science fiction is hard to get right (which is why Douglas Adams was a genius), but  for me this novel works.

 

You’ll believe a woman can fly…The Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearhart (1985)

The Wanderground  was published in Britain  in 1985  in the  Women’s  Press science  fiction series. 

Sally Miller Gearhart was born in 1931 in the Appalachians in Virginia, where she was raised by her grandmother, who owned a cinema.  She received an MA in Theatre and Rhetoric in 1953 and a Ph.D in theatre in 1956. Sally  taught in various colleges in Texas before establishing a women’s studies programme at San Francisco State University, one of the first in the USA.  She was very active in lesbian rights campaigns in the 1970s,  and in the successful  campaign to defeat Proposition 6 which, if passed,  would have barred lesbians  and gay men from teaching in schools.   The Wanderground was originally published by Persephone Press in 1979 in the USA.

The Wanderground is  not a single  narrative,  but a series of overlapping stories, mostly set in the  hills (the Wanderground) which lie at  some distance from an unnamed  city.  The stories introduce us to  a range of different women:  some women  appear in several  stories. The Wanderground is where women fled to several generations ago to escape the violence  and oppression of  men in the city. In the chapter “Pelagine Stretches”  we learn from  an older woman’s reflections on her past  history  that  women in the city who had asserted themselves  were suffering   a male backlash.  In a flashback Vivian tells her friend  Kate  about the stories she is hearing

‘Kate, they’re true. The stories are true. About how  thye’re hunting women, Swear to god. Sue and Sandy  saw them pick them one up. Put her in the wagon. And her doing nothing. Not a hooker. Doing nothing  I hear another story every day and oh, I got to tell you this Kate, I got to to tell you.’..’The men.  All of them was laughing about it yesterday. You know that singer, Gwen Aquarius, the libber? Well you know they took her down to the Hall. They booked her for defacing public property. Because of that midnight mural, on the H.E.W. building.And with attempted murder because she shot the policeman. Well, they could have locked her up for life but they let her go the guy was saying.  And this is true now, because she’s trying to sue the state: they let her go Kate but they cut out her tongue. They said that ought to be plenty punishment because they found out she was a lesbian  They got such laugh out of that. Them and their smut. I  couldn’t laugh Kate. I said  some things I shouldn’t have.!

Kate and other women flee  into the hills,   although they are hunted as they do so, one woman being snatched up in a net by a helicopter.  In The Remember Rooms more stories emerge  of the past, of how women  were labelled as witches, of how polygamy was reintroduced in some  states,  and  curfews and  dress codes  were imposed on women.

Women became more and more divided.  All the freaky -looking ones were rounded up  – you know, those who wouldn’t wear  even long hippie-type  dresses, or those who didn’t comb their hair, the kind that would rather be with women than men, or the kind who gave their husbands any kind of hard time. God, it wa snightmare. Only the ones who looked and behaved like ladies had a chance…then the misfit women  began leaving the cities, heading off to  the hills, going towards rumours of  country women who lived off the land, isolated  and self-sufficient. Some found these women.  Others probably didn’t. All of them had to get away from police and state militias. All of them had to hide.

This dystopian vision of the  future  predates  Margaret Attwood’s better  known   novel, The Handmaid’s Tale  by some years. Both were  perhaps inspired  by observing the violent  reaction of some men to the assertivemess of the Women’s  Liberation Movement, and also perhaps by observing what happened in Iran after the Revolution when a narrow religious conservative orthodoxy was imposed on women who had previously behaved much as women  in the West had.  This is a video of protest by women in 1979 against the compulsory wearing of headscarfs.

Once in the hills the women change.  They are able to comunicate with each by thought alone,  which is known as “stretching”, they can also communicate with plants and animals.  The women seek live in harmony with nature,  embracing the notion of the earth as a mother.  A number of women  are developing more advanced powers, able to fly even. How this came about is not explained. There is a strong emphasis on woman-centred rituals, with poems and songs and stories at the centre of their lives. In the final chaper they sing:

To work as if the earth, the mother, can be saved.
To work as if our healing care were not too late.
Work to stay the slayer’s hand,
Helping him to change
Or helping him to die.
Work as if the earth, the mother, can be saved.

Online copy

It’s available on Archive. org here.

Sally Miller Gearhart’s website can be found here.

Reviews

The hill women have escaped from a nightmare vision of a modern city to build an alternative all women  community. Having abandoned techology, the women are so in touch with with nature that animals and even trees talk to them, but the spare simplicity of Gearhart’s prose ensures that this never becomes mawkish.

The women have created a rich culture with songs, ritual and their own language. Gearhart makes subtle use of existing mythology in a feminist interpretation of the Persephone stoty, and, wittily, has the women wordlessly  communicate Poe’s The Raven to their attendant crows.

Femininity is seen as culturally determined. Urban women  wear make-up and high-heels, but the Hill Women wear simple, functional clothes and pass as men when they infiltrate  the city. Yet in meetings with  “gentles” (men who conscioulsy repudiate sexism)  there are indications that it is the intrinsic maleness of men, rather than the socialised attributes of masculinity,  which prevent men and women living together. “Somehow men – even Gentles – found it difficult or impossible to really share power.” Nevertheles Gearhart avoids the simplistic equation: women=gentleness, men= aggression. The women  experience extremely violent feelings: “They were having visions of man-slaying,  of man-mangling.” But by opening themselves individually and collectively to negative as well as  positive emotions they achieve full humanity.

Fantasy  is an important means of prefiguring versions of a feminist future. If, like me, you find the books implicit assumption that all evil emaates  from men’s colonisation of women historically inadequate and have doubts about its blanket dismissal of technology, you may find compensation in this optimistic vision of women working, living and loving harmoniously together.

Pam Johnson, Spare Rib, August 1979.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encounters of the seventh kind; “Queen of the States” by Josephine Saxton (1986)

Queen of the States  was published by the Women’s  Press in their science fiction series. Josephine was born in Halifax in 1935, and left school at the age of 15.  She began writing science fiction in the mid 1960s. Her early novels include The Hieros Gamos of Sam and An Smith (1969), Vector for Seven: The Weltanschaung of Mrs Amelia Mortimer and Friends  (1970) and Group Feast (1971).

This novel resembles  an origami paper  flexahedron that constantly changes in your hands. Just when you think you have got the hang of it, it changes shape again. Few  science  fiction novels begin with a quote from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, which gives you  a strong hint  that this novel is not going to be space opera. It begins with a road, a car and a driver…

Magdalen Hayward drove the car along a narrow road at a steady forty-five miles an hour. The way became more difficult as she went higher, towards the moors. To her left there were some remarkable rock formations standing out against the evening sky and she decided to explore them. She enjoyed scrambling over rocks. She gained a sense of freedom from being high up in barren country, alone. It was marvellous not to have people restricting, telling her what to do or not…but she would not even think of that.

Magdalen’s moorland excursion doesn’t end in a tea shop, though,  but by  being kidnapped  by aliens. Nice aliens, though, who  are curious  about humans  – as this is their first encounter with our odd species –  and are happy to provide  Magdalen with fine wines and dining.  But then she wakes up in  Twelve Trees, a hospital  for people for mental health problems where she insists she is the Queen of America. Returning to her cosy room  in the alien  craft (they have provided marching carpets and wallpaper), the insect-sized aliens tell Magdalen  that her experiences are objectively true:

You have seven concentric selves, all interlocking, making forty-nine states of being, each with seven level of intensity and each in contact  with the forty-nine states plus contact with the origianl seven at all times and places, and a central consciousness which cas freely move about to any point in this network at any one time.

For the rest of the novel  we follow Magdalen  as she tumbles  from one state to another:  the alien craft; the hospital; the Royal Train crossing Dakota;  herself  as a child in a cot ; a souk in Morocco, a bar  in New York, a party with an attractive lover  provided by the aliens…

We also encounter her accident-prone husband, Clive, attempting to be unfaithful with bi-sexual Moira; nasty Nurse Gerhard, who steals hats from her patients ; Mrs Thornton, conjured up by the aliens to take tea with Magdalen; Dr Abel Murgatroyd, who sees a flying saucer and experiences ecstatic conversion to anti-psychiatry.

And then we meet violet-haired Miriam Goldsmith, married to unfaithful Clive,   who goes to see a psychiatrist  about the dreams she is having, “super-real” dreams in which she is another person called Magdalen:

She thinks things like”There must be a better state of being than this.” and then she sort of floats off into a different if not better  sate of being…She goes elsewhere. Not escaping , just like trying on new clothes. She’s very strong , she’s very good, centrally, I  mean, very. Full of love, but quite often gets herself  ripped off , gets things tolen from her – not objects: acts, feelings, energy… She’s quite crazy at times, believes weird things. Like being Queen of America…

At the end of the novels the aliens  send Magdalen back to Earth,  and she sets off a journey away from her past and into tbe future…

So there we are, a kaleidoscope of a novel that seems to be influenced by R D Laing‘s anti-psychaiatric thinking. Although   aliens pop  up, they are just a MacGuffiin,  this is a novel about inner space,   not outer space. I am not  even sure that is really science fiction, but Magdalen (or possibly Miriam) is a likeable companion  for the length of the novel and I would be happy to read more of Jospehine’s work.

By the way, did I mention  Rupert Bear makes some cameo appearances?

 

 

Fight the power (drain): The Watcher by Jane Palmer (1986)

The Watcher was Jane Palmer’s second original novel for the Women’s  Press science fiction series. In a previous post I looked at her first novel, The Planet Dweller.

Opu looked down at the chattering  bundle of  uncoordinated wings, arms and legs, tumbling  about the floor beneath everyon’e feet, and wondered what pitch of evolution she was likely to represent. Her child has just managed to escape  for the fifth time from the play-pen that was supposed to be child-proof, and was about to bite the leg of another of the  control room staff  in in discovery of the different things a beak could be used for.

Opu is a working mother, juggling her important  job in energy with childcare, fretting about her growing  offspring Opuna, whose behaviour she discusses with her partner, Anapa.   Opu is a member of the Ojalie, a hermaphrodite winged race who depend upon capturing  the energy  from their second sun for power and sustenenance: she  is a controller,  regulating the power around their planet through numerous stations.

The Ojalie’s orderly life is disprupted by the appearance of a Sun  Dancer which sucks the power from their stations, threatening the survival  of their planet. They trace the Sun Dancer back to an obscure planet, Perimeter 84926,  and dispatch an android called the Kybion to track this world down. Surprise, surprise, it’s the Earth.

Fast forward (or possibly fast backwards, I am not too clear about the time-line)  to  the English coast in the C19th where  a group of shipwrecked  passengers encounter the Kybion in  a cave. At first  it wants  to kill them,  but then oddly is persuaded to let them live, in fact to go one better, to extend their life by slowing down the ageing process.

Then we go forward (I am sure about this  at least ) to the 1980s when a young Asian woman, Gabrielle,  goes to stay on her  own in her aunt’s  remote cottage on the coast. She encounters a stranger, Wendle, who reveals  that he is 127, and she becomes involved  in an  increasingly complex series of events involving Wendle  (young and old),   a  young black policeman called Weatherby  masquerading as a butler,  somebody nasty called Gunn, telepathic communication, spirits,   a watery planet called  Taigal Rex, and much else besides. In time we discover who the Star Dancer is, and who  is the Watcher  of the novel’s title.

Overall I  found this an unsatisfcatory  novel:   there are flashes of charm and invention,  but much that seems clunky and maladroit,  and too many  McGuffins to solve knots in the plot. I do love the cover, though.