Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A story prominently, and surprisingly, features astrology. ~~

Having enjoyed Michael Shaara's novel The Herald (see HERE) I made a point of acquiring the only other of his sci-fi work I could find: a novella or long short story Conquest Over Time. It had first appeared in a magazine, Fantastic Universe in 1956, has been re-published by Aegypan Press in a very slim volume. I sent to the UK for my bound copy, but note now that the story can be downloaded free - just Google the title if interested.

The title, Conquest Over Time, had led me to expect a different kind of tale. If that title fits at all it's only very obliquely. I was surprised to find that this is a story in which astrology plays a major part in the plot!

Nutshell synopsis:
Set in the far distant future. Civilisations both humanoid and other have spread far and wide across the universe. Our hero, Pat Travis, is the future's version of a big-time travelling salesman - bidding for commercial contracts on far-flung worlds, his job known as Contact Man: "one of the most hazardous occupations in history. Each new planet was wholly and completely new, there were no rules, and what you learned on all the rest meant nothing. You went from a matriarchy which refused absolutely to deal with men (the tenth ship to arrive had a lady doctor and therefore got the contract), to a planet where the earth was sacred and you couldn't dig a hole in it so mining was out, to a planet which considered your visit the end of the world and promptly committed mass suicide." So the job of Contact Man required many skills and plenty of luck. Travis had the reputation of being lucky, until he arrived on Diomed III, peopled by humanoids.

The inhabitants of Diomed III called their planet Mert, and lived their lives by strict astrological guidelines, believed that a person is exactly what his horoscope (calculated using their own alien astrological data), says he/she is. These people consulted astrology for every major decision, and by ill chance Travis had arrived on their planet on one of the worst-aspected days in history. (That's as far as I'll go with the plot to avoid spoiling it for others)

Although at the time of writing this story Michael Shaara, hadn't honed his craft to the high level of his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels (1974) or the book I read recently The Herald (1981), he still had the knack of drawing in and holding on to the reader. He must have had some basic knowledge of astrology too - or more likely had consulted astrology text books - to have come up with this idea and developed it so well.

"There are the seven planets" Navel was saying gravely, "and the two lights - that is, the sun and the moon. The first planet, that nearest the sun, is called Rym. Rym is the planet of intellect, of the ordinary mind. Second is Lyndal, the planet of love, beauty, parties marriage and things of a gentle nature. Third is Fors, planet of action, strife. Fourth is Bonken, planet of beneficence, of gain, money, health. Next comes Huck, orb of necessity, the Greater Infortune, which brings men most trouble of all. Then Weepen, planet of illusion, of dreamers and poets and, poorly aspected, liars and cheats. And finally there is Sharb, planet of genius, of sudden cataclysms."
"I see", Travis murmured.
"But it is not only these planets and their aspects which is important, it is also to be considered such houses and signs as through which these planets transit...." She went on, but Travis was having difficulty following her.

It's very clear that the author simply re-named our own planets - which was a bit of a cop-out. A writer with more in-depth knowledge and more confidence in their subject might have been able to invent a slightly different line-up of planetary "influences". Although, having said that, I'm not sure that a different set would have brought forth a race of humanoids. Hmmm. Tricky!

In case anyone is wondering, by the way, how the two could communicate in the same language, it was done via a device used by Travis, attached behind his ear.

Other novels with astrology prominent in their theme were listed in a post of January 2007: - see Novels Featuring Astrology.


mike said...

I'll download and read, since it's free...can't beat that. In the seven planets mentioned, pseudo-Earth and pseudo-Pluto were skipped...did they live on pseudo-Earth and that's why it was skipped?

Twilight said...

mike ~~ That thought crossed my mind, especially as there are other aspects of the lifestyle on Mert which were kind of familiar in a Dickensian kind of way.

As the tale is set so far into the future, perhaps the answer might be that early space travellers/settlers from Earth were responsible for this culture and civilisation - what they had never realised, however, was that they had travelled full circle around the universe and arrived back thousands of centuries later at their original setting-off point: Earth, now much different and quite unrecognisable.

I'm not sure the author had thought about it very deeply though, Mike - the story was probably written tongue-in-cheek-ish.

James Higham said...

"I see", Travis murmered.

Presuming that was the author, he could do with learning to spell.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~` Not the author's fault - my crappy copy typing - or spelling - not sure which.

Murmur - funny word, reminds me of muumuu, the loose-fitting Hawaiian dress. I think murmur looks better the way I typed it. ;-)

I'll amend the post.

Wisewebwoman said...

As you posted this, T, I was trying to remember a sci-fi author I enjoyed so much (and more after I met him at a launch).

You may enjoy him. I particularly enjoyed "Calculating God."


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Thanks, WWW - I shall get my hands on something he's written asap - sounds interesting!