Monday, January 25, 2016

Voyage to Arcturus

Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay

It doesn't get much more Vintage SF than this--Lindsay published this weird novel in 1920.  It made a splash at the time; lots of people like Tolkien thought it was great stuff, and it was a large influence on C. S. Lewis, who was inspired to write his Space Trilogy.

Maskull is looking for adventure, and he teams up with two shady characters--Krag and Nightspore--who promise to take him to a different planet.  He ends up alone on Tormance, a planet orbiting the double star of Arcturus.*  He finds that he has grown some new organs on his neck, forehead, and chest, and these change throughout the story.  Maskull travels over Tormance, meeting one or two new people in every area.  Each new land is the expression of a philosophy, such as stoicism or Nietzschean will to power or pacifism.  Maskull disrupts most of these places; despite his intentions to purify himself inspired by the peaceful people he first meets, he kills several people, and others just happen to die.  All the time, Maskull is trying to figure out who made Tormance--really he's trying to find God but there are a few candidates.  Finally, he ascends a tower and sees Reality, which is some sort of Demiurge/Gnostic thing I didn't really get.  It's all very confusing.

Being a spiritual fable in SF form from 1920, it's kind of clunky.  Coherence is not a strong point, and science fiction had not yet developed much at all.  I suspect that it made such an impression because it was so strange, and because it was a new kind of thing.  (Or not; really, it's Pilgrim's Progress for the modernist.)  It's an important book if you're interested in the development of SF as a genre, much like reading Lord Dunsany and The Worm Ouroboros is important if you're interested in the development of the fantasy genre.  But it is not at all suited to modern tastes.

*Arcturus is not, in fact, a double star.  But in this story it is.


Lory said...

Oh my goodness, this was such a weird book. Definitely reads like a drug trip. It was interesting to compare to CS Lewis's space trilogy, though.

Nancy Leek said...

Note to self: Never go anywhere with a couple of guys named Krag and Nightspore.