Tuesday, 29 January 2013



“When a bullet is fired from an Armalite AR15 rifle
it travels 3,285 feet a second, at a third of a mile
it will pierce both sides of a steel helmet
and leave a hole the size of a fist
in a man’s head”
              (‘The Observer’ August 1975)

I will be your Armalite
flesh tearing, life devouring.
Stalking midnight Belfast alleys
where burning-bus barricades
fill concrete canyons of urban
fly-overs with arabesques of flame.
Crimson gnawing at sky,
at streets, at rooftops,
reflected in lenses,
in shattered glass, in pools of blood,
in faces gauging patterns of light and shade.
I will be your Armalite
firm at your shoulder recoil-absorbing,
growing hot and trembling
beneath the caress of your fingers,
opening to you, accepting each
magazine clip pregnant with death.
Cradle me with your need,
feed me with your thirst
and I will destroy for you,
death-pouring, fear-spawning,
white-flame spitting,
splitting shadows,
splitting silence,
splitting bone.
Armalite tearing, Armalite maiming,
Armalite devouring clean baptisms of flame,
purging cities in the white-heat of vengeance,
chanting litanies in terse bursts
of cyclic angry precision.
I will be your Armalite.
I will be your Armalite.

Published in:
‘UGLY DUCKLING no.8’ (UK – November 1977)
‘HARD LINES’ anthology Faber & Faber (UK – January 1983)
also in collection:
(Purple Heather Publications) (UK – January 1988)
on cassette:
(UK – C60 – September 1981)
and used as part of a theatrical presentation by
Northern Ireland Schools Education Authority (1984)

Monday, 28 January 2013



Harry Harrison was a Science Fiction shape-shifter.
Andrew Darlington examines the evidence…

‘Violence and death concern me very much’
(notes for “From Fanaticism, Or For Reward”, 1968)

The cover-art to the paperback ‘The Best Of Harry Harrison’ (Orbit, 1976) shows a stubby yellow spacecraft with a blue propulsion array to the rear, and a red-orange column of rocket-flame controlling its vertical descent through blue planet-spotted alien skies down towards an undulating green world. It says ‘TDL Solar Turbo’ on the ship’s regalia. Three more similar crafts are receding in the background beneath a ringed Saturn-planet that occupies the space where the word ‘Harry’ is shorter than the word ‘Harrison’. It all makes for an agreeably eye-grabbing cover, but in truth, very little of Harry’s fiction is actually like this, and when it is there’s frequently a conscious element of knowing pastiche. He was SF to the core. But he was also a shape-shifter. To such an extent that he could afford to be playful with its elements.

Years before Grant Naylor first launched ‘Red Dwarf’ on TV, long before Douglas Adams embarked on his ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, Harry Harrison was doing it. As Arthur Dent or Arnold Rimmer would do, Harrison’s ‘Bill, The Galactic Hero’ and his ‘Slippery Jim’ Bolivar diGriz – the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ were already knowingly riffing on all the familiar SF ticks into pangalactic gargleblasters of accelerating action-adventure with a wry comic twist. Slippery Jim employs a seemingly-inexhaustible arsenal of gadgets at hand to extricate him from the most hazardous situation, gadgets way beyond Q’s feeble imagining. ‘SF was such a grave matter’ Harry twinkled, and ‘humour has always fascinated me.’ Of course, back then it was pretty much an in-joke. Science Fiction had yet to go mainstream. Sci-Fi, and Slippery Jim’s exploits were secret pleasures enjoyed by SF insiders. It was Harry who carried the vivacity of that SF subculture over into the ‘outside’ world – at least in part when ‘2000AD’ shocked ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World’ (1972) into its perfect picture-strip form. For, while Slippery Jim is a ‘single- minded freebooter of no fixed abode’, the peripatetic Harrison is almost as energetic as his creation..!

In a genre of curious life-tales, Harry Harrison’s is more eventful than most. Born in Stamford, Connecticut in 12th March 1925 as Henry Maxwell Dempsey, his writing career took him to spells of living in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, Spain, California and Ireland. Yet he claims to have had no great childhood ambition to be a writer. Instead, the course of his career was only decided by ‘mental coin-flipping’. And then it took him into studying commercial art in New York’. Living on the GI Bill of $75-a-month, it was at the ‘Cartoonists And Illustrators School’ – founded by ‘Tarzan’-artist Burne Hogarth, that Harry met comic-book activists Al Williamson and Roy Krekel, as well as befriending his future-collaborator Wally Wood.

During those earliest days ‘I laboured for far too many years in the cesspit of the comic-book industry’ he admits, ‘sunk into the slough of commercial hackdom’. Harry and Wally produced romance strips for Victor Fox at $23 per page, westerns (for ‘Gunfighter’, January and March 1950), and then inking-in frames for EC’s ‘Weird Science’ and scripting “Only Time Will Tell” for Wood’s art in ‘Weird Fantasy no.1’. ‘It may be art, but it is business too’ he rationalised. He artfully sends up the travails and ‘exorcises’ his feelings about the trade in his short story “Portrait Of The Artist” (1963). Although the story’s protagonist, a picture-strip illustrator, is replaced by what we’d now recognise as a Photoshop program – which then consisted of a complicated mechanical contrivance, the resulting automation is nevertheless as absolute. Yet the years spent labouring on picture-strips instilled in the tyro writer the useful disciplines of tight fast-action plotting, which served him well in his subsequent fiction. ‘I know that all those hours at the drawing board have helped my visual sense in my writing, I just wish there had not been so many of them.’


The news of Harry’s death was all over the internet 15 August 2012, just as I was preparing to depart for the Mediterranean. And I thought, yes, holiday reading, I’ll dig out Harry’s original ‘Bill, The Galactic Hero’ and re-read it. The book that even Terry Pratchett concedes is ‘the funniest science fiction book ever written’, perfect. But ransacking my ‘H’ bookshelf, there are many Harry Harrison’s, but no ‘Bill, The Galactic Hero’! I’d definitely read it. I certainly had it at one point. There are huge sequences I can remember wholesale. I recall recounting passages out loud with poet Steve Sneyd, mutually chortling over its ludicrous comic inventions. Have I mislaid it somewhere? Was it a library-book version I read? I’ve got a mental image of those yellow Gollancz hardbacks, so it might well have been the original 1965 edition I read. Which shows just how long ago I first began to appreciate the genius of Harry Harrison.

I remember how the titular ‘Galactic Hero’ starts out as Bill, an amiable Zoroastrian farmboy ploughing the fields of hick-world Phigerinadon II with his robo-mule, until he’s drugged and press-ganged into the Space Troopers. Harry was a lifelong rationalist with a healthy suspicion of the shutdown military mindset. While superficially unpretentious, his parodies, homages and genre-reconfigurations have sharp teeth. He claims his own draftee military service robbed him of three years of his life, and taught him only the ‘universal coin of military life’, how ‘to drink and curse’. For the novel, Harry even creates his own all-purpose expletive – ‘bowb’, which is applicable to most situations.

Bill’s recruit-training at the Leon Trotsky boot-camp by the wonderfully ghastly drill-sergeant Deathwish Drang – resplendent in vat-grown surgically-implanted tusks, is not only hilariously funny, but also an informed satire of, in particular Robert Heinlein’s ultra-militaristic ‘Starship Troopers’ (itself not without its satiric overtones), and the patriotic-idealisation of army-life in general. Literature contains more subtle attacks on militarism – ‘Catch 22’ et al, but few make their ridiculing point with such laugh-out-loud knockabout energy. Bill becomes a Fusetender 6th Class. Harry had himself been a specialist in prototype computer-aided bomb-sights during his US Army Air Corp military service in 1943. Now Harry’s hapless recruits are rushed to the Galactic war-zone on board the ‘Fanny Hill’ by the ingeniously-ludicrous Bloater Drive, which, like Harry’s ‘cheddite’ drive, created by irradiating cheddar cheese in ‘Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers’ 1973) – is itself a comic send-up of other imaginative faster-than-light techniques conjured up by supposedly ‘serious’ SF conceptualists. A category that possibly encompasses his own ‘Daleth Effect’ in ‘In Our Hands The Stars’ (1970).

The first single-chapter outline of what was to become ‘Bill’ was begun while Harry was living in Denmark. Then titled ‘If You Can Read This You Are Too Damn Close’, it was green-lighted by Damon Knight, acting as literary scout for Berkley Books. Although it constituted Harry’s first deliberate exclusion of all other quick-return work in favour of a single long-term project, it was ‘laughter all day at the typewriter’, adding ‘how I do enjoy my on jokes’. Yet there was continuing uncertainty despite Knight’s tentative approval, after all ‘there had never been anything like it in SF before’. A fear borne out when once complete Knight was less than convinced by what he read, nervously suggesting that maybe the manuscript could be improved by dropping the joke-content and emphasising the plot-structure intact as a straight adventure! Eventually Frederik Pohl bought the American serial rights for ‘Galaxy’, while Michael Moorcock took it for ‘New Worlds’ in Britain, prior to the Doubleday (USA) and the Gollancz (UK) edition which I first picked up on, where I first read about the Galactic Empire engaged in its pre-emptive wiping-out war of extermination against the only other sentient species yet discovered, the saurian Chingers. And how Bill’s amiable boot-polishing colleague Eager Beager turns out to be a robot-spy driven by a Chinger – not the monstrous predators of propaganda, but a miniature seven-inch lizard!

After a space-battle in which he becomes an accidental hero, Bill ends up with two right arms following a limb-graft from incinerated companion Tembo. At least he can now shake hands with himself! And when he’s taken to Helior, the imperial city-planet of 10,000-Suns for his award, it seems Harry is switching his target to parody Asimov’s ‘Foundation And Empire’ series, for this world-city is obviously modeled on ‘Trantor’. Bill’s audience with what he assumes to be the in-bred Emperor – actually an actor stand-in, is another comic high-point. ‘There, just before him, was the most beloved man in the galaxy! The long and swollen nose that graced a billion bank notes was pointed towards him. The overshot jaw and protruding teeth that filled a billion teevee screens was speaking his name. One of the Imperial strabismic eyes was pointing at him! Passion welled in Bill’s bosom like great breakers thundering onto a shore’.

From this climax Bill embarks on what Harrison calls a ‘terror-haunted’ Odyssey to mask the incredible details of its comic hazards, through a global mega-metropolis that still uses phonograph records and flintlock rayguns! These deliberate anachronisms are comparable to the coal-powered robots of the first ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’ (1961) novel. With his map stolen, Bill gets caught up in a series of Catch-22’s with the circular illogic of a robot and a bribed Cop, lost in the city’s slipways, slideways, chairways, gravdrops, hellavators, pigchutes and suctionlifts sustained by Heroin-cola from a dispenser, Alco-Jolts, Dobbin-burgers and stolen Chlora-fillie sausages. ‘If you’re poor don’t come to Helior’ cautions a cashier-robot ‘primed with all the snappy answers’. After further comic misunderstandings at the Transit Centre Bill escapes Drang and flees deeper than he’s ventured before, to join the deplanned, and further to the bottom of the world where he’s recruited as a G-man – that is, ‘garbage man’ for the Department of Sanitation. In one of the novel’s most inventively comic sequences Bill helps tackle the impossible waste-disposal problems created by a population of 150-billion people. First, using a matter-transmitter they beam garbage directly into the core of the nearest star, which causes it to go nova – ‘I hear that they didn’t manage to evacuate some bases on the inner planets completely’, and peaks into Supernova threatening Helior itself. Bill suggests mailing packages of garbage out across the galaxy as Unsolicited Duty-Free Gifts, which becomes a safer option.

Although fulfilled and rewarded in his new role – ‘he kept the greasy bills in a toy rubber cat he found in the rubbish heap, and bit by bit the kitty grew’, Bill’s new-found contentment is threatened by triple-armed Agent Pinkerton of the GBI (Galactic Bureau of Investigation), who compromises him into spying on a Revolutionary Underground sect. ‘The Revolting Workers Of Helios’ demand equal rights for androids, computers, electronic brains, ‘a number of strange things that are best not described’ and robots ‘who retain their built-in obsequiousness in spite of their revolutionary tendencies’. But when the insurrection actually happens the mob is found to consist of just one man – the rest are undercover agents of various intelligence and counterintelligence outfits! But in the ensuing chaos Bill is once again apprehended by Deathwish Drang, and tried as a deserter in an absurdist court playing a ludicrous prosecution against an ingeniously convoluted legal defence that exhausts his carefully-hoarded ‘kitty’. With his execution commuted, he’s sent back to the war frontline on Vaniola, ‘a fog-shrouded world of untold horrors, creeping in its orbit around the ghoulish green star Hernia like some repellent heavenly trespasser newly rose from the nethermost pit’.

This leads to another scene that has stayed velcro’d to my memory across the years. Bill’s second encounter with Eager Beager, the Chinger. Does he seize the opportunity of negotiating an understanding with the talkative little alien? initiating the first steps in attempting to reconcile the two warring species? bridging their gulf of misunderstandings? No, part-Rambo and part-Bilko, Bill calmly watches a giant snake circle behind and gobble it up. Before the story full-circles back to another amiable bumpkin on hick-world Phigerinadon II drugged and press-ganged into the Space Troopers. Only this time the recruiting Sergeant is Bill, minus the leg he deliberately shot off to be invalided off Vaniola, but with the addition of the vat-grown tusks regrafted from the dead Deathwish Drang. And the luckless new recruit… is Bill’s brother! This is a novel that proves Harry’s dictum that ‘(Joseph) Heller and Voltaire demonstrated to me that some things are so awful that they can only be approached through the medium of humour’. Harry would return to ‘Bill The Galactic Hero’ in a new series of comic-absurdist exploits some twenty years later, but the original stand-alone novel retains its charge of delightfully explosive energies that nothing since can touch.

To Brian Aldiss its satiric-fusion technique ‘marked Harrison out as one of the few authors capable of carrying the old vigour of earlier days forward into a new epoch’ (in his authoritative ‘Billion Year Spree’, 1973). And later, Harry followed it with ‘Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers’ (Putnam, 1973), switching his lampooning to the pulp-adventures of EE ‘Doc’ Smith, affectionately mocking its preposterous jingoism (‘the decadent enemy jaw felt the full impact of a good American fist’) and the ludicrous science of a 747 landing on Titan! And short-story “Space Rats Of The CCC” (1973) – initials that represent the spaceborne ‘Combat Camel Corp’, who ride vicious tooth-clashing great-clawed spacewarped mutacamels given to snapping the limbs off the unwary then biting their heads off too! These ‘Starship Troopers’ boldly go to barren pirate-world Biru-2 where the inevitable shock-ending awaits them. It may parody widescreen Space Opera, but Harry cheerfully concedes that the genre ‘blasts on as ever’ and his efforts ‘won’t make any difference at all’.


But there’s continuity as well as diversity threading Harry Harrison’s work, in his anti-violence humanist tales such as “From Fanaticism, Or For Reward” (1968), or the sinister logic of “I Always Do What Teddy Says” (1963) in which, in a world indoctrinated against violence, one boy is purposefully kept from conditioning in order to slay a tyrant, with tragic results. A moral conundrum framed by plot-elements resembling Brian Aldiss’ later ‘AI’ (2001).

His best-known work probably remains ‘Make Room Make Room’ (1966), even if through the medium of director Richard Fleischer’s wide-screen adaptation ‘Soylent Green’ (1973) which – to Harry, ‘at times bore a faint resemblance to the book’. But sorry Harry, despite his reservations it makes a great movie! Stanley R Greenberg’s screenplay for the film vividly reinterprets even the word ‘soylent’, which for Harry simply conflates the words soya and lentils, with no cannibalistic content! Reformulating it as a protein foodstuff made up of processed human corpses adds a macabre level of extremism, amplified when Police Detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) uncovers the shocking truth, and even this revelation that ‘soylent green is people’ changes nothing. Every other edible food-source has been eaten into extinction. For this environmentally-degraded overpopulated future, there is no alternative. Despite Harry’s understandable reservations, it’s through the film that the term ‘soylent green’ has entered the cultural mainstream, used by stand-up comedians and film-buffs who have never read a single line of Harry Harrison text.

To Harry the source-novel forms ‘an admonitory finger being shaken at the reader’. He’d worked on the idea for five years, researching ‘a great number of very thick books’. Its essential elements were compressed and rewritten as a short story – “Roommates” (1970) for a Thomas Disch-edited theme-anthology, rich with squalid detail of a ‘Judge Dredd’ NY-megacity of 35-million undernourished people. Sol’s death (Edward G Robinson’s euthanasia in the film) represents the final extinguishing of a small niche of wit and culture. Its overpopulation theme is an issue that recurrently incites Harrison’s ire, in other tales. ‘We have gone too far and there is no easy way out now. Millions are going to die, are dying. It is going to get worse before it gets better’. Talking of “A Criminal Act” (1966), he says ‘I was possessed by rage when I wrote this story’, and ‘a feeling of rage possessed me whenever I think about it’. Since he wrote those stories, the global population has expanded from 3.5-billion to seven-billion. Harrison’s ‘Criminal Birth Act’ – limiting families to two children only, is enacted in 1993 – and has been overtaken in real-life by China’s single-child policy which can be seen as more draconian than his imaginings. A dystopia replicated by the geriatric-dominated future of “Brave Newer World” (1970) – which also promotes racial and cultural diversity by attacking a Genetic Guidance programme intent on eliminating it.

His most highly-regarded taboo-breaking short story – “The Streets Of Ashkelon” (1961), was originally meant for a Judith Merril anthology of ‘dangerous visions’, which failed to materialise. After being shunted around all the major American markets – which were frightened off by its atheistic content, editor John Carnell ‘stiffened his spine’ to publish it in ‘New Worlds’, but only after Brian Aldiss’ positive intervention. Yet it has since been reprinted some thirty times, and was later adapted into picture-strip form (for ‘Graphixus’ no.5, August 1978). Brian Bolland’s frames show trader John Garth on cloud-shrouded Wesker’s World alongside his logical, inquisitive, guilt-free amphibious friends. Then the arrival of the snake in this prelapsarian Eden, in the form of missionary Father Mark. Torn between Garth’s rational scientific explanation of the physical laws ruling stars they’ve never seen, and Mark’s superstitious soup of god, evil, sin and redemption, the natives apply their own test. They crucify the deluded missionary and await his resurrection. It’s a biting condemnation of religious inflexibility concisely encapsulated in a detailed well-portrayed alien setting.

Equally powerful, “Mute Milton” (1965) is a perfectly balanced vignette fuelled by revulsion at the racial bigotry which – at the time, was a smouldering blight on the segregated American state it too accurately and concisely portrays. The carelessly shattered prototype energy-convertor in a cigar-box a neat metaphor for the squandered potential the system perpetrates.

But he can effortlessly slipstream genres, witness his Napoleonic CS Forester-derived… no, steampunk is not an apt term, for “Captain Honario Harplayer RN” (1962) demands a new label-definition to itself, as the comically exaggerated ‘Carry On’ martinet seafarer unknowingly encounters an alien craft, and uses it to sink six French warships. Elsewhere there’s strange magical realist enigmas, such as “By The Falls” (1968), expanded from a dream vision. Yet, tasked with contributing a story to the ‘John W Campbell Memorial Anthology’ he’s equally adept at concocting “The Mothballed Spaceship” (1972), an informed problem-solving story with an Asimovian post-galactic empire setting, that the late-editor of ‘Astounding / Analog’ would surely have snapped up. As the Rim Hordes threaten to sweep through the solar system spreading death and destruction the Earth forces must deactivate the self-defence grid guarding a five-thousand-year old three-kilometre long battleship of the Fourth War of Galactic Expansion, to access it and use it against the barbarian attackers. The solution is meticulously worked out, with an ironic punch in its tail.

Harry was a restless traveller, and new situations seem to toss out new fictional ideas. “Rescue Operation” (1963) is set in what he called the ‘most primitive country in Europe’ – the now-vanished Yugoslavia. It has something of a ‘Jeff Hawke’ quality about it when two simple fishermen send for Joze Kukovic’s help when they discover the survivor of a fallen ‘sputnik’ on the seabed. It turns out to be an aquatic alien, somewhat similar to Dan Dare’s ‘Pescods’. The aged Doctor’s fumbled attempts to help it result in its death, and the fearfully superstitious Priest destroys its irreplaceable gift of a book.

Harry’s long-time friend and project-collaborator Brian Aldiss – who he describes as the ‘shipmate who is reading the sextant and plotting the course for us all’, has delved into the world of Mary Shelly’s Promethean creation more than once, designating it the first-ever science fiction novel. “At Last, The True Story Of Frankenstein” (1963) is Harry’s own macabre zombie-take on this most-enduring of literary mythologies, in which the long-lived son of the original Victor Frankenstein has ended up touring the cheap Carnie circuit with his animated ‘sideshow monster’ exhibit. He divulges the truth, as distinct from Mary Shelley’s ‘vile libellous volume’, to a curious journalist who’s misfortune it is to become his next victim.


According to “The Beginning Of The Affair” – his contribution to the ‘Hells Cartographers’ collection (Orbit, 1976), Harry’s career had gone from drawing to editing comics, then he’d used that ‘editorial experience to move into editing pulps, which were gasping their last at the time. Then into writing.’ But it’s not true that he abandoned picture-strip SF entirely. And why should he? Story-telling is a skill that can be channelled through any number of media. Each of which has its own distinctive merits. Things can be done, and audiences can be reached in picture-strip form that are not possible elsewhere. While living in Capri he became the principal scripter for King Features’ ‘Flash Gordon’, daily and Sunday editions from 1958 to 1964. After meeting ‘Daily Express’ strip-artist Sydney Jordan he also scripted a powerful six-month serial for the ‘Jeff Hawke’ series called “Out Of Touch” (4 October 1957 to 5 April 1958). As Jordan explains, the plot Harry envisaged pre-dates Arthur C Clarke’ ‘Rendezvous With Rama’ (1972) by some fifteen years, as ‘a vast space colony ship arrives in the Solar System, its anti-gravity hull sparkling with the myriad flashes of space-dust vapourising in endless matter/antimatter collisions. The interior is an entire living biosphere, which is soon to be destroyed as the ship’s atomic sun finally goes nova. Hawke’s task is to save the souls on the World of Ramm by finding a way to get through the antimatter barrier’ (in ‘Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos’ Vo.7 no.3).

And, although published anonymously and of disputed authorship, Harry is known to have written five authenticated ‘Rick Random’ titles for the ‘Super Detective Library’ picture-strip pocket-book series, including ‘The Terror From Space’ (January 1959) in which shape-shifting Kreggari replace world-leaders, and most likely ‘The Mystery Of The Time Travellers’ (February 1957) an audaciously stunning wide-screen blockbuster epic in pocket-library form, a narrative sweep across thousands of years of history, then a million years into an unimaginably desolate future of ruined devolving cities, taking in temporal conundrums – or ‘time-faults’ that a Robert Silverberg novel (‘Up The Line’) or Isaac Asimov (‘The End Of Eternity’) would consider itself smart to include, conjecturing an alternate history of Napoleon with ‘aircraft and nuclear fission’. In addition, there’s the treacherous attack by Venus on its supposed Earth-ally in the 2585 Martian war, the complete destruction of Pluto as a terrible warning of the ‘ultimate weapon’, battles between space armadas 10,000-miles beyond the moon, and tripod alien ships descending into devastated Earth cities. All rendered in Ron Turner’s intricately detailed art at its most visionary.

‘The Stainless Steel Rat’ (1961) – Harry’s debut novel, was written as a novelette, then as an ‘Astounding SF’ serial (in two parts, “The Stainless Steel Rat”, 1957 and “The Misplaced Battleship”, 1960). To Harry these were later ‘clobbered together’ or ‘expanded into a novel’ about the planet-hopping wide-boy-cum-master criminal. In the ‘rich union of worlds that will be the Galactic Empire of the far future’ Slippery Jim is finally bent to the secretive Special Corp services of law and order – if not without occasional lapses! Bigger yet, ‘from small acorns…’ it naturally spawned sequels. There would eventually be twelve books in the full series! In the third, ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World’ (1972), Slippery Jim playfully rationalises his moral justification for bank-robbery by arguing that he’s a redistributionist ‘benefactor of mankind, not a thief’. But with his colleagues disappearing in an undeclared Time War, so that they never existed (as in his Rick Random picture-strip), it’s up to Slippery Jim to return through a time-helix to the ‘ancient and primitive society’ of 13 June 1975 on the mythic planet of human origins variously named ‘dirt’ or ‘earth’. Like a time-travel movie-comedy there are autowrecking car chases, helicopter pursuits, explosions and rough-and-tumble action sequences. With brilliant gags. Slippery Jim complains that programmes on the ‘glass-eyed instrument’ called the TV are ‘interrupted by brief playlets and illustrated lectures about the purchase of various consumer goods’. He learns English from a Hell’s Angel called Slasher, so that he speaks in a kind of fractured slang. There’s a comic misunderstanding about horsepower used in the ‘intoinal combustion engine’ – ‘from earlier conversations I had understood that horses were rather large quadrupeds’ he muses, ‘so perhaps it was an animal miniaturisation process to get a large number of them into the machine’. He travels back 32,590-years, yet adapts to what he considers ‘Stone Age’ Earth remarkably easily, even when it’s necessary for him to have ‘grabbed my brain by the throat, no mean feat that, and gave it a good shaking’. They don’t call him Slippery Jim for nothing! He tumbles back further to year AD1807 of a diverging time-stream to find himself in a walled Napoleonic London (again a similar element to Rick Random’s time-jaunt). Then, with his lethal wife Angelina, 20,000-years into the environmentally-degraded final years of a future-Earth fought over by ‘He’s’ thugs pitted against returning Martian colonists.

The ‘alternate history’ theme in Harry’s wide bibliography is probably best represented by his ‘Eden’ trilogy – ‘West Of Eden’ (1984), ‘Winter In Eden’ (1986) and ‘Return To Eden’ (1988), in which the extinction-event asteroid-strike never happened, and the Earth’s dominant dinosaurian Yilané civilisation comes into conflict with the primitive humanoid Tanu in an isolated north America. But he’d already ventured into the sub-genre with ‘A Transatlantic Tunnel Hurrah!’ (1972), a parallel world in which George Washington was shot as a traitor, the American Revolution never happened, and the founding American States never broke away from the Britain Empire. While, although never intended as such, ‘In Our Hands The Stars’ (Faber, 1970), has become an alternate history through the mere passage of time, with Soviet cosmonauts stranded on the Moon rescued by a Danish team using a converted submarine powered by a kind of HG Wellsian ‘Cavorite’ device called ‘the Daleth Effect’. Denmark then takes the lead in the Space Race by going on to establish a colony on Mars. Interestingly, it was John Campbell who pointed out that a space-vehicle powered by a reactionless drive could assume any form. Why not a ‘modern atomic submarine’ he suggested? Although, in a sense, the device is what Alfred Hitchcock used to call ‘the MacGuffin’, the excuse for the action to revolve around, because there’s Cold War intrigue and espionage complications, as well as an apartheid South African slave state.

There’s an argument that Harry’s tendency to develop his ideas into franchises dilutes the power of the originals. His debut full-length novel, ‘Deathworld’ (1960) spawned two sequels, evolving ‘Jason dinAlt’ into a series character. There were no less than eleven spin-off ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ novels following Slippery Jim’s first space-hopping exploits in 1961. There’s even a ‘You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat’ (Grafton, 1985) fantasy-gaming book! And – after a suitable pause, there’s a total of seven ‘Bill, The Galactic Hero’ romps, starting with ‘On The Planet Of Robot Slaves’ (1989) by Harry, which uses the ‘story-within-a-story’ device to poke fun at ER Burroughs’ ‘Barsoom’ and the hardboiled cyberpunks. Further pun-laden slapstick titles are subcontracted out to other writers, edited by Harry – ‘On The Planet Of Bottled Brains’ (1990) by Robert Sheckley (one reviewer claims he ‘lined up another array of SF clichés and wrestles them into submission’), ‘On The Planet Of Tasteless Pleasure’ (1991) by David Bischoff, ‘On The Planet Of Zombie Vampires’ (1991) by Jack C Haldeman, ‘On The Planet Of Ten-Thousand Bars’ (1991) also by David Bischoff, and ‘Bill The Galactic Hero: The Final Incoherent Adventure’ (Avon, 1991) by David M Harris. Harry closed the series with “Bill, The Galactic Hero’s Happy Holiday” in his ‘Galactic Dreams’ (1994, Legend) anthology. There’s some truth in the assertion that such repetition dulls the edge. But it can’t touch the power of the original novels. Harry Harrison was SF to the core. ‘That I am a writer now I can blame almost completely on science fiction’ he claims in his contribution to the ‘Hell’s Cartographers’ collection. We should be vastly grateful for that fact.

This brief and necessarily selective circumnavigation of the Harry Harrison cosmos is, admittedly, sadly inadequate. It is single-dimensional where a multiverse would be required. In fact, it would need to be novel-length to approach anything like doing Harry justice, and then there have to be a graphic-novel spin-off edition too.


Rock Diver (‘Worlds Beyond no.3’, February 1951) edited by Damon Knight. Story anthologised by Fred Pohl in ‘Beyond The End Of Time’ (1952). Also in ‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor, 2001)

An Artist’s Life (‘Rocket Stories’, September 1953), as by ‘Felix Boyd’. Also in ‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor, 2001)

Web of the Worlds (‘Fantasy Fiction’, November 1953) with Katherine MacLean

Navy Day (‘If’, January 1954)

The Velvet Glove (‘Fantastic Universe’, November 1956), collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

World in the Balance (‘Fantastic Universe’ June 1957)

Welcoming Committee (‘Fantastic Universe’, October 1957), as by ‘Felix Boyd’. Also in ‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor, 2001)

Captain Bedlam (‘Science Fiction Adventures’, December 1957, then ‘New Worlds SF no.69’, March 1958), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965), and ‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor, 2001)

The Repairman (‘Galaxy SF’, February 1958), collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

Open All Doors (‘Fantastic Universe’, February 1958) with Hubert Pritchard

The Robot Who Wanted to Know (‘Fantastic Universe’, March 1958), as by ‘Felix Boyd’, collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

Web of the Norns (‘Science Fantasy no.28’, April 1958) with Katherine MacLean

Trainee for Mars (‘Fantastic Universe’, June 1958, then ‘New Worlds no.75’ September 1958), republished as ‘Simulated Trainer’ in collection ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

The World Otalmi Made (‘Science Fiction Adventures’ US June 1958, then ‘Science Fiction Adventures no.4’ UK September 1958)

Arm of the Law (‘Fantastic Universe’, August 1958, then ‘Science Fantasy’, October 1958), collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

The Robots Strike (‘Fantastic Universe’, January 1959)

Robot Justice (‘New Worlds no.83’, May 1959, then ‘Fantastic Universe’, July 1959), republished as ‘I See You’ in collection ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962). Also in ‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor, 2001)

The K-Factor (‘Analog’, December 1960)

Survival Planet (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, August 1961), collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962)

Toy Shop (‘Analog’, April 1962), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

War With The Robots (‘Science Fiction Adventures No.27’ July 1962), collected into ‘War With The Robots’ (Pyramid, 1962) and ‘Machines That Think’ edited by Isaac Asimov

The Pliable Animal (‘The Saint Detective Magazine’ UK, September 1962), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

The Streets of Ashkelon (‘New Worlds no.122’ September 1962), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965), and republished as ‘An Alien Agony’ in ‘Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus’ edited by Brian Aldiss (1962)

Captain Honario Harpplayer, R.N. (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, March 1963), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

Down To Earth (‘Amazing Stories’, November 1963), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

Unto My Manifold Dooms (‘Galaxy’, June 1964), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965), republished as ‘The Many Dooms’ (1964)

Incident In The IND (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, March 1964), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

Final Encounter (‘Galaxy’, April 1964), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

According To His Abilities (‘Amazing Stories’, May 1964), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

How The Old World Died (‘Galaxy’, October 1964)

Portrait Of The Artist (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, November 1964), collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

Rescue Operation (‘Analog’, December 1964) collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

They’re Playing Our Song (‘Fantastic Stories Of Imagination’, December 1964)

Not Me, Not Amos Cabot! (‘Science Fantasy’, December 1964), collected into ‘SF Reprise 3’ (1966), ‘Science Fiction Horizon no.1’ (1968), and ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

Rock Pilot (‘Fleetway Boy’s Annual’, 1965)

Famous First Words (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, January 1965), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Outcast (‘Science Fantasy’, March 1965) collected into ‘SF Reprise 4’ edited by Kyril Bonfiglioli (1966)

I Always Do What Teddy Says (‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’, June 1965) collected into ‘Two Tales And Eight Tomorrows’ (Gollancz, 1965)

At Last, The True Story of Frankenstein (‘Science Fantasy’, September 1965)

Contact Man (‘Alien Worlds no.1’, 1966), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

Mute Milton (‘An ABC Of Science Fiction’ edited by Tom Boardman Jrn, 1966), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Gods Themselves Throw Incense (‘Impulse’, March 1966), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Greatest Car In The World (‘New Worlds’, October 1966)

A Criminal Act (‘Galassia no.71’, November 1966, then ‘Analog’, January 1967), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

You Men of Violence (‘Galaxy’, April 1967), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Man From P.I.G. (‘Analog’, July 1967)

The Fairly Civil Service (‘Galaxy’, December 1967), republished as ‘A Civil Service Servant’ in ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

I Have My Vigil (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, February 1968)

The Secret of Stonehenge (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ June1968), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970), a masterpiece offering a new view on why Stonehenge was built

The Powers of Observation (‘Analog’ September1968), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

Praiseworthy Saur (‘Worlds Of Wonder’, 1969 and ‘If’, February 1969), republished as ‘If’ in ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Ghoul Squad (‘Four For The Future’ edited by Harry Harrison, February 1966, and ‘Analog’, June 1969), collected into ‘Prime Number’ (Berkley, 1970)

The Man From R.O.B.O.T. (‘Analog’, July 1969) the two novellas published together as ‘The Men From P.I.G. And R.O.B.O.T.’ (Atheneum, 1978), with the two specialised law enforcement departments made up of men of certain personalities able to choose some very strange partners

Plague Ship (‘Venture SF’, November 1969)

The Finest Hunter In The World (‘Prime Number’ edited by Harry Harrison, Berkley, July 1970)

Commando Raid (‘Prime Number’ edited by Harry Harrison, Berkley, July 1970) later collected into ‘Study War No More’ edited by Joe Haldeman (Avon 1978). Harry diverts bloodlust into savage well-digging and disease-fighting on behalf of unwilling tribes

The Pad aka ‘The Pad-A Story of the Day After the Day After Tomorrow’ (‘Prime Number’ edited by Harry Harrison, Berkley, July 1970)

The Final Battle (‘Prime Number’ edited by Harry Harrison, Berkley, July 1970)

By The Falls (‘New Worlds Of Fantasy no.2’ edited by Terry Carr, 1970, then in ‘Science Fiction Monthly’, November 1975)

American Dead (‘The Year 2000’ edited by Harry Harrison, Doubleday, March 1970)

The Ever-Branching Tree (‘Science Against Man’ edited by Anthony Cheetham, Avon, December 1970)

‘One Step From Earth’ (Macmillan, 1970) a Harry Harrison collection on the theme of teleportation and matter-transmission, with ‘One Step From Earth’, ‘Pressure’, ‘No War, Or Battle’s Sound’, ‘Wife To The Lord’, ‘Waiting Place’, ‘The Life Preservers’, ‘From Fanaticism, Or For Reward’, ‘Heavy Duty’ and ‘A Tale Of The Ending’

Roommates (‘The Ruins Of Earth’ edited by Thomas M Disch, Putnam, November 1971)

The Wicked Flee (‘New Dimensions 1’ edited by Robert Silverberg, Doubleday, 1971)

Brave Newer World (‘Four Futures’ edited by Robert Silverberg, Hawthorn Books, October 1971)

Strangers (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, October 1972)

An Honest Day’s Work (‘New Writings In SF’ edited by Kenneth Bulmer, April 1973)

The Defensive Bomber as by ‘Hank Dempsey’ (‘Nova 3’ edited by Harry Harrison, 1973)

We Ate The Whole Thing (‘Vertex: The Magazine Of Science Fiction’, April 1973)

The Graduates (‘The Men From P.I.G And R.O.B.O.T’, Faber, November 1974)

Space Rats Of The CCC (‘Final Stage: The Ultimate SF Anthology’ edited by Edward L Ferman and Barry N Malzberg, 1974)

Ad Astra (‘Vertex: The Magazine Of Science Fiction’, August 1974)

The Whatever-I-Type-is-True Machine with Barry N Malzberg (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And SF’, November 1974)

Speed Of The Cheetah, Roar Of The Lion (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, March1975)

Run From The Fire (‘Epoch’ edited by Robert Silverberg and Roger Elwood, November 1975)

The Last Train (‘The Second Bedside Book Of Strange Stories’ edited by Herbert van Thal, 1976)

The Greening Of The Green (‘Anticipations’ edited by Christopher Priest, Faber and Faber, 1978), the development of telekinesis among the Irish is due to their superior sense of humour

Planet Story with Jim Burns’ colour art (published as ‘Planet Story’, Pierrot Publ, £5.95 edition, 1979) excerpt in ‘The Best Of Omni Science Fiction’ edited by Ben Bova, April 1980. Harry also edits ‘Mechanismo’ an illustrated SF art-book with linking chat for Pierrot Publ (118pp, £4.95, 1978)

A Fragment Of Manuscript (‘Microcosmic Tales’, September 1980)

The Day After The End Of The World (‘After The Fall’ edited by Robert Sheckley, Ace, September 1980)

After The Storm (‘The Planets’ edited by Byron Preiss, Bantam, December 1985)

The View From The Top Of The Tower (‘Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, May 1986)

In The Beginning (‘Amazing Stories’, May 1986)

We Are Coming, Doctor Zamenhof, We Are Coming! (‘Tales From The Forbidden Planet’ edited by Roz Kaveney, Titan Books, August 1987) republished as: ‘Ni Venos, Doktoro Zamenhof, Ni Venos!’ (1987) and ‘Arriviamo, Dott. Zamenhof, Arriviamo!’ (1994)

The Curse Of The Unborn Living Dead (‘The Drabble Project’, April 1988)

Samson In The Temple Of Science (‘The Microverse’, November 1989)

A Letter From The Pope with Tom Shippey (‘What Might Have Been Vol.2: Alternate Heroes’ edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H Greenberg, Bantam, January 1990)

Luncheon In Budapest (July 1990) in ‘A Is For Brian’ edited by Margaret Aldiss, Frank Hatherley and Malcolm Edwards (Avernus Press)

Tragedy In Tibet (August 1990) in ‘Confiction 1990: Souvenir Book) edited by Johan-Martijn Flaton (Stichting Worldcon)

Dawn Of The Endless Night (October 1992) in ‘The Ultimate Dinosaur’ edited by Byron Preiss and Robert Silverberg (Bantam

Bill, The Galactic Hero’s Happy Holiday (1994) in ‘Galactic Dreams’ (Legend 0-09-926341-6)

A Dog And His Boy (1995) in ‘Overload’ edited by Martin Tudor for The Birmingham SF Group (Novacon no.25)

‘Fifty In Fifty’ (Tor Books, June 2001), collection of fifty stories selected from across fifty years, including ‘Alien Shores’, ‘Make Room! Make Room!’, ‘Miraculous Inventions’, ‘Laugh – I Thought I Would Cry’, ‘Other Worlds’, ‘R.U.R’, ‘One For The Shrinks’, ‘The Light Fantastic’, ‘Square Pegs In Round Holes’ and others

The Road to the Year 3000 (2001), in ‘Fifty In Fifty’, reprinted in ‘Futures From Nature’ edited by Henry Gee (Tor, November 2007)

Frankenstein In Brighton (2008) in ‘Quercus One: The West Pier Gazette And Other Stories’ edited by Paul Brazier for Three Legged Fox Books


‘CAPTAIN ROCKET no.1’ (Premier Publishing, November 1951) ‘ Harry Harrison put this comic-book together almost completely on his own (‘I edited, wrote what I could, drew and inked it…’). Captain Rocket, otherwise known as Alan Campbell, ‘has dedicated his life to the development of super-scientific knowledge that would protect Earth from the unknown forces of the universe.’ Other series in the comic-book include the Space Falcon, who ‘preys on the ill-gotten loot of crooked spacemen and donates it to the poor people of the universe’, and Aurora of Jupiter, ‘a lovely scientist of the Planet Jupiter who works for universal peace in her domed laboratory in the void of the stratosphere.’ (from ‘Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History’ by Mike Benton, Taylor Publishing, 1992)

‘RICK RANDOM: THE MYSTERY OF THE TIME TRAVELLERS’ (64 pages) Art: Turner. Script: ‘Keston’ although textual evidence suggests Harry Harrison. ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.97, February 1957. Reprinted in ‘DAN DARE ANNUAL 1979’

‘RICK RANDOM AND THE S.O.S. FROM SPACE’ (64 pages) Cover Art: James McConnell. Inner Art: Turner. Script: Harry Harrison. ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.115, November 1957. Reprinted in ‘2000AD SUMMER SPECIAL 1978’

‘RICK RANDOM AND THE SPACE PIRATES’ (64 pages) Cover: McConnell. Inner Art: Turner. Script: Harry Harrison. ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.127, May 1958

‘RICK RANDOM’S PERILOUS MISSION’ (64 pages) Cover: James McConnell. Inner Art: Turner. Script: Harry Harrison. ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.129, June 1958. Reprinted as ‘RED Q EMERGENCY’ in ‘SPACE PICTURE LIBRARY HOLIDAY SPECIAL’ (1981)

‘RICK RANDOM AND THE MYSTERY OF THE ROBOT WORLD’ (64 pages) Cover: James McConnell. Inner Art: Turner. Script: Harry Harrison. ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.137, October 1958

‘RICK RANDOM AND THE TERROR FROM SPACE’ (64 pages) Cover: McConnell. Inner Art: Turner. Script: Harry Harrison ‘SUPER DETECTIVE LIBRARY’ no.143, January 1959. Reprinted in ‘BUSTER ANNUAL 1963’, then as ‘BUSTER ADVENTURE LIBRARY no.27’ (August 1967).

‘JEFF HAWKE: OUT OF TOUCH’ ‘Daily Express’ 4 October 1957 to 5 April 1958 Script: Harry Harrison. Art: Sydney Jordan. See also ‘Starburst no.1’ (1978) for detailed history of Harry Harrison’s ‘Jeff Hawke’ scripts

‘THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT’ in ‘2000AD’ from Prog.140 (1979), illustrated by Carlos Esquerra

‘DEATHWORLD no.1’ (1991, Adventure Comics, $2.50) Adapted by John Holland from the Harry Harrison novel, with poor art by Marcello Campos. Psychic gambler Jason dinAlt on the appalling planet Pyrrus, an ecological disaster area where the climate suffers dramatic changes almost by the hour, and the indigenous life-forms have to be tough to survive


‘PLAGUE FROM SPACE’ (1965), the Jupiter probe returns unexpectedly and crash-lands, but the original crew isn’t all it’s brought back. Fifties ‘B’-movie shocks

‘THE TECHNICOLOUR TIME MACHINE’ (Doubleday, 1967, then a Tor Books 1985 edition) playful time-travel romp about a failed movie-producer taking his ‘Climatic Studios’ film-crew back to the Viking era to shoot a low-cost historical epic. Adapted by Chris Boucher for a BBC Radio 4 ‘Saturday-Night Theatre’ play broadcast 4 September 1981

‘CAPTIVE UNIVERSE’ (1969) a world within a world, featuring Chimal the Aztec. A twist on the ‘generation ship’ idea using a ‘Rama’-type hollow asteroid spaceship with its inhabitants slowly discovering the true nature of their home (206pp)

‘STONEHENGE’ with Leon Stover (1972) strong heroic fantasy with Atlantis and Mycenae battling over a Cornish tin mine, Prince Ason builds Stonehenge to win the barbaric Britons over to his side (309pp) reissued as ‘Stonehenge: Where Atlantis Died’ in 1983

‘IN OUR HANDS, THE STARS’ (1970) every country on Earth wants the new power-source ‘The Daleth Drive’, some will stop at nothing to acquire it (217pp). Reprinted in 1975, 1981, 1986, and 1991

‘LIFEBOAT’ with Gordon R Dickson (1976) Giles is the unwilling diplomat who must ensure survival both for the two aliens who are in control of the lifeboat, and the human slaves who are passengers. A taut story that maintains its tension throughout while escalating towards its climax (181pp)

‘SKYFALL’ (Faber, 1976) The mighty 2,000-tonne ‘Prometheus’ is the largest piece of space hardware ever launched. In a masterfully suspenseful novel the predicament of the six-man crew incarcerated together with their fears and frictions, shrinks by comparison with the potential destruction threatening Earth if the satellite can’t be moved from its decaying orbit. Its lethal radioactive Uranium-235 fuel adds international urgency as politicians play out their power-games in the light of this desperate knowledge

‘TO THE STARS’ trilogy. ‘HOMEWORLD’ (1980, Granada) ‘Technology Gone Mad… And No Place To Hide’ says the cover-blurb. The State has total control, but Jan Kulozik accidently encounters a resistance to this bleakness, ‘WHEELWORLD’ (1981) and ‘STARWORLD’ (1981, Bantam) as the revolution is brought to Earth from the colonies, one man escapes from an aborted team-landing to spend time in a negro ghetto and finally reaches Israel where the resistance is centred. His brother turns out to be the head of the Secret Police, serving the tyranny. Although a sadistic killer, it seems he has the good of mankind at heart, using his sadistic impulses to convince the government that he is genuine evil (198pp)

‘INVASION: EARTH’ (1982, Sphere) a spacecraft supposedly crash-lands in New York, with two alien species onboard, one apparently the captive of the other. But are they being truthful with Earthlings… or with each other? 150pp

‘REBEL IN TIME’ (1983, Granada) a racist American Confederate army officer uses time travel to ensure Southern victory in the Civil War, but a black security man is on his trail, interesting as a detective tale too (271pp)

‘WEST OF EDEN’ (1984, Grafton), the giant extinction-asteroid did not strike, so dinosaurs carry on evolving until they become sapient. Humans, restricted to a small area of North America, are unaware of the extent of the dinosaur’s lands, or of their power. As dinosaurs voyage West, a clash is inevitable (533pp), ‘WINTER IN EDEN’ (1986, Grafton), humans are again forced out of the temperate region to be contained in their home valley where they await the final assault intended to exterminate them, 486pp, ‘RETURN TO EDEN’ (1988) the same cast of characters – Kerrick and his wife and tribe, and the dinosaurs, including the breakaway ‘Daughters of Life’ sect. Vainte, who hates humans, returns from exile determined to destroy both the humans and the Daughters (400pp including appendix)

‘BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO: ON THE PLANET OF ROBOT SLAVES’ (1989, Gollancz), Bill investigates another Chinger plot which is proving troublesome, ‘…ON THE PLANET OF BOTTLED BRAINS’ with Robert Sheckley (1990, Gollancz) Bill’s mission takes him to a planet perpetually cloud-covered, with the odd rift. Any spy-ship approaching the rift finds itself suddenly miles away, and the military is keen to acquire its techno-secret. Bill finds ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ caricatures – Splock and Dirk, Ham Duo and Chewgumma the Kookie, but also Hannibal, out-of-control computers, pneumatic well-built females, and Chingers (236pp), ‘…ON THE PLANET OF TASTELESS PLEASURES’ with David Bischoff (1991, Gollancz) Tom Shippey’s review says ‘a monument of unwearying parodic aggression. Here poor Bill is transported, satyr’s foot and all, from Colostomy IV to the Fields of Ozymandias and the fabled Land of Absurd Fantasy, where he meets most of popular fiction from Greg Bore to Stephen Thing’ (‘The Guardian’ 24 October 1991), the ‘terror of the space marines’ shares this adventure with Irma, and meets Dr Delazny, 213pp ‘…ON THE PLANET OF ZOMBIE VAMPIRES’ with Jack C Haldeman II (1991, Gollancz) Bill’s trying to re-grow his foot on the Chinger-chasing ‘Bounty’ with Capt Bligh. They visit a planet of Batgirl Riders, and arrive on a desolate world with a warning beacon transmitting an undecipherable message. Uhuru stays behind, while Bill and love-interest Curly go down to the station where Bill puts his foot through the floor to find loathsome upright egg-things (‘Alien’). Trouble with a quick crab-alien too (217pp), ‘…ON THE PLANET OF TEN-THOUSAND BARS’ (aka ‘…ON THE PLANET OF THE HIPPIES FROM HELL’) with David Bischoff (1991, Gollancz) Bill is on planet Barworld with Sir Dudley, and goes cruising with Elliott Methadrine through outlandish planets in alternate-universes and through Earth time-streams to the Old West and Aztec-style South America looking for the Hippies from Hell (214pp)

‘THE TURING OPTION’ with Marvin Minsky (1992, Viking) Brian Delaney of Megalobe Industries makes an AI research-breakthrough, but hired killers attack his lab, kill his co-workers, steal his data and leave him for dead. When his brain is rebuilt, using his own computer-links, he sets out both to complete his research and to track his killers – assisted by ‘Sven’, his first AI robot

‘THE HAMMER AND THE CROSS’ with John Holm (1993, Legend) a violent and brutal heroic fantasy of conflict, rape and vengeance set in the 9th century, with Viking warrior Ragran Lothbrook captured and killed by King Ella. When his four sons seek revenge, young Shef – unwanted halfbreed of a Viking father and English mother, joins the Norsemen’s cult of the Asgarth Way to learn battle skills, making an implacable enemy of the Viking leader, Ivar

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Jethro Tull, with Terry Reid
and Savoy Brown
Live at ‘Hull City Hall’, 6th October 1969

‘Come lend me your ears while I call you a fool…’ Jethro Tull are a strange conundrum of a band. Always were. There are rumours, myths, stories, which may be apocryphal, or not. They centre on the alleged Machiavellian machinations of one Ian Anderson. You probably know them already. Questions and equations that fuck with your head. Things were less confused back then. The orange programme, with its white cover butterfly, announces Chrysalis presenting its Autumn Tour. And yes, 1969 had already been a year of significant escalation for the Tull. Earlier – 12th June, they’d played the ‘Locarno Ballroom’, a smaller venue, with Kenny Burrell as support. But just two weeks after that, “Living In The Past” shoved them up to no.3 (two places beneath the Beatles “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”), with associated ‘Top Of The Pops’ hit-status mega-increased visibility and quantum ticket-sales (7s 6d). From the jumpy bass play-in to the line about ‘now there’s revolution, but they don’t know what they’re fighting’, it catches the perfect pulse of the moment. Headlining at the City Hall this night represents a major up-swing.

It’s a big cold venue overlooking the City Square. Its chill unfriendly stone hosting an unruly audience rabble. Massed hairies within striking distance. First up – ‘Bang Bang it’s Terry Reid’, young and intense, doing power-vocals all over Donovan’s morally-dubious “Superlungs”, ‘she’s only fourteen but she knows how to draw’…? Well, things seemed different then. Less about under-age nubiles and more about liberation, freedom and joints. Then, Savoy Brown are leaden sweaty worthy plank-spanking Brit-blues. Tull are already different. So much is obvious. They’re not about to settle for the quotidian. Not so much against the current, for they take the same hard blues gantry to string it onto, but more a parallel evolution. More focus. More presence. More theatre, with Ian Anderson as the great shape-maker. Already an exaggerated half-‘Worzel Gummidge’ cartoon, half-Rasputin and half half-mad half-witted holy fool. A demonic lasciviously leering jester in a cod-piece. But amid the galumphing and cavorting, his frenetic flute-flaunting darts bright as mirrors as it plunges and soars. Burbling and bubbling with stomach-lurching mood-switch time-changes. “Living In The Past” itself is taken in 4/5 time. Would that there’s a chart band now capable of such muscular dexterity.

When they first emerged from Blackpool, or thereabouts, in the apocalyptical final month of 1967, playing their jazz-blues set at a ‘Marquee’ residency, they seemed four more-or-less equal musicians – solid Mick Abrahams (guitar), Glenn Cornick in black waistcoat and hippie headband (Gibson Thunderbird bass), Clive Bunker (drums) and Anderson (flute and vocals). In fact, the Tull’s debut single – “Sunshine Day”, is an Abrahams song. And much later Abrahams would rerecord their debut LP ‘This Was’ (October 1968) in its entirety (as ‘All Said And Done’ in 2005) as a deliberate act of reclaiming his own creativity from the artifice subsequently structured around the group. For sure, it’s an album that illustrates Ian’s breathy stylistic debt to Rahsaan Roland Kirk with his “Serenade To A Cuckoo”, but also debuts “Dharma For One” as a showcase for co-writer Clive Bunker’s drum solo, an extended part of their live set at least through to the 4 November 1970 Carnegie Hall ‘Drugs Benefit’ set hoovered up onto the ‘Living In The Past’ double-LP (1972). The music-press styles such musical indulgence as extemporisation, like jazz, and since Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix the improvised solo has been de riguer. Even when not all bands are adequate enough to deliver, devaluing the currency. Tull seldom disappoint. Supple enough to flex around the testosterone jousting, excess kept in check. It’s impressive. At Hull’s ‘City Hall’ I’m impressed, undeniably. If more cerebrally than on gut-level.

When they started, as Anderson told journalist Nick Logan, they played ‘other people’s music, predictable Blues stuff, things Mick Abrahams said we should play.’ But ‘playing variations of “Dust My Broom”’ was never going to be enough (‘Melody Maker’, October 1970). And when it comes to writing, Mick doesn’t like Ian’s songs, and Ian doesn’t like his. So Mick Abrahams is first to quit, to become almost like Tull’s Pete Best – to ignite a more purist Blodwyn Pig with ‘Ahead Rings Out’ (August 1969). Exuding eloquent derision on a recent BBC4 TV-doc Ian Anderson regales how Terry Ellis and Chris Wright, the label suits, had at first suggested that just maybe Abraham’s guitar should be Tull’s lead instrument instead of Anderson’s flute. He rolls his eyes to the ceiling in patronising ‘what do THEY know’ exasperation. As if…? Cunning, articulate, with a total absence of false modesty. A sly fox, for sure. Was this the plan all along? Mick Abrahams is replaced for second Tull album ‘Stand Up’ (also August 1969), by Martin Lancelot Barre – its elaborate novelty gatefold pop-up sleeve inset with card band-figures that, yes, actually stand up. With “Bourée” which he announces on stage between adlibs and doo-dad scat as ‘this one’s by Bach, I couldn’t have wrote it, it’s just ripe for prostitution’, and it’s an artful stop-start jazz interplay between bass and flute over a Bach piece in ‘E’-minor, a walking dialogue interspersed with bestial grunts and tasteful balance. And “Fat Man”, a Celtic hoe-down scored with Barre’s high-tuned mandolin and Cornick’s manic-rattling bongos, riddled with politically-incorrect jibes at obesity.

Glenn Cornick survives until ‘Benefit’ (May 1970). He was fired – or ‘invited to leave’ during the album’s tie-in US tour. He forms Wild Turkey as Tull continue ever-upwards. And ‘Aqualung’ (March 1971) is the last to feature Clive Bunker. He leaves to flicker briefly as part of Jude. So the coup – if coup it was, is complete. The resulting cleansed line-up leaves only Anderson from the original four – not just the flute-player, but the group. The original Jethro Tull was one man, inventor of the horse-drawn seed-drill. Is Jethro Tull still one man? One man, with Barrie ‘Barriemore’ Barlow replacing Bunker on drums, Anderson’s long-time friend Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass, and grammar-school pal John Evans recruited on keyboards. Fine players all, doubtless, with impeccable skill sets. But following the cull, they’re also musicians more amenable to interpreting Ian’s ideas. A less conflict-prone restructuring, less inclined to pull troublesomely towards alternate poles. With long-standing associations going back to the Blades – for this line-up is a virtual replication of Ian’s first group in his native Blackpool, the ‘Golden Mile’ and the ‘candyfloss-sales man’ that he gets all reminiscent about in “Up The ‘Pool”. And it works.

Uncomplicated by internal opposition, the ‘Aqualung’ sleeve-art caricatures the album-themed rough-sleeper in ‘Uncle Nasty’ tatty-overcoat – a vivid blow-up of Anderson’s ratty stage-persona. While the pervy ‘sitting on the park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent… watching as the frilly panties run’ is feral in pace, even given its killer metal riff. Ian’s cup of bile runneth over in its cracked North Country voice. It’s what he’d later describe as ‘a singer of these ageless times, with kitchen prose and gutter rhymes’. But “Locomotive Breath” gets you ‘by the balls’, accelerated by the shuffling madness of Barre’s choppily-chugging guitar work, using the runaway steam-train as metaphor for life hurtling you towards death. Part of the album’s second side reserved largely for pointed attacks at religion, with the Pope coming in for some verbal kicking along with those gods you ‘wind up on Sunday’, or whose names are reserved as a final refuge in death. It’s an LP astutely art-targeted at the sniggery prurient puerile adolescent male. All those sixth-formers who cleave to the hard poetry of ‘snot running down his nose’, who carry the album conspicuously to establish that elitist clear blue division that stands them above and apart from the trashy glam-glitter stomp of the latest ‘Top Of The Pops’ singles from T Rex or Slade. With the distinction between concept album and ironic comment on concept albums getting lost somewhere in translation.

The rich wine-red ‘Living In The Past’ double-LP sleeve also shows just Ian in characteristic one-legged troubadour pose. Yet its pick ‘n’ mix compilation format draws in their run of clever boisterous exuberant singles, each of which serves its purpose in shoving Jethro Tull across the awareness threshold, while retaining their integrity. “Sweet Dream” (no.7, 1 November 1969) with dense horns and David Palmer’s orchestration, but still space for a blistering guitar break. The intriguing “The Witch’s Promise” which reaches no.4 (24 January 1970). And the charting EP “Life’s A Long Song” (no.11 in September 1971) about the brevity of an existence that ‘ends too soon for us all’, with keyboard and tasteful acoustic guitar-duetting between Anderson and Barre. It opens ‘when you’re falling awake’. You don’t ‘fall awake’, you ‘fall asleep’. It’s wordplay like Procol Harum’s ‘all hands on deck we’ve run afloat’ on their “A Salty Dog”. Ships don’t ‘run afloat’, they ‘run aground’. It’s creatively poetic use of language above and beyond gratuitous snot and glimpsed panties. The track promises ‘don’t you fret, don’t you fear. I will give you good cheer’, and it delivers on its promise.

‘Thick As A Brick’ (March 1972) with a sleeve that opens up into a twelve-page spoof-newspaper, is a single 43:46-minute track, supposedly penned by schoolboy ‘Gerald Bostock’. ‘I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think’ pens the fictional Bostock, ‘ I’ve come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.’ And ‘A Passion Play’ (July 1973) is also a single track broken into ‘Acts’ – pretentious? Moi? To Allan Jones it resembles ‘a naïve adventure that sounds like the results of Roy Harper jamming with the Nice on lyrics by Tristan Tzara’ (in ‘Melody Maker’, 5 February 1977). Much-derided by critics it leaves you crying out for the one concise single-length accessible track. Delivered finally on ‘War Child’ (October 1974) with US no.12 hit “Bungle In The Jungle”, a luminously brilliant record by anyone’s standard, one that rediscovers the playful frivolity and fun of the single after all the preceding dour intricacy. Against a slithery snuffling background of rainforest noises he anthropomorphically warms ‘I’m a tiger when I want, love, I’m a snake if we disagree’. Well, maybe. But soon it would no longer matter. All those Prog-Rock sixth-formers would start slashing their hair spiky-short in response to Punk and furiously denying they’d ever listened to Yes, ELP… or Jethro Tull, like never, ever. While the realignment shunts Tull off into a new Folk-Rock parallel dimension where trend no longer matters. Their audience-future predictably assured.

But that still waits beyond tomorrow and tomorrow. For now Jethro Tull is a strange conundrum of a band of contrasting personalities. A jazz-rock combo. A sell-out chart band. A seven-legged Blues group with a manic edge. Things end in radiant meltdown, releasing the audience rabble across the chilly sprawl of City Square into the drabber, duller world of everyday reality.

Friday, 25 January 2013


CD review of:
(Shakedown Records SHAKEBX126Z-UK)

Tales of Ian Anderson’s control-freakery are probably apocryphal. About how, after Jethro Tull’s first incredible year he deliberately eased out equally strong-willed band-members to replace them with musicians more pliable to his will. So leading Tull off into hugely successful, but less interesting concept albums such as ‘Aqualung’ (1971) and ‘Thick As A Brick’ (1972). Now Mick Abrahams convincingly re-writes that history in his favour by re-recording the entire first Tull album – ‘This Was’ (1968) as a solo project, so emphasising the importance of his own not-inconsiderable input. And it’s a stunning reminder of just how innovative that album was. At a time when preconceptions had been blasted beyond the commercial stratosphere, and all was up for grabs with no obvious signposts, the Tull were playing to the max they were capable of, from the gut until the speakers vibrate. An ambitious jazz-Blues concoction unlike anything else before, or since. Cut it, it bleeds.

Here, from “My Sunday Feeling” with Mike Summerland’s walking bass and Steve Dundon’s scat-vocals, into the slow Blues “It’s Breaking Me Up” with Abraham’s excoriating extended soloing, and “Song For Jeffrey” on which I can hear the lyrics for the first time, Dundon excels at that most difficult task of convincingly replicating Anderson’s vocal while retaining his own interpretive skills. Highlights include the breathy swing of Roland Kirk’s jazz-paced instrumental “Serenade For A Cuckoo” and an outstanding 10:54min version of Dr Ross’ “Cat’s Squirrel” (via Cream), moving through tight-fingering sequences back to that jaggedly era-defining riff. The Anderson/Clive Bunker “Dharma For One” persists nicely to 5:15mins whereas Tull’s own re-creation goes to twice that on their live-at-Carnegie-Hall side of the ‘Living In The Past’ (1972) double-vinyl set (and longer still when I caught them doing it at Hull ‘City Hall’). Then there’s Abrahams’ prominent slide on his own “Move On Alone” and his writing-collaboration with Ian Anderson for “Beggars Farm”.

As such tracks indicate, that original line-up was a vibrantly creative contradiction, which hung together for a bare twelve months. Mick was already gone – temporarily replaced by Tony Iommi, by the time they did the ‘Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’ at the end of 1968. By then Blodwyn Pig had taken Mick into another career-phase. There’s a second CD in this elaborately-dressed package sampling new impressions of those subsequent incarnations (as well as a DVD interview explaining the project). He even reassembles his original Luton-based McGregor’s Engine (Andy Pyle on bass, Clive Bunker drums) – the template for Tull during its living guitar-to-mouth years, with “Let Me Love You Baby”, then Pig’s first slide-illuminated single (“Dear Jill”) plus highlights from ‘Ahead Rings Out’ (August 1969) and ‘Getting To This’ (August 1970), which precede Mick’s first exit from Pig. Supposedly fired from his own band! But there’s much more too, including piano sax boogie Blues (“Road Roller”), brawling Brit-Blues just aching for a showcase on Paul Jones’ Radio 2 R&B Show, old Alexis Korner (“I Wonder Who”), jaunty neat-picking rag, dust-bowl lament – “How Can A Poor Man” which compares well with Michael Chapman’s recently released version, plus three tracks revisiting the Pig’s 1994 re-union album ‘Lies’. Although it’s tempting to say that neither Anderson, nor Abrahams were ever to be as powerful apart as they had been – briefly, together.

Published in: ‘SONGBOOK no.6 (Winter)’
(UK – March 2005)



(1955, Ward Lock & Co Ltd,
then 1963 ‘Digit’ paperback from
Brown, Watson Limited, London – 2/6d)

My name is Karsh. I am an ordinary man…

Diligent archaeologists grub about in the dust and relics of ancient empires, striving to explain the story of their decline and fall. Such as Howard Carter’s tomb-busting in Pharonic-Egypt which so caught the public imagination, or those piecing together the lost histories of Chichen Itza, Mycenae or Mesopotamia. Opportunistic Science Fiction writers fastened upon that evocative melancholia and took its mood to other worlds, excavating extinct Martian cities already abandoned before the time of the dinosaurs. Or else they project it into the far future of terrestrial civilisation itself. ‘AI’ – the 2001 Steven Spielberg movie based on the Brian Aldiss story, envisages alien-like Mecha investigating the submerged glacial remains of Manhattan. But Spielberg’s was far from the first team to use the future-history scenario. Richard Savage was there, with his 1955 novel ‘When The Moon Died’. Here, aliens from ‘Universe Five’ seek the remains of human cities that lie frozen beneath the ice that sheaths the dead planet once called Earth. By chance they happen upon a functioning tape-recording made by ‘Karsh’, through which the long-deceased narrator answers some of their questions.

Critically ignored as a junk-lit genre throwaway even at the time of first release, the novel was neglected and is now all but forgotten. ‘Richard Savage’ was the pseudonym used by London-born writer Ivan Roe (12 November 1917 to 1976), through which he embarked on this single SF venture subtitled ‘A Modern Novel Of Science And Imagination’, in which the destruction of the Moon prevents a nuclear war and inaugurates a new era of scientific peace. Under the same alias he also wrote crime thrillers and mainstream novels, including ‘Murder Goes To School’ (1946), ‘The Horrible Hat’ (1949) featuring his Dr Ferenc series-character, a psychoanalyst-detective who investigates strange manifestations, ‘Set Free Barabbas’ (aka ‘The Green Tree And The Dry’) (1950), the story of revolutionary Daniele Maroc on an unnamed Mediterranean island, and ‘The Salamander Touch’ (1952), telling of the unexpected consequences that result when an atomic scientist disappears.

The Digit paperback proclaims ‘When The Moon Died’ as ‘One Of The Most Startling Novels Of All Time…’ which is maybe pitching it a little high. But it’s certainly an intriguing curio. I came across this paperback edition while rummaging in a second-hand bookshop during my late teens, drawn by its garish cover showing a pall of black smoke hanging over a devastated red landscape dominated by the approaching Moon, and was sufficiently impressed to hang onto it across the intervening years, to rediscover it now. The opening italicised framing-section sets the scene as the aliens look out ‘across the grey deserts and ice-caps of the useless Earth’ and conjecture about the confusingly racially-diverse species who once occupied this ‘sad, abandoned sphere’.

In Simon Wells’ poor movie-remake of HG Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ (2002), the accidental destruction of the Moon by lunar colonists renders the Earth temporarily uninhabitable. But, typically – there were other yet-earlier precedents, at least in RC Sherriff’s ‘The Hopkins Manuscript’ (aka ‘The Cataclysm’) (1939), which might well have provided the template for the pseudonymous Richard Savage. Here, Abyssinian archaeologists a thousand years into the future discover a document supposedly written in 1944 by retired schoolmaster ‘Edgar Hopkins’ of rural Hampshire, relating how Hopkins’ Lunar society detects that the Moon is due to collide with Earth. Although intended as political satire, the dramatic build-up to the catastrophe is not without tension, the vision of devastating hurricanes and tsunamis created as the Moon conveniently falls into the Atlantic, and – as fortunately it turns out to be largely hollow, it forms new lands for disputed mineral resources, colonial expansion, and the terminal nationalistic conflicts that follow. Revised and reissued as a Pan paperback in 1958, then later by Persephone Books in 2005 with a new preface by Michael Moorcock, there are claims that its sober post-apocalypse description of a devastated England exerted an influence on John Wyndham and Brian Aldiss.

Yet the vivid spectacle of the Moon’s destruction is located at the halfway point of the Richard Savage novel. Not as the build-up climax, more the hinge on which the narrative operates. It happens during the final years of the 1990’s, overlapping into the start of the twenty-first century. Half-a-century into Savage’s future, but already receding further into our past. And it’s not years that we’d recognise. If Savage intended it as a conjectural future, it now appears a parallel universe, an alternate time-stream. Instead of our grappling with the lethal resurgence of stultifying medieval fundamentalism, the time he envisages is dominated by still-escalating Cold War tensions. Then, as the year 2000 approaches, a secret cabal of scientists band together and step in to halt the superpower mutually-assured-destruction, demonstrating their power by using an ‘N’-bomb to destroy the Moon, then emerging after the ‘ten days of terror’ as the Moon dies, to assume global control and establish the Interim Rule. What is left of the Moon forms an arc of luminous fragments subsequent generations call the ‘supernova’.

For his protagonists, the real future-action is located thousands of years later, with people living in an enlightened World Technocracy, a scientific dictatorship administered through eight semi-autonomous regional committees. Back when I first read it, Savage’s vision of cities seemed a viable future scenario to me. The region formerly known as France consists of a series of 1,500 sky-scraping cities, each with a five-million population, yet separated by bush and wild forest-land, connected only by air-freight. It’s a curiously engaging image. Paris is the Quiet City of Glass where Karsh’s usual workday as a ‘humble electronics Tech’ at the Media Video Communications-Propaganda System lasts no longer than four-hours. But there’s a price to pay for living in this sustainable new-build utopia, which only gradually becomes apparent. For Karsh there’s an enforced forgetting of the barbaric warlike past. ‘A perfect state, a utopia, has no history. It is unchangeable.’ Nostalgia, the ‘sickness of the past’ is a treatable condition that can be controlled by pills, ‘we had pills for everything’. Yet Karsh experiences strange yearnings for the past.

His formless unease is given substance when he meets up with former-colleague Drew, a discontent who has illegally produced a new element, a red crystal called Xonos. There’s an evocative early passage in which Karsh relates light to time, that by simply gazing up into the night sky he is peering into the distant past, that the starlight he sees is already thousands of years old, the ghosts of stars that may already be dead. Xonos takes that idea further. It enables visual access to the past, at first alarmingly so when it accidentally conjures a vision of a French Revolution execution by tapping into the cameras during a Videocon broadcast. Deciphering its principles – that light leaves its retrievable residue on old buildings, Karsh secretly constructs his own monitor as a ‘dangerous telescope’ into the past, not always understanding what he sees. When he eavesdrops on the destruction of the Moon, and the ‘monstrous birth’ of his own era which grew from it, he believes the lost satellite to be fictitious, the product of collective hysteria. After all, the stable unchanging Earth has no Moon! Surely, it has never had a Moon? But, as a ‘man who had leaped the barriers of time’, the more he sees, the more he understands the limitations of his own society.

Stalked by sinister investigating Inspector Blok, he’s informed that Drew died in ‘Psycho-Refuge 87’. And travels to neglected London intent on uncovering the truth, to find the city a dilapidated European backwater gradually being reabsorbed into the encroaching bush-lands of Middlesex and the forests of Essex. Somewhere beyond its sad decay, possibly Oxford, he uses his device to observe the more recent past. Drew had not died. He was drowned by two thuggish Refuge warders. All the while Karsh uses his ‘peepshow that troubled my mind and heart’ to learn more, like a diligent archaeologist grubbing about in the dust and relics of past times striving to understand its unfolding story. Like the aliens of ‘Universe Five’ listening to his preserved tape-narrative. Level upon level of glimpses into future-histories.

With co-conspirator and ally Landers, a London-based Datum Clerk, and his own mute servant Cooper he taps into, and records, a Zone Committee meeting, coming to realise how seventy-two men control the world through their seats on these regional committees, eliminating risk and innovation, maintaining conformity through a kind of eugenics that entombs excess population in a state of suspended animation, to be reactivated or retired as required. And they conspire to return change to their world by disseminating film-copies through the network of Cooper’s marginalised servant-class menial-workers. ‘Our aim was not a modest one. We proposed to start a world revolution.’ Meanwhile, he watches, so fascinated by and more than a little in love with Donna, a poet who has been interred as a social misfit, that he travels to Zone 6 in the American Arctic Circle, bluffs his way past the custodian of the ‘Chamber of Rest’, revives and rescues her.

Although biographical details are scarce, it’s apparent that Ivan Roe had a spread of abilities. It’s as though he uses the ‘Richard Savage’ alias to keep his more serious Lit-crit work unsullied by association. For his other listed titles include ‘Breath Of Corruption: An Interpretation Of Dostoievsky’ (1946), ‘Style Of Your Own: A Commonsense Guide To Clear English’ (March 1972) and the literary biography ‘Shelley: The Last Phase’ (1973). And such ambitions are not entirely absent from ‘When The Moon Died’. The extinguishing of the Moon becomes a metaphor that represents the end of poetry, of dreams, moonbeams, moondance, moonlight and moonshine. But illogic has its uses. As Karsh and his friends realise.

Before their proposed revolution can begin there’s betrayal, capture and brutal interrogation. In some of Savage’s best, most reflective writing the trio – Karsh, Cooper, and ‘fortieth-century girl’ Donna are forced to flee into the wilderness beyond the Great Lakes where they find refuge in the ‘friendly tower’ of a reclusive lighthouse couple. From their far isolation they watch the global insurrection they’ve seeded begin, enabling the ruthless Blok’s counter-insurgency coup. With the world realigning into two east-west powerblocks Karsh activates his final gamble, releasing the rest of the frozen prisoners from the Chambers of Rest to form a new White Army, ‘the past itself had awakened and the technocrats had fallen’. How will the conflict be resolved? There’s no final chapter. The tape has ended. The men of Universe Five speculate as they look around the dead planet. Is this frigid desolation the result of humanity’s last war? Savage lets the question hang.

There’s some wildly overheated and scientifically absurd purple-prose, ‘had they in their fury splintered the Earth? Had they sent it reeling like the Moon in its orbit, till it broke away and went spinning, white hot, to the farthest and coldest fields of its own galaxy, there to burn, a bright star, through the aeons, then gradually cool and condense, its outer skin cracking and sloughing, till now it moved slowly, the sluggard planet, forever beyond the warmth of the sun that had given it life in the beginning? Had men done this to their home, or was the banishment the result of some cosmic caprice, or the eternal flight of the whole universe from its central star, the yellow one?’ Wow! For me, caught up in Cold War uncertainties that threatened their own global annihilation, there seemed a kind of poetic profundity at work here amid these vast cosmic questions. And it still exerts a certain undeniable power.

So is it a good novel? A lost classic awaiting rediscovery? No, obviously not in any objective way. Even by the admittedly shoddy standards of much genre fiction of its time. Names are single-word blunt, Karsh, Blok, Donna, Drew. Conversations are sparse and used largely for the exchange of information. Characterisation is razored so slight as to be negligible. And he portrays a strangely retro future in which they still smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use a typewriter. The plot zigzags alarmingly with little sense of logical development or pacing. It’s difficult to see how such a fiction would even achieve print or ebook status in today’s focus-group publication environment. Yet it has a compulsive readability absent from more conventionally-structured formula-fiction. Noel Coward once mused about ‘extraordinary how potent cheap music is’. The same can be said for overlooked genre fiction. As Richard Savage proves, illogic has its uses, and attractions.

Books by ‘Richard Savage’:
‘Murder Goes To School’ (Jarrolds, 1946)
‘Murder For Fun’ (Jarrolds, 1947)
‘The Horrible Hat’ (Jarrolds, 1948)
‘The Poison And The Root’ (Jarrolds, 1950)
‘Set Free Barabbas (aka ‘The Green Tree And The Dry’)’ (1950, Harper)
‘The Salamander Touch’ (1952, Hutchinson)
‘When The Moon Died’ (Ward Lock, 1955, Digit Paperback, 1963)
‘The Lightning’s Eye’ (Museum Press, 1957)
‘Stranger’s Meeting’ (Museum, 1957)
‘The Innocents’ (Museum, 1958)

Books as Ivan Roe:
‘Breath Of Corruption: An Interpretation Of Dostoievsky’ (1946, Hutchinson & Co, Kennikat Press), ‘Style Of Your Own: A Commonsense Guide To Clear English’ (March 1972, David & Charles) ‘Shelley: The Last Phase’ Literary biography (1973, Cooper Square Publications).