The sea round here is at its coldest in March. We dressed warmly for a trip to Flanboro’ Head and were then of course shamed by the locals who turn up throughout the year in tee-shirts, shorts and in one particular case today, a miniskirt, high-heeled boots and an open leather bomber-jacket that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a night-club.
No walk is without its purpose: in this case, collecting seaweed to put on the Asparagus. It loves the trace-elements and, being descended from a seaside plant, doesn’t even mind the salt.
A sea-anemone blossoms beneath the waves in a rock-pool.
The south-facing beach is more expansive – plenty of space for sand graffiti. Just visible on the horizon is Westermost Rough offshore wind farm.
The only downside of a walk on the beach is… the ascent’s at the end of the day, not the start. I expect to be tired in the morning but that’s not the beach’s doing: I had my first Covid-19 jab today – tomorrow I shall likely feel the punch.
An All-American farm-boy is steering a spaceship home to Earth from Mars while daydreaming about his wife – specifically, sex with his wife. As openings to sci-fi novels go, that’s about as clichéd as you can get, guys – but after this, it begins to get interesting.
We meet two hung-over Scotsmen (complete with cans of Irn-Bru) sitting on the computer-hack of the century, their Israeli victim; hot-shot journalist Jill and her errant ‘boyfriend’ Khan; East-coast high-flying geneticist Marcie (and her terrible mistake); Lex the NASA control operative with an alcohol problem, his boss, and a Yorkshireman who wishes he wasn’t in Scotland.
All this before the pivot-point where we get to find out what the comet will do…
The comet – named after the unfortunate operative whose computer was hacked – is due to strike in 2084, three years from the opening scenes. The dreadful truth is revealed – to the reader and a small group of the main characters (“What are we going to need the money for now, anyway?”), right at the mid-point of the action.
Scenes are expertly interwoven as the tension rises: who will break to the unsuspecting billions of planet Earth the secret of what will happen? Can it be avoided? And how will everyone react once the cat’s out of the bag?
I particularly love the well-drawn characters with their complicated lives and motivations – the women’s more so than the men’s, just like in our times! – and the way each scene reveals a new twist even though, as in a classic Greek tragedy, you know what’s going to happen in the end.
The psychological effect upon the few people ‘in the know’ is realistically portrayed. There are touching scenes reminiscent of Neville Chute’s ‘On the Beach’.
There are some clever name-choices, too: An American President with middle name Spengler, and in a Biblical twist two police officers called Adams and Evans.
Strange to say, I found this an optimistic read, but to reveal why would spoil it for you. I highly recommend it to those who like the classic sci-fi/space canon (Azimov, etc) but with a wider, and deeper, variety of characters caught up in the action – and a clever take on our current times.
And our All-American farm-boy? He’s still steering his spaceship home, dreaming the same dream – but this time, it matters.
I’ve given this story 4 stars out of 5 but fully appreciate that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For a start, anyone who subscribes to the idea that ‘show, don’t tell’ makes for a better read needs to run screaming for the exits right now.
The story tells, in almost the same way that the Bible does. Reading it is like reading a parable or a myth, but one recounted by a fascinating unreliable witness – a reflection of the injured mental state of the main character, Boy Blue.
The parallels to our troubled times as looked at from Black people’s point of view are so obvious it’s almost painful. Some people may find this aspect a little laboured, but for others it may be just what’s needed.
The deliberately-imperfect English proves a poignant reflection of the fractured nature of Boy Blue’s thought processes as he struggles to come to terms with the injustice of it all. Like some of the writing of James Joyce it’s not supposed to make sense, at least not in the conventional meaning of the phrase. The author, after all, describes it as an experimental work.
In the turn of events, I’m reminded of elements from ‘The Shock Doctrine’, then ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and to a certain extent ‘A Handmaid’s Tale.’
The aspect that appealed to me the most? We are left to ponder the eventual fate of the island. It’s a Mystery – almost like the entire tale.