Monday, September 17, 2012

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

Even the précis I read of David Lindsay’s 1920 classic A Voyage to Arcturus seemed to suggest that it was a predominantly an SF novel, not a fantasy one. However those who wrote the book that comprises the list I follow chose it as a Must Read Fantasy novel.

When I read a book I like it to have one of two crucial elements: a strong plot or really good characters. Preferably both. Unfortunately for me A Voyage to Arcturus contained neither.

It’s largely an SF exploration novel of the type that was popular at the time when it was written. It shares something with Edgar Rice Burrough’s opening Barsoom book; Princess of Mars, in that the main protagonist’s voyage to the fictional planet of Tormance, orbiting the real star of Arcturus has no basis in anything resembling science.

Once Maskull has arrived on Tormance, without his two fellow travellers; a native of the planet who goes by the name of Karg and an acquaintance of Maskull; Nightspore, he wanders across the planet, meeting and discussing philosophy with the locals he encounters. He never seems to get anything resembling an answer, merely discusses matters such as life, death, belief and love with them. Maskull himself has virtually no personality and seemingly no motivation or end goal for his ceaseless wandering. The characters that he meets are constructs who exist purely to give Maskull someone to bounce his ideas off. This makes it pretty difficult to form any sort of empathy for them, probably just as well because most of the people Maskull meets usually end up dead because of him.

Lindsay gave his imagination full rein when describing the planet and the life forms on it, and this was quite good, although one had the impression he was only doing it to sort out his own ideas of what he had created. It read a lot like info dumping and didn’t integrate itself smoothly with the rest of the narrative. One idea I did like was that after sharing blood with a native or Tormance, Maskull started to become one physically. They were truly alien creatures with extra eyes and one extra hand and a protuberance on their heads that helped them to communicate.

I was left with a fairly flat empty feeling on completing it.

In a similar vein, although far more action packed and readable is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars, which was recently turned into the film John Carter of Mars.

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