Saturday 7 June 2014

The Patterns of Chaos by Colin Kapp

I bought my copy of The Patterns of Chaos in the early 1970s, shortly after the book was first published. It has managed to survive my occasional culls ever since so I must have been impressed, but since I couldn't recall anything about it (and it's handily short at just under 200 pages) I thought I'd try it again. There are some minor initial spoilers in this review, so if you don't want these read no further – I'll just say that it's an interesting, fast-moving and mind-stretching adventure typical of 1960s and 70s SF.

The time is the far future in which humanity has spread through a large part of the galaxy but is divided into two rival empires – Terra and the Destroyers; the latter don't just strip planets they raid, they blow them up afterwards (no partiality there, then!). Bron is a senior officer in the Terran Commando Central Intelligence Bureau who has been sent undercover to a world in the path of the Destroyer advance, in the hope that he will be picked up by them and can then find the location of their home world.  This works, but he suffers from concussion and memory loss in the attack. However, he is in constant communication (and frequent conflict) with a relay of three very different handlers via an FTL communicator link in his head, so they keep advising him on what to do next.

Bron is posing as a specialist in the Patterns of Chaos, a new field of study. This works by analysing the consequences of significant events and how they interact with each other. The analogy given is with the ripples that spread out from any disturbance in a pond. In principle, the pattern of ripples can be analysed and tracked back to identify the precise location, size and time of every event that created them – and projected forwards to determine how they will look in the future. So far so good, but the Patterns of Chaos also spread across time in that they are affected by events which have not yet happened. This enables Chaos analysts to predict future events, although the exact nature of such events may not be clear. As the plot develops it gradually becomes obvious that nothing is quite as it seems, and that Bron has a special part to play in affecting the Patterns of Chaos to suit his own ends.

This is an engaging tale, well worth reading, and I couldn't help thinking that with modern CGI it could make a decent movie. I hadn't known anything about Kapp before now, but on looking him up on Wiki I see that he was a British author (1928-2007) who wrote a dozen novels and many short stories, all published between 1959 and 1986. I also discovered that he wrote another book featuring the same basic concept, The Chaos Weapon, so I'll have to get a copy of that to add to my ever-growing reading pile.


dlw said...

I've hung onto Kapp's stuff too. "The Chaos Weapon" wasn't as good as Patterns of Chaos, but it was still a decent read.

My first introduction to Kapp was "The Transfinite Man", which is older and quite a bit darker than the Chaos books. "The Survival Game" is very nearly space opera and well done. Also, a few months ago, I encountered Kapp's "Unorthodox Engineers" short stories.

So far, everything I've come across of his, I've wound up hanging on to. It's odd he didn't get any more recognition than he did.

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for the extra info.

There seems to be a lot of luck involved in the publishing business. If a first novel attracts a few favourable reviews this often leads to a snowball effect, pushing the book up the best-seller lists. Then the next novel by that author gets a flying start, and so on. A lot of good books have vanished without trace because no-one provided those crucial initial reviews.

dlw said...

I'm not convinced about the review thing. I can't remember ever having bought a book due to a review; having read reviews of books I've already read, I've often wondered if we both read the same book.

For me, there are two main factors guiding a purchase - that I can actually get the book in hand, ie it hits more than a handful of big-city stores, and that someone wrote a back-cover synopsis that made it look interesting.

I don't buy on reviews, or on cover art. If I flip the book over and there's a giant picture of the author's face, it goes back on the shelf. If I open the cover and the title page consists only of gushing praise from reviewers, it goes back on the shelf. If the cover art is horribly bad, it goes back on the shelf. (cover art isn't going to persuade me to buy, but it has a lot to do with persuading me not to buy; bad cover art means "we think so little of this book we didn't even try." A solid color with text would be much better)

I sold some magazine articles a few years back. I eventually sold all of them, but it took a while, and after looping through the likely buyers, I'd send them off to the same ones again, six months or a year later. Sometimes after the second or third or fourth rejection, they'd buy it. My eventual conclusion was that they didn't care about the article one way or another; they probably just had an empty space in a forthcoming issue, and mine was the first submission they encountered that was about the right size. I strongly suspect the book publishing industry works much the same way...

Anthony G Williams said...

I am sure you are right about magazine articles. I edit one myself (not SFF) and am often pleased to find an article of just the right size to fit into a space!

Books are a different matter. Only around one in 1000 submitted to editors or agents gets published, and they are scrutinised carefully for their saleability.

A book won't succeed unless people find out about it. I rarely visit bookshops these days and rely very much on recommendations on forums or reviews in SFF magazines to decide what to buy. YMMV, of course.

Unknown said...

This is years later so have no idea whether you'll see this reply, but would recommend Manalone by Colin Knapp too!

It doesn't feel like traditional sci fi for a while, but the concept and ending are mind bending! My dad recommended that and Patterns of Chaos, he was a monumental sci fan in the 70s and I agree that both of them are well worth a read.