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Category Archives: Women’s Press science fiction

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

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, and 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 it down.

Fast forward (or possibly fast backwards, I am not too clear about this)  to  the English coast in the C19th when 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. In time we discover who the Star Dancer is, and who  is the Watcher  of the novel’s title.

Overall I  found this an unsatisactaotory 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.

When a planet falls in love…The Planet Dweller by Jane Palmer (1985)

This  was Jane Palmer’s first novel,  published  in  the  pioneering  Women’s  Press  science fiction series.  It   begins, probably uniquely in the realm of science fiction writing, with a woman discussing her menopause with a male doctor. Diana is asking about Hormone Replacement   Therapy, but he  advises her  against this.  “I’ve heard of of women  losing their fingernails and others being stuck with headaches for weeks – and do you really want to go on having periods until you are past seventy?’

Diana riposts tartly:

‘I’ve already  worn my finger-nails away by climbing up the wall and give my daughter regular headaches by screaming at every animate and  inanimate a thing that gets in my way… And will not live to be seventy if I carry on at this rate.’

Diana is a single mother, has a seven (and a half) year old daughter,  and works in an open air museum of architecture where she take parties of  bored school  children on tours of their iron-age huts.  At night she hears (or thinks she hears) a voice which says, “Moosevan”… “Moosevan”….

She has  an  elderly Russian neighbour, Yuri,  who  spends his time drinking gin  to excess, observing the asteroids,  and making arcane  calculations about their orbits.  Then there is Diana’s  friend Eva, a scientist who work at a huge radio telescope right  next door to the open-air museum,  (I love this juxtapostion  of ancient  and modern). Eva calls Diana  “Mog” , by the way.We never find out why.

Yuri becomes convinced that someone is moving some asteroids to different positions,  which if completed,  will  turn into a new planet and destroy the Earth. Nobody is  paying  him any attention, but he’s right,  of course. It’s part of a plan by  a planet dweller, Moosevan,  to create a new home for herself, unaware that the Earth is inhabited.  Moosevan is being threatened by a thoroughly nasty alien The Mott (we know he is nasty because he has big ears and big teeth),  who wants to evict Moosevan  and colonise her planet. Mott is being aided by renegage Olmuke genius Kulp and his two hapless sidekicks,  Jannu and Tolt.

It had been difficult  for the Mott to accept that the rest of of the galaxy did not love their empirebuilding species, especially as they hasd bestowed  such benefits as advice and bombs in exchange  for their freedom…

Opposing the Mott are two ancient beings who have taken  temporary forms  as Torrans (complete with tails) and temporary names,  Dax and Reniola.

Back on earth  Yuri enters a dazzling portal which  has popped up in the middle of a fairy ring,   and finds himself on Moosevan’s planet.  She tells him:

‘I am old…’ Moosevan tried to rationalise. ‘I am. ..Your touch pleases me…’ she added as that was the most dominant thought in her mind.

  ‘How old?’

‘I must be half as old as this galaxy’.

Yuri looked up again at the sky scattered with the debris of so many stars. Normally he would not have have sniffed  at a show of affection coming from a mature woman, but one ninety thousand million years was in his opinion taking things to far.

I won’t go any further into the details of the plot,  except to say that by the end of the book everything is resolved satisfactorily.

The shadow  of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe surely  looms large over this attempt by Jane  to write a comic science  fiction novel.  Adams succeeded brilliantly,  so much so that Hitchhikers,  like the Goon Show,  is now part of  the mental furniture of anyone interested in surreal comedy. Adams was a genius  and made his writing  look easy, but it’s not, of course.   For me this  novel only partly works, but I still enjoyed it.

The wonderful front cover illustration of the novel  is by Jane herself. She has written  a number  of other science fiction novels,  including The Watcher (1986)  and Moving Moosevan (1990), both also published by Women’s Press, Babel’s Basement (2010) and Duckbill’s Soup (2011), another in the Moosevan series.