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Sunday, June 17, 2012







The Beyond by Jack and Jean Sutton (Putnam 1967) 

This is one of the first science fiction books that I read and a copy of it has traveled with me through life for decades to be periodically re-read. 

The word for this book is, evocative.  The book opens with a Captain Cromwell of the smuggler Cosmic Wind landing on the exile colony of Engo.  That world, soaked in the ghastly glow of its orange moon, holds a steadily decreasing population of miserable telepaths, condemned there by the Federation on behalf of a galaxy of those who fear the rape of their private thoughts by those with such powers.  Engo is the loneliest place in the Milky Way, on the edge of the great galactic gulf to the Andromeda Galaxy.  No other stars light the storm-tossed night sky of Engo, with its giant, weeping, Agora trees and sighing stands of Bulla glass on the edges of its black water rivers.  Engo is a sigh of despair, an unshed tear and the stage for the battle for humanities soul.
 
Cptain Cromwell, while the initial POV character, is only a secondary character at best.  Yet the old man, dreaming of his past youth as he walks on Engo’s surface heading to rendezvous with Simon the only telepath he ever sees in the crude log cabin town, is a vividly drawn character.  You believe that he has spaced the stars in his aging tramp freighter for a lifetime, his ship, his crew and himself all winding down in the same slow way, likely to pass on in space when some critical failure overtakes the small starship.  His reverie is interrupted when he sees slender, sickly boy with a big yellow dog, playing in a field.  He is captivated by the scene, until the dog leaps into the air and is suspended high above the boy.  The boy is revealed as a Beyond, someone with powers beyond telepathy.  Something dreaded by the Federation.  The Captain flees the scene and Engo.  But his bad luck persists and he is arrested, drunk and garrulous about what he saw sometime later.

Enter Alek Selby, investigator for the Social Administration Arm of the Federation, one arm of the galactic government controlling (read hunting and suppressing) telepaths.  He is called to a meeting with his superiors, Hallam Vogel, psymaster and Director Smithson only to find the saturnine executor of the dreaded Dept 404, Phillip Wig and his hacthetmen: Jonman and Conrad there.  All three of the Dept 404  men missed their calling in Hitler’s SS and are the archetypes of those who declare others to be non-people to be hunted down for the good of the state.  And that is what proceeds here.  If a Beyond exists on Engo, then exile does not suffice, a ten-year old boy’s murder is casually discussed in a fashion that chills the blood.  The rational is the fear that the “Mutant Underground” under its own Scarlet Pimpernel, Mr. Olaf, will spirit the Beyond back into the Federation.

There is little doubt of the target, few children have been sent to Engo, David Gant slender, highly intelligent and telepathic is the only choice.  The only other boy Johnny Sloan had only a small degree of power, was short, stocky and not bright.

Vogel and Smithson seek to moderate the judgment by sending Selby, in the Cromwell’s Cosmic Wind to investigate, and as a counterbalance to Wig’s own investigation.  Selby knows it is a helpless gesture, he has no power over the executor but he goes and finds himself on dying Engo in the company of the smugglers.  But Selby bears his own dreadful secret, which he has buried so long that he does not consciously acknowledge it.  Selby bears the telepath taint, ignored and suppressed so long it barely functions.  He is a transmitter.  One who can project thoughts and impression on others so strongly he can delude them.

Once on Engo he quickly meets the ancient Simon, then Lora Gant, the sister of the boy Cromwell saw, David Gant.  But it seems the mystery is ended before begun as David, frail even before the Engo, has fallen to a fever.  Selby knows Wig will not be stopped by this, the executor needs a Beyond and he will create one for his political gain.  Selby, his sympathies engaged by the exiles, seeks to shield David’s young friend, Johnny Sloan.  But there is something odd about Johnny, he is not as Vogel described.  While he is physically David, his intelligence and mental power are far above what the records show.

But it is Johnny’s sister Lora who instantly captures Selby’s attention.  The brave girl revealed herself to SoC Ad so she could accompany her little brother into exile.  Selby cannot deny his heritage after meeting her and the fear and dread of what he is fails before the need to be who he is.  Selby is no longer the observer, he has become a partisan.  Just in time for Wig and his Dept 404 team to arrive on a regular naval vessel.  The Navy men see the 404 men as fanatics, and do not care for their company but they will do their duty as Wig’s men scour the village.

The first mystery is that the town is empty of all save Simon and shows little sign of having been lived in.  The cemetery is revealed as a sham, where have the telepaths been going?  The only fly in Wig’s ointment is that Johnny is in fact dead, one of the few recent occupants of the cemetery.  Over Selby’s protestations, Wig pursues David, claiming that he is somehow the Beyond Cromwell saw.

So begins the cat and mouse dance of the parties, the telepaths, led by the mysterious David and the beautiful Lora, Selby and the Federation military under Wig.  Somehow the telepaths are escaping.  Is it the mutant underground with Olaf?  Or is something greater going on?  All parties and points converge on a midnight gathering in a darkened field where Beyond powers will war with conventional weapons in a showdown that will leave you gasping.

 A comment on the cover:  What drew me in and held me was the classic cover.  On it in beautiful, lurid colors is a giant orange moon.  Under its glare flies a spaceship straight out of the old Aurora model catalogs, something reminiscent of the fighter planes of the early Cold War and Verner Von Braun.  I believe it to be the Cosmic Wind, as it doesn’t match the limited description of the government ship.  On the surface below the ship, men in helmets chase a man and woman, doubtless Selby and Lora, dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Jetson.  The sensibility of the cover is compelling, it is pulp imagery.  It is evocative and the image will stay with you as it lures you to sad Engo and a disgraceful chapter in human evolution.  Go, there is more hope at the end then you will expect.

Pros:  The visual nature of the writing, vital, persuasive and colorful.  More than any world that I have read about, I feel that I have trod Engo’s muddy streets, turned my collar against the water falling from the weeping trees, shivered in the darkness as I stared for enemies, including the dreadful Groat, a beast that Sherlock Holmes might dread more than his own adversary, the fearsome Hound of the Baskervilles.

I have seen Lora’s brown hair blow in the chill wind, seen her pale face drawn and concerned for her brother.  Cromwell’s aged ship and crew are old friends, with their old chessboard, howling engines and conversations that have been held so long and so often by men who know each other so well that they assume the form of ritual.

 And Wig, he was my introduction to corporate and government evil, mouthing the words of high purpose for low intent.  I have seen Phillip Wig stalk the world all my life, he is a common type in history and even day-to-day.  Governments and corporations are filled with such as they gravitate to power of any sort. 

 The best compliment I can give to characters is that I believe that existed before I opened the page and after I close the book.  That’s how I feel about these

Cons- Very few.  Selby could be a more interesting character, his awakening to what he is , feels a bit too seamless and quick.  I would have liked to see more confusion and difficulty in it.

Wig while a fully realized villain is none-the-less just a villain.  There is a valid point that human nature is not compatible with telepathy.  We are not our thoughts and cannot control them beyond a point.  Try not thinking about a pink elephant.  We are entitled to the privacy of our skulls to work out those thoughts and feelings we cannot defend.  Telepathy makes you live naked in the worst sense.  In many respects that fact is glossed over.  Telepathy and Beyond powers could be the insidious end of Homo sapiens as we were for the preceding species: Home Erectus and Neanderthal.  We may well have not fought them, or exterminated them but we sealed their doom by existing, by out-competing them for mates and resources and going beyond where they could go, leaving them to wither on the vine.  A Phillip Wig who believed he was saving humanity from extinguishment might have been a more interesting character and possible elevated this from YA to a full adult piece.  Yet the world is full of people from the Nazi’s to the Khymer Rouger who acted on Wig’s ambitions with far less reason so that may not be correct.

Still one thing that elevates the villain Magneto in the X-men series is the nagging sensation that he is correct and the Xavier is a foolish idealist.  There is no example for a benign replacement or coexistence, even between cultures, much less between species.  He may merely be a realist looking at the world as it is.  And isn’t that far more frightening?


From Wikipedia

Sutton was born on July 25, 1913, in Los Angeles, California. He began work at fourteen as an office boy in the editorial department of the Los Angeles Examiner, where both he and his father worked for many years. He was a staff photographer and writer with International News Photos from 1937 to 1940.

Sutton was in the United States Marine Corps from 1932 through 1936 and reenlisted at the outset of World War II, serving with the 2nd Marine Division in the South and Central Pacific areas. His novel The River owes much to his experience on Guadalcanal. He married Eugenia Geneva Hensen on February 1, 1941, and they had two children: Christopher and Gale.

Sutton did not immediately turn to writing after the war, but worked in a number of jobs, including as an assistant to San Diego Mayor Harley Knox. After receiving his Master's degree in experimental psychology at San Diego State University, he worked as a research engineer in human factors engineering in the aerospace industry. He then worked in editorial public relations for General Dynamics, an experience he used when writing his novel The Missile Lords a few years later. As a human factors engineer working for Convair, he explored man's adaptation to machines and established his business as an editorial consultant to industry. Several years later he returned to writing.

Sutton began publishing fiction in 1958. Throughout his writing career he remained a free-lance editorial consultant to aerospace industries and published articles in related professional magazines. He published 23 novels in more than 10 languages, including a number of science fiction, war, political, and juvenile books. In one of his interviews he said that writing came naturally to him. He wrote that his greatest interest had always been people and the settings in which they function. As a writer, he focused on subjects related to his earlier work – space, astronautics, war, newspapers – and on science fiction. Among his books about space exploration are Bombs in Orbit (1959), Spacehive (1960) and Apollo at Go (1963).

Jean Sutton helped edit fifteen of her husband's novels, starting with his first fiction book First on the Moon (1958). They first collaborated as coauthors on the juvenile book The Beyond (1968). They published some juvenile books as coauthors, including The River, The Programmed Man, Lord of the Stars and others. Two of them, The Beyond and The Programmed Man,

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