The Furies

Another Keith Roberts post while I work on new stuff.

Raw Feed (2004): The Furies, Keith Roberts, 1966.

Cover by Paul Lehr.

A merely ok disaster novel.

I mostly got the feeling that, with the invasion of the aliens who take the form of giant wasps, I was reading some obscure (a quality that often shows up in regard to Roberts) metaphor about industrialism.

I note also that a pastoral England, a theme of the two other Roberts novels I’ve read, Pavane and Kiteworld, shows up here, in his first work.

I don’t think it really worked to combine two disasters: huge earthquakes as the result of nuclear weapons testing (though I never got the feeling Roberts was doing a critique of nuclear testing — it mostly just seemed a convenient device) and an alien invasion. Nor did Roberts ever really deal much with depicting (apart from a good scene where a man is murdered when he tries to stop an escape from the wasp camp) the drama of social breakdown a la John Christopher.

I thought the part with the guerilla war against the wasps went on too long.

While I did like that the narrator Bill Sampson was never reunited with Jane Felicity Beddoes-Smythe (indeed her fate is unresolved), I felt that his taking up with guilt-stricken Cockney girl Pete was trying to impart some life lesson to us which I didn’t really get. (I note that the almost outright statements of sexual interest, eventually, of Sampson towards sixteen year old Felicity may raise more eyebrows now than in 1966 though it’s perfectly normal — and historically common — that a vivacious sixteen year old would sexually attract an adult man.)

I sensed that Roberts heart really wasn’t in this book though it was his first. Or, perhaps, he was just floundering and discovering his style since his later books are much different in subject and style.


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11 thoughts on “The Furies

  1. Joachim Boaz June 20, 2019 / 10:05 am

    Absolutely top notch cover….

    A Roberts novel I’ve avoided though — however, the idea that the wasps are a metaphor about creeping industrialism, well, that intrigues. Roberts’ was one of the few conservative New Wave authors, I wonder if the wasps (and again, I haven’t read the novel) might also stand in for Communism or collectivism.

    • marzaat June 20, 2019 / 2:33 pm

      I like that cover too. I couldn’t find an artist credit on ISFDB for it.

      I don’t know too much about Roberts’ politics, but it doesn’t surprise me he was a conservative.

      I remember reading an obituary for him, I think it was from Michael Moorcock, about what a difficult person he was. Roberts reminded me of a late friend of mine in that regard.

      • Joachim Boaz June 21, 2019 / 11:06 am

        The artist is credited: Paul Lehr

        He’s of the British conservative Protestant (and thus super anti-Catholic — which is clear from all of his repressive pseudo-medieval depictions of Catholicism) political mindset.

  2. Paul Fraser June 22, 2019 / 3:13 am

    I never got the impression that Roberts is “super anti-Catholic”—I never even knew he was a Protestant, or practiced any religion. The only book of his I can remember where Catholicism is mentioned is Pavane, most noticeably in “Brother John” which extrapolates the inquisition into the modern day in that repressed world.
    In fact I can hardly remember religion being mentioned much at all in his work. I can’t remember anything of that nature mentioned in his autobiographical Lemady.
    If anything, I’d have characterised Roberts as reactionary—he didn’t like change, losing what he saw as good about the past or present, and that is certainly a recurring theme in his work.

  3. Paul Fraser June 22, 2019 / 3:26 am

    BTW This is part of something from Roberts I just posted on a FB group:

    “The first draft of my first real novel was written on the corner of a drawing board while working a month’s notice. I called it The Furies. It rather summed up my mood. I was already in touch with Ted Carnell of course; he’d been snapping up my shorter work for his New Writings series. Once the process started, my slushpile dwindled with alarming speed. Later New Writings dropped from quarterly to six monthly; finally, it became an annual. There didn’t seem much future there; and Ted wanted a novel. I refused. A first draft is one thing; but I could see myself splashing about for another year at least before the thing became even faintly readable. And a hundred quid for twelve months’ work didn’t seem to me a proper game of soldiers. ‘I’ll get you more than than,’ said Ted enthusiastically. He did too. A hundred and twenty.’

    • Joachim Boaz June 22, 2019 / 9:12 am

      It’s not just Pavane. Check out MarzArt’s review of Kiteworld. In the meantime, here’s a summary: “The Realm of Kiteworld has survived nuclear catastrophe and is governed by a feudal and militant religious oligarchy – the Church Variant.”

      Again, a repressive/pseudo-medieval Catholic Church…..

      • Joachim Boaz June 22, 2019 / 9:18 am

        I also want to emphasize that I am a huge fan of Roberts. As for the protestant comment, I read it somewhere (perhaps more than a year ago when I was prepping a review of Pavane which I never completed)… trying to track it down.

      • Joachim Boaz June 22, 2019 / 9:21 am

        I would also suggest that anti-Catholicism stance via pseudo-medieval future worlds containing many of the oppressive elements of Catholicism (whether real or imagined) is VERY common in British SF of the time — Kingsley Amis’ The Alteration, Pavane, and Cowper’s The Road to Corlay, etc.

  4. Paul Fraser June 22, 2019 / 6:10 pm

    There is a difference between using an unflattering version of the Catholic church in a story and being “anti-Catholic”. The description of the Catholic Church in Pavane could be seen as “anti-Catholic” or “accurate”, depending on your viewpoint. It could also be seen as “salvational,” given that their rule enabled that world to bypass many of the 20th Century’s worst atrocities.
    I don’t accept your theory that Amis, Cowper and Roberts were peddling some anti-Catholic line because they used less than flattering portrayals of the Catholic Church, or a thinly veiled analogs of what may have been the Catholic church. Why would they? Amis wasn’t a member of any organised religion–why would he have an axe to grind?
    I also think its pretty poor form equating Roberts being a “Conservative” and a “Protestant” (whatever those broad brush descriptions are supposed to mean) with being a “super anti-Catholic”, or as it is more commonly described, “a religious bigot”. If those tags and the fact that he has used repressive medieval churches in two of his novels is all the evidence you’ve got for that assertion, it’s just as well you are not in the UK, and he’s dead, or you’d probably have ended up in court for defamation of character.
    (Oh, and for what its worth, “Protestant” is a virtually meaningless term in the UK, as it covers everybody from Anglicans (who can transfer to the Catholic church with relative ease) to Vatican-hating Protestants in Northern Ireland. It was also the default condition on birth for most previous generations, even though their only contact with the church may subsequently have been when they were christened, when they were married, and when they died.)

    • Joachim Boaz June 23, 2019 / 7:50 am

      Roberts described himself as a “conservative anti-Communist” (wikipedia has a citation)!

      As for his views on organized religion, I can absolutely suggest, as someone who analyzes literature, that numerous future + alternate worlds presented at this time are anti-established religion, and more specifically, characterized by critiques of Catholicism. And in Pavane’s case, it’s a very strong critique Paul! He’s essentially say, that if the Reformation didn’t happen the UK would be plunged into a repressive pseudo-medieval society. That’s anti-Catholicism…. how else do you cut it?

      But really, Paul, you have no clue how to have a constructive discussion — resorting to accusations of deformation based on analyzing literature… good god.

      • Joachim Boaz June 23, 2019 / 7:51 am

        He is saying that the church is anti-education, anti-technology, anti-progress….

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