Skip to main content

Wolfbane (SF) - Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth ****

Every now and then I like to re-read an SF classic, and there are rarely safer hands to be in than those of Pohl and Kornbluth. I was surprised as I got into it that I couldn't remember a thing about this book - I suspect it's because despite featuring a number of 'adventure' scenes, it is so cerebral. And that is a limitation - but its one that reflects a daring and impressive piece of writing.

Wolfbane starts with what seems to be a fairly straightforward 'rebel in a straight laced society of the future' storyline, with the 'What's in it for me?' main character Glenn Tropile getting in trouble in a society where everything is buttressed by ritual and formality - but that's just the beginning. We get an Earth that has been ripped away from the solar system, just about kept alive by the Moon, recreated as a sunlet every few years. And we have some of the most enigmatic and alien aliens I've come across, pyramids that rarely move and that harvest people to use as components in their technology.

There is drama here, when Tropile is threatened with death by having his spinal fluid drunk - and when the main characters are taken to the aliens' base and attempt to win back control of their world and lives - yet even that battle for survival has a strangely detached character, in part because, by now, some of those people have ceased to be truly human.

So don't pick this book up if you want a page turner or beautifully crafted characterisation, but as a science fiction novel of ideas, despite its inevitably dated feel - the original version dates back to 1959 - it is up there with the best. Writer and SF enthusiast Edmund Crispin comments on the back that it combines 'Pohl's sensibility and Kornbluth's ruthlessness' - I'd say that Kornbluth had the upper hand if that's the case, as this one of the purest and most ruthless pieces of science fiction writing I've ever encountered.

Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Adam Roberts - Four Way Interview

Adam Roberts is commonly described as one of the UK's most important writers of SF. He is the author of numerous novels and literary parodies. He is Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, London University, and has written a number of critical works on both SF and 19th Century poetry. His latest novel is The Real-Town Murders.

Why science fiction?

Because it's the best thing in the world. I work for the University of London, which is to say: in effect, I'm paid to read books (and teach them, and write about them) and that means I read a lot of books; and that means you can believe me when I say that SF/Fantasy, and especially (even though it's not something I write) YA SF/Fantasy, is where all the most exciting writing is happening nowadays. You might wonder why I think so: but that's a whole other question, and you've already used up your four ...

Why this book?

So, I came across an account of one of Alfred Hitchcock's (many) unfinished projec…

The Real-Town Murders (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Of all the contemporary science fiction writers, Adam Roberts can most be relied on to deliver a book that combines an engaging story with extensions of current science and technology that really makes you think - and The Real-Town Murders does this perfectly.

Set in the south east of England, a few decades in the future, this book delivers a trio of delights. The main character, Alma, is faced with constant time pressure as she faces physical and mental challenges (including a lovely homage to North-by-Northwest), there is an apparently impossible locked room mystery and there is fascinating speculation about the impact three technologies - AI, nanotechnology and virtual reality - may have on human life and politics.

Roberts' inventiveness comes through time after time - for example, Alma's partner is locked into a genetically engineered nightmare where she suffers a different medical emergency every four hours which only Alma can fix. It's just a shame, in a way, that Marg…

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…