Saturday, 25 January 2003

John Brunner: The Long Result (1965)

Edition: Penguin, 1968
Review number: 1141

Much early American pulp science fiction is extremely chauvinistic, having an attitude to alien races closely related to the worst racist propaganda; aliens are menacing, evil creatures seeking to take over the universe. (It is easy to get carried away by an exciting story, only to realise afterwards that it has an unpleasant hidden meaning of this sort.) Superhuman heroes battle inhuman hordes and win the love of beautiful women; women are kidnapped and rescued in the nick of time from tentacular fates worse than death.

John Brunner has always written novels which were for their time slightly apart from the science fiction mainstream, and in The Long Result he produced one in opposition to the clich├ęs of the genre (even if they were already outmoded by 1965). The main menace in the novel comes from the crackpot Stars Are For Man League, dedicated to putting human beings in a superior position over the various alien races in this part of the galaxy, on the grounds that humanity invented the star drive which enabled them to discover the aliens rather than the other way round. (This is - not coincidentally - similar to nineteenth century arguments to justify colonialism.)

The narrator, Roald Vincent, is a senior official of the Bureau of Cultural Relations, which handles contacts not just with the aliens but also with human colony worlds. He has to handle a rapidly escalating crisis when a ship from Starhome, the first interstellar ship not to be built on Earth, announces when about to land that it carries a diplomatic mission from a newly discovered alien species. This makes them the focus of attacks by the League, and the crisis is also being used in political manoeuvring between Earth and Starhome, a colony beginning to press for independence.

The political ideas are unusually sophisticated for the science fiction of the time, and yet The Long Result is still primarily an adventure story which has a style owing a lot to John Wyndham. It is clearly a milestone on the path of development which led Brunner to Stand on Zanzibar and the dystopias which followed it; well worth reading.


Edward Rex Young said...

I can't get me enough of some John Brunner. Question: any love for Barrington J. Bayley?
Really enjoying reading through your reviews. I think I have about 300 tabs open on my phone's browser right now thanks to you!

Simon McLeish said...

I know of Barrington J. Bayley, but haven't read much, just some of the stuff he worked on in collaboration with Michael Moorcock. Any recommendations?

Edward Rex Young said...

Thus far my favorite of his is still the first I read- The Fall Of Chronopolis. Dueling time empires! Good, old fashioned (literary) sci-fi pulp. Review here: