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. Continue reading


Recently Paul Fraser of the SF Magazines blog commented on my review of Keith Roberts Pavane. Since I’m busy working on a long series of posts that I won’t put out until they are all done, it seemed like the time for . . .

Raw Feed (1987): Kiteworld, Keith Roberts, 1985.

Cover by Jill Bauman

A strangely compelling story, slow moving at first but rapidly paced after the “Kitecaptain” section.

It’s a combination of medieval-like religion in the Variant Church, seemingly Taoism in the Middle Doctrine, and Victorian-type tech (early autos, kites, and steam tractors). I would have liked to have seen more explanation of the religions.

Roberts managed to pull off shifting viewpoints and central characters

Still, the ending was disappointing.

While saving all the major woman characters of the novel (Kerosina’s human corruption in need of salvation via loving understanding, Tan equaling Innocence, Velvet equaling Beauty) may have been a philosophical statement, it seemed more like contrivance to avoid Aldiss “decent sense of despair” than a believable outcome.

I did like the post-apocalypse litanies concerning cruise missiles and ICBMs. More on the mutants in the Badlands would have been nice. Continue reading

What If?

The alternate history continues with a collection of essays from various historians and popular writers, a modern sequel of sorts to If It Had Happened Otherwise.

There was a follow up volume I have not read.

Raw Feed (2004): What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, ed. Robert Cowley, 2000.what-if

“Introduction”, Robert Cowley — A cursory look at the current state of academic “counterfactual” writing, teasers for the essays in the collection, and a brief discussion of their genesis in the special tenth anniversary edition of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Infectious Alternatives: The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.”, William H. McNeill — Not surprisingly McNeill, the historian who really first put forth the idea that disease epidemics affected many events in history, chooses a plague as his turning point. We don’t really know why the Assyrian king Sennacherib abandoned his investment of Jerusalem. We know his army suffered severe losses, and it is probable that it was due to disease. McNeill briefly sketches, in cultural and religious terms, the consequences of the Assyrians taking Jerusalem and, thereby, killing Judaism as a cultural force for good. (It really isn’t that much of a stretch. The splinter kingdom of Israel had abandoned Judaism and disappeared in 722 B.C. Several cities in Judah were taken, and the King of Judea ended up paying tribute to the Assyrians.) McNeill sees the main effect of Jerusalem being taken is that the Jewish faith looses further confidence. The unique universal monotheism of Judaism is weakened. When the Jews are taken off in the Babylonian captivity, they become just another locally centered, ethnically based faith and exert no influence on the following centuries.

A Good Night’s Sleep Can Do Wonders“, Barbara N. Porter — A very brief alternate history that imagines the possible consequences (actually, it spends most of its time recounting the historical record and not imagining alternative outcomes) of the Lydian King Gyges not getting a good night’s sleep and impatiently attacking the Cimmerians before he was ready. The Lydians don’t form an alliance with Assyria and, years later, nascent Greek culture is overwhelmed by the expanding Cimmerians. Continue reading