Our story opens with a British military officer being awakened by the Super-Mega-Holy-Shit alarm, the alarm that (our officer reflects) most people thought would only happen at the outbreak of World War III. He gets on the phone and is told that it is not WWIII after all (phew), but his men are needed pronto at the secret base nearby.
They rush to the scene (more or less) where the soldiers are told to wait while the officer goes and has tea spiked with rum (“of course”) and talks about what happened. Apparently the fog is too thick to mount a search for a pair of unarmed civilians. So they don’t even walk around the perimeter of the base. Meanwhile, the officers chat away and drink rum. Maybe that holy-shit alarm wasn’t really necessary.
And so we begin Andromeda Breakthrough by Fred Hoyle and Hohn Elliot.
Quick aside, here – I didn’t think I’d get so long-winded writing about pulp fiction. Of course it’s not well-written, of course there’s a conversation in which a deal is made that turns out to also have also been made by the same parties some time in the past. They’ve even kidnapped people together! So, no real need to go into detail in my little book report. But I did anyway. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do. Sometimes it’s so I can avoid the same mistakes, and sometimes the writing is genuinely funny. Anyway, back to the setup…
It turns out the computer at the secret facility has been destroyed, and it also turns out that the computer is like none other on Earth. The instructions on how to build it came from space. Once built, the computer gave them instructions on how to build a weird chick, and with her help it began passing on instructions on how to make all kinds of ground-breaking stuff. Interesting theme #1: what are the motives of the race from Andromeda who sent the information?
Apparently even having built it once, the Brits are unable to make another one, and their dreams of being the world’s dominant power are shattered. Also, the weather is going to hell.
SCIENCE-FICTION AT ITS FANTASTIC BEST, the cover proclaims. Happily for the rest of the genre that’s not really true. The story was first published in 1964, and while there is fun to he had over dated references and offhand sexism, it’s not those things that sink this story. It’s bad writing. Yet, there are a few bits that are prescient, and even a message for the scientific community (which the scientists in the story manage to forget at the end).
Just for giggles, let’s take a look at the bad guys, shall we? There’s a small oil-rich nation on the Persian Gulf, but they’re really just the puppets of a multinational corporation with ties everywhere. The name of that company: Intel. I just looked it up and the Intel we know was founded in 1968, four years after this book was published. If I was head of AMD, Intel’s rival, I might fund a movie version of this book just on general principles.
The top Intel honcho we meet is a beautiful and competent woman (though of course she’s not afraid to use her body to get ahead). Her second in command is an ex-Nazi. The authors go out of their way to make him a nicer-than-usual ex-Nazi, but his glimmers of conscience don’t stop him from murdering people.
Opposite them we have a dashing scientist over whom girls swoon (“Don’t trouble your head about it”, he actually says to a female), a weird-but-pretty manufactured girl, a plain-looking (and therefore asexual) female scientist who manufactured the girl, and a few others. Most people in this story are frightfully decent, and as we all know decent people are able to judge the character of anyone they meet at a glance. We know this because the writers don’t trouble us with what our friends actually observe, but take us straight to the conclusion. He looked like a good guy.
A phrase that stuck with me: “jerked slowly”. There are plenty more where that came from.
The authors really don’t show us the world through the characters’ eyes at all. We just jump from head to head in each scene, reading what each participant thinks. When they think at all. Good lord, a guy helps commit treason and by the end he’s forgiven due to his being an effective bureaucrat. Good guys escape their captors regularly. Scientists create unknown organisms, built using instructions from an alien race whose motives are questionable, and pour the samples down the drain. This little behavior almost destroys humanity and earns the careless scientists a severe tongue-lashing from a minor character. No other repercussions seem forthcoming.
Not all the nice people make it to the end of the story, which is good. The Arabs are, in general, fine, wise folk (The French and German people don’t come off so well). The writers made an earnest attempt to put female characters in positions of power, and if they sometimes undermined themselves, hey, it was 1964. Much of the story portrays an effort to fix the climate—which the good guys broke—events that resonated with me as I read it during a heat wave. So, there’s a lot to say for this story. I just wish a better writer had tackled it.
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