Saturday 4 July 2009

The Mercury Annual by Michael Wyndham Thomas

The Mercury Annual is one of the strangest stories I have read in a long while. It commences with a lengthy Prologue which describes the world of Razalia and its neighbouring planets, together with their peoples. To say that this system is bizarre would be an understatement; it is the purest fantasy of the most unrealistic kind, in that no account is taken of any laws of science. The system's sun wanders among its planets, the inhabitants of one planet likes to visit others by means of giant catapults, Razalia is covered with barriers of pure white, like cracks in reality, into which people vanish never to return, and its humanoid people have a rather flexible anatomy, immediately growing organs as and when they need them. Each town is ruled by a Tharle, who acquires other peculiar abilities.

This is not the easiest story to get into and I was beginning to feel dubious about continuing until I reached the first chapter, which is dramatically different. This and much of the rest of the novel are set on present-day Earth and focus on the entirely mundane lives of Keith, whose main passion in life is his massive collection of classic comics, his dominating and aggressive wife Donna, their daughter Imogen and Keith's strange friend George, who shares his enthusiasm for the odd collectables of life. Donna is determined to convert their attic into something useful and plots to clear the space by manipulating her husband into selling the comic collection which covers the floor (the book's title refers to one of these). There is much loving description of the stories in the comics as Keith sorts through them, trying to decide what to do. The characters are well-drawn, the scenario and relationships entirely convincing. Only at the end of this part of the book is there any hint of a connection between Earth and Razalia.

The final part of the story returns to Razalia and describes the efforts of the Tharles to discover why the white barriers have begun to expand. One of their number has invented a peculiar device which he claims enables him to see and hear the legendary Maker of Razalia, who lives in a world which sounds increasingly familiar.

This short novel (under 160 pages) is only Part 1 of Valiant Razalia, and the various story threads are all left hanging in the air at the end of it. I am still trying to make up my mind about this book. It isn't the stuff of best-sellers, and the series could either vanish without trace or attract a cult following. However, it managed to hook me to the extent that I will be looking to get hold of Part 2 when it comes out.
I've just noticed that BBC Radio has been broadcasting some work by Charles Chilton. See: This link for details.

I remember the original versions of these stories, when Journey into Space was broadcast in the 1950s - it helped to get me interested in SF. I've still got one of his books from 1960 - The World in Peril. I must re-read it sometime!


Fred said...

Sounds fascinating. I can see that it could just disappear or develop a cult following.

Listening to KUAT Fm, local (PBS) station. It just started playing the "Theme from Star Wars" as I was reading your post. Convergence, confluence, or coincidence?

Wyndham--unusual name--brings up fond memories. Our SF group just discussed _The Day of the Triffids_ some months ago and will do _Out of The Deeps_ in a few months.

Now reading Benford's fourth book in the Galactic Center series--The Tides of Time.

Just discovered that China Mieville published a detective novel--The City & The City--that's a bit misleading because I don't know how to enter the second "The City" in backwards. First paragraph of the jacket blurb: "New York Times bestselling author China Mieville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other--real or imagined."

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for your comments, Fred.

Coincidence, definitely! We always notice such coincidences when they happen, and don't recall the zillions of times when such coincidences fail to happen...

John Wyndham was another of the authors who got me hooked on SF. I well recall 'The Day of the Triffids', and still have my 1962-published paperback I bought at that time. He was one of the rare SFF writers whose work transcended the genre ghetto and became widely known among a general readership (at least in the UK). Interestingly, this book has been criticised for breaking one of the "rules" for this kind of disaster novel, which is that you should only have one major plot element; TDOTT has two (the blindness, and the triffids).

I have kept four Benfords on my shelf, including the first two of the Galactic Center series (I really ought to read the rest). I like his writing, but he does seem to have been rather neglected.

I have read a very good review of the Mieville book, so I've put it on my 'to buy' list. Along with dozens of others...

Fred said...

I have to disagree a bit with the critics who have a problem with two major plot elements. Without the blindness, the triffids wouldn't be a problem, as we learn in the brief back history section early in the book. They were relatively easily controlled.

The triffids, on the other hand, complicate the problem of blindness. The crisis wouldn't have been nearly as serious without both. Blindness constitutes the major plot element, and frankly, I think it would have produced an less exciting novel by itself.

The public library has a copy of the Mieville book, so I grabbed it as soon as I heard about it.

Fred said...


I think you got hit either by a spammer or the North Koreans. Check comments for the post about McCaffrey's Dragonflight.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yeah, saw them, deleted them.

I don't understand what anyone has to gain from posting gibberish.

Fred said...

It appeared as though the terms were hot links to some location. I didn't want to click on them, not knowing what was at the other end.