Saturday, 12 January 2002

George Turner: Beloved Son (1978)

Edition: Sphere, 1979 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1037

George Turner is still probably the best known Australian science fiction author, and this, his d├ębut science fiction novel, is one of the most original novels of the 1970s. It manages to combine several traditional elements from the genre in an unusual way to create a novel which is greater than the sum of its parts.

The novel begins as the first interstellar space mission returns from Barnard's Star, having been absent for a generation. The crew, released from suspended animation, discover a world greatly different from their own. The Catastrophe, an apocalypse of biological rather than nuclear origin, has devastated civilisation, but with the surviving knowledge a very different world order has arisen. The forgotten expedition promises a bounty of recoverable lost technology, and hints that biological weapons laboratories may survive hidden away on Earth, repositories of the research that came so close to destroying the human race. This potential disruption of the newly achieved status quo is the subject of Beloved Son.

The novel combines this interesting idea with an exciting plot and excellent characterisation; the description of the new world order is perhaps not as full as it might be, possibly because we largely see it through the eyes of the returning spacemen who find it hard to believe it can work and whose arrival instigates rapid change and the abandonment of the ethical framework which has made it possible for the culture to arise. Beloved Son should have been more widely recognised than it was; it and its sequels provide much food for thought.

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