Visionary edited by Terence J. Henley (book review).

January 29, 2015 | By | Reply More

As its members know well, the British Interplanetary Society was founded in 1939 and one of its founder-members was Arthur C. Clarke, who, by the 1950s, was equally well-known as a Science Fiction author. I became a member of the BIS in 1952 at the age of 16 (making me one of its ‘oldest’ members or actually Fellows!) and my interest in space travel was sparked by books like his ‘Interplanetary Flight’, ‘The Exploration Of Space’ and ‘The Sands Of Mars’. It is therefore perhaps a little surprising that this is the Society’s first foray into publishing Science Fiction, but that is the case. 11 members of the BIS have between them produced 13 short stories, a selection of poetry and two novelettes, all included here in one volume. The ‘Visionary’ project was instigated in 2011 by its editor, Terence (Terry) Henley, together with Kelvin Long, who also contributes three stories, while Henley has two. It is enhanced by a cover by musician and artist Alex Storer.

VisionaryBIS

So what do we have here? It commences with a ‘Foreword’ by Richard Hayes which explains how the BIS has always provided an ‘impetus to the imagination’. It is equally true that SF writers (note that within the genre, the term ‘sci-fi’ is relegated to the media such as ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Dr Who’ and never used for literary fiction) have influenced the development of scientific projects. However, it should not be assumed that all of these stories relate to spaceflight, as that is far from the case; there is a wide variety of subjects. But if you are lamenting the dearth of ‘real’ Science Fiction in recent years or worried by the proliferation of fantasy novels, have no fear: all of these stories, however diverse, can be classed as SF.

The first story, ‘Epitaph’ by Nick Lewis, is a nice little story somewhat reminiscent of ‘Gravity’, about an astronaut stranded in orbit. ‘The Big Catch’ by Kelvin F. Long reminded me slightly of the fourth ‘Star Trek’ film, ‘The Voyage Home’, inasmuch as it involves the removal of cetaceans from our oceans, this time by some unknown alien force. It could perhaps also be seen as a parable about the overfishing of our seas. Another story by Long, ‘The World Movers’, also has an environmental message and one that reoccurs in SF: a powerful alien race that has the power to be judge, jury and executioner over our whole planet after surveying our activities for a thousand years. His third, ‘The Dance Of Angels’ is an original idea, as two interstellar craft, controlled by artificial intelligences, begin to communicate with each other, with a decidedly Shakespearian ending. ‘Heat Wave’ by Terence J. Henley is one of those stories in which the reader is misled about the nature of its characters, which we do not discover until the end.

I shall not describe every story, but we have a hijack on an interstellar craft stopping off at Pluto; ‘The First Neanderthal On The Moon’, a comical story which basically does what it says on the tin. A partially terraformed Mars with a Wild West feel. An AI whose mission is to observe the end of the universe. A story of bacterial life, a strange dark ‘stray planet’ that has no sun, an alien abduction over a long timescale and so on. Several of the stories refer, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, to the ‘Journal Of The British Interplanetary Society’ and in one of them a future BIS seems almost to have acquired the status of a sort of British NASA. But there is more: a short section of SF poetry, which I don’t really consider myself in a position to judge, but I do note that most of it actually rhymes, of which personally I generally approve, but which I know tends to be frowned upon by most ‘modern’ poets, who prefer blank verse!

Finally, we come to what I consider the pièces de résistance in this book: two novellas. For me, ‘Halfway There!’ by Stephen Ashworth is perhaps the most professionally written work. Remember that most of the writers here are not known primarily for writing fiction, and many are probably more at home with scientific tables and reports! It is the story of two teenage boys, Alvin and Tomie, on an interstellar trip to Alpha Centauri. The author has taken pains to create the sort of world that might exist in such vast ship, together with the sort of language that might evolve in this environment. To relieve the boredom of the voyage, they embark upon a dangerous prank which misfires, getting them into hot water. But we are left wondering whether the bogus ‘alien message’ really was so bogus after all?

Finally, ‘The Distant Universe’ by Richard K. Obousy, which takes place on a modern Earth. Two bright students, Karl and Fido, decide to experiment with Karl’s creation of a ‘Recombinant Growth Hormone’, which he believes will accelerate many of our bodily functions, such as those controlled by the pituitary gland, perhaps ultimately producing a race of supermen. Needing a human guinea pig on which to test it, they find a tramp known originally as CJ, but who during the course of the experiment becomes Charles. Here I saw inevitable parallels with Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers For Algernon’ (filmed, oddly enough, as ‘Charly’), as CJ’s intelligence is boosted out of all recognition. Under the influence of the drug, he appears to pass into another dimension or world in which he meets an elflike figure whose race, the ‘Logos’ have been observing humanity for many millennia, but have never previously been able to make direct contact. During the experiment, the two young scientists invoke gravity waves, string and quantum theory in order to carry out and test the effects of their drug. What will the ultimate result be? Read it and find out!

An unusual book and one which is quite suitable to be read by a younger Young Adult audience, who might thereby be inspired to peruse some of the many books by professional, often best-selling SF authors, such as (also a BIS member) Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds or Kim Stanley Robinson.

David A. Hardy

January 2015

(pub: British Interplanetary Society. 286 page paperback . Price: £10.00 to BIS members, £12.00 to non-members)

check out website: www.bis-space.com/2014/09/09/13559/visionary-science-fiction-in-the-spirit-of-the-bis

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

David A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA is the longest-established living space artist in the West, being first published in 1952. From working almost exclusively in water colours and gouache he has gone on to embrace acrylics, oils, pastels and, since 1991, digital art on a Mac. For more art, including prints of this and other works, visit http://www.astroart.org, where you can find many links, tutorials, books and prints and originals for sale. Dave is Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA) and European VP of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), and has an asteroid named after him! His SF novel 'Aurora' is now available in a revised and updated edition on Amazon etc. See a review of this and an interview with Pauline Morgan (November 2012) here: http://sfcrowsnest.info/?s=hardy

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