And, with this, the George Turner series comes to an end.
As what usually happens, I got distracted in completing my Turner reading. I did read Genetic Soldier, but I made no notes on it, and I have no memory of it.
Raw Feed (1993): Beloved Son, George Turner, 1978.
This was, I believe, the first Turner work published in America though, of course, he was well known in his native Australia. It includes most of the themes and features of Turner’s other work I’ve read.
There is the concern with the biological sciences and their awesome power. Here that is manifested in that popular late seventies’ sf topic – the clone – and successive genetic manipulations to create types of supermen. Some clone lines are for developing superior reflexes, memory, and engineering ability. Other, seemingly trivial, (but important to the ultimate plot), test the genetic influences on homosexuality. More bizarre variations and experiments in biology include truncated heads (with the brain in the chest). Of course, as is common in the clone sub-genre, the clones are telepathic and (also common) form sort of a non-violent religion around their natural born progenitor and main character, Albert Raft.
There are the related themes of an overpopulated, polluted, secret, nationalistic world starting a global war shortly after leaving for Barnard’s Star. The war features limited nuclear weapon use but is also fought covertly by some unknown (the identity has been lost after the war) power using biologically engineered weapons against various nation’s peoples and agriculture. (An idea that drives the plot of Turner’s The Destiny Makers as politicians debate whether to cull the world’s population using the same technique.)
Turner’s concern with biology also shows up in a scene where Raft chides the others during a discussion on what Earth will be like upon their return. They talk about advances in engineering and non-biological sciences. He scornfully tells them that most of things they are talking about are on the drawing boards already, that the real action will be in biology. This sort of oblique shot at sf (most of the things discussed are sf type technology) is also manifested in Turner’s’ Brain Child where sf writers seem uninterested in real science and technology.
Oddly enough, given Turner’s skill at characterization, the characters are more types here than in his other works. (Turner, in a critical article, has said an sf story’s setting is more than the characters.) [That would be his essay “Science Fiction as Literature” in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.]
It’s also obvious early on that the Lady, who Raft hates pathologically, is his mother. Raft, obsessive in his hate of biology and his mother, murderous when his authority is questioned, a superb physical specimen, is the book’s most interesting character.
Like Turner’s Drowning Towers and, to a lesser extant, The Destiny Makers, this is a dialectical novel. (The dialect in The Destiny Makers is a covert one between viewing life as sacred and the philosophy of the cull.) This is also a future based on murder. The Omsbudsmen, survivors of the Five Days (the war that occurred in 1992 – this novel mainly takes place in 2032), killed many of their fellows who didn’t approve of their new order of Security. (In another explicit attack on some sf, the post-holocaust period after the Five Days is relatively brief and not at all the barbarous, kill-or-be-killed mediaeval period of many – some very good – novels.
Turner presents an equally plausible alternative of survivors who nostalgically remember modern conveniences and are determined to have them again. They have enough organizational and technical skills – as well as stored information – to do just that. The fact that the Five Days is not a total war makes this easier to do though I would argue that modern civilization is more fragile and less easily restored than Turner thinks. They create a state where every group of people in the world can pursue their own cultural and political experiments free from coercion by other states.
Unfortunately, it’s only a temporary state of affairs built on psychological coercion and conditioning, repression of youthful exuberance and play with a high suicide rate by the young, and turning a blind eye to internal repression. (Educational techniques have grown very sophisticated and teenagers can easily get the equivalent of a college education and pursue adult professions very young.)
Most of the returning starfarers meet unpleasant ends upon returning to their very altered countries – America has gone commie, Russia has become a theocracy – especially since those countries think they have valuable secrets from Raft.
Things are ripe for revolution in this world, and that’s just what Raft, his grandson Ian Campion, and policeman and Christian Parker provide. With the help of starfarer and psychologist Lindley – expert in psychological manipulation, they pull the wool over the naïve eyes of this world and, using a sham telepathy (it only occurs in clones.), convince this world, via a new religion (hence the New Testament overtones of the title) to accept the evil in man’s thoughts since such thoughts will surely be bared via new technology and telepathy.
Lindley, though, gets disgusted by the lies of the Revolution. (Even Parker and Campion realize they are becoming the authoritarian types they’re revolting against.) He seems to think civilization can’t be based on honesty, an attitude that forms a major part of Turner’s The Destiny Makers. The book ends with some unusual black humor. Linkley complains bitterly about being exiled into space with some clones when one says, in the novel’s final words, “We’re only doing our best for you. Some people are never satisfied.”
If the three political systems – our world, the Omsbudsmen’s world, and the post-Revolution – depicted in this novel are any indication, Turner seems to cynically (typical for Turner) think no government’s best – no matter their motives – is good enough.
This is the first in Turner’s Ethical Culture trilogy, but I’ve not read any others.
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