Monday, 10 August 2009

Rena Vale, Taurus Four (1970)


Go, on: click for a larger view. And isn't it simply the most splendid, gayest SF paperback cover you ever clapped eyes upon? To see it (in a charity shop) was to fall in love with it (in a charity shop). And was also to start wondering: do they do those outfits in TXMaxx? Not just his fine strap-based onepiece; I also want-me one of those umbrellas under which he is sheltering his lady from the elements. After all ... that sky ... those clouds: I wouldn't start a cricket match under that sort of cloud cover and expect to finish it. Although I think it would be fun if professional cricketers were compelled to play dressed like that.

It is, in fact, an interesting, though not a good, novel. Partly this is because it looks like it was assembled as a bet: '... I'll wager you'll not write an SF novel that combines sociologists, an intelligent race of bear-creatures and the descendents of a lost 20th century Hippy Colony.' 'You're on! My only proviso: that I be allowed to describe them as "hippie" instead of "hippy"' 'Agreed: but you must make your tag line: A MAN MUST CHOSE BETWEEN BEING A SOCIOLOGIST, OR A HERO!'


But really what's most interesting about this novel is the logic of its representation of hippy culture. It articulates a peculiar mixture of hostile demonisation and barely-contained salacious sexualised desire for hippydom. So on the one hand, these hippies are savages, great hairy loons living naked like beasts and indulging in violent human sacrifice like some outpost of the Manson family. On the other, there's Thora, for whom the protagonist falls, whose 'small oval face was a flower, blushing the rose pink of her out-thrust nipples' and who 'turned and ran, rounded buttocks dimpling and pink heels twinkling' [42-43]. The sociologist-hero-protagonist resists his urges, although those urges are described in lubricious detail ('not until she stood before him in pale, unsoiled loveliness had he realised how much he yearned for this woman'); and ultimately he saves the girl from a fate worse than hippy. Indeed, the lengths the book goes to reconcile its desire for hippy free-love with reactionary notions of right behaviour twist it into fascinating contortions. It's not just that Dorian gets properly married to Thora at the end before there's any hankypanky, although he does; it's that (for instance) despite growing up on an alien world and never knowing clothing Thora has a natural talent for doing the laundry: '"I wash now. I think I do more better than you." He laughed. "It's instinctive I guess -- something carried in the genes that makes women want to wash clothes!"' [108]

There's a deal of very clumsy ideological coding of the human struggle against the intelligent bear-like-aliens ('Did the strong and virile men of the American old West ever doubt the rightness of pushing westward to the Pacific Ocean? ... history recorded the deeds of the strong, not of weaklings who fell by the wayside' 123) which isn't very nice. But I liked the confusion about how the hippies ended up on this alien planet in the first place. The backstory: humans fought a long war with lizard-like aliens called Saurians.
At the beginning of the Space war when the green saurians from the Cygnus chain had sent explorers to Earth to prepare to take it over, there had been some kidnappings. Several groups of people of a drug culture who had gotten reality confused with their drug dreams had not been frightened when green men in lizard skins walked among them. [54]
Those crazy hippies! But wait...
Some tried to raise an alarm, but they could get little attention. The communications media was distrustful of their ofttimes drug-inspired statements.
So, is it that the hippies were to blame because their drugs made them the only humans not to be so scared of the scary lizard aliens that they ran off? Or because their drugs meant that when they told they world they were scared nobody listened? At any rate: 'no warning was sounded until the Cygnians took some French radicals.' The moral is clear: grab all the hippies you like but leave the Althusserians alone.

2 comments:

tad said...

Marvelous! This is what the field needs -- more reviews of off-the-wall SF "classics" like this 1. Seriously. I otta B prowling my local used bookstores more often. Have U read Mary Staton's FROM THE LEGEND OF BIEL? Another "intresting but not really good" book w/ a striking cover. Or Edmund Cooper's SEED OF LIGHT? More like an in-depth outline than an actual novel, but w/ some great IDEAS....
Thanx 4 the Xcellent review. I persist in my Blief that there's a TON of overlooked stuff like this out there that's slipped thru the cracks over the yrs & Dserves 2 B dug out 4 another look.... -- TAD.

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