Valencies: A Science Fiction Novel, page 1
BORGO PRESS BOOKS BY DAMIEN BRODERICK
Adrift in the Noösphere: Science Fiction Stories
Building New Worlds, 1946-1959 (with John Boston)
Chained to the Alien: The Best of ASFR: Australian SF Review (Second Series) [Editor]
Climbing Mount Implausible: The Evolution of a Science Fiction Writer
Embarrass My Dog: The Way We Were, the Things We Thought
Ferocious Minds: Polymathy and the New Enlightenment
Human’s Burden: A Science Fiction Novel (with Rory Barnes)
I’m Dying Here: A Comedy of Bad Manners (with Rory Barnes)
New Worlds: Before the New Wave, 1960-1964 (with John Boston)
Post Mortal Syndrome: A Science Fiction Novel (with Barbara Lamar)
Skiffy and Mimesis: More Best of ASFR: Australian SF Review (Second Series) [Editor]
Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-1967 (with John Boston)
Unleashing the Strange: Twenty-First Century Science Fiction Literature
Valencies: A Science Fiction Novel (with Rory Barnes)
Warriors of the Tao: The Best of Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature [Editor with Van Ikin]
x, y, z, t: Dimensions of Science Fiction
Zones: A Science Fiction Novel (with Rory Barnes)
BORGO PRESS BOOKS BY RORY BARNES
The Dragon Raft: A Young Adult Novel
Human’s Burden (with Damien Broderick)
Space Junk: A Science Fiction Novel
Valencies: A Science Fiction Novel (with Damien Broderick)
Zones: A Science Fiction Novel (with Damien Broderick)
Copyright © 1983, 2013 by Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes
Published by Wildside Press LLC
For the Magic Realists of Lot 4, Wellington Road: Chris, Delwyn, Di, Helene, Jean, Jill, John, Jon, Phillip, Ponch, Sandy, Tony, Val
Valencies was first published in 1983 by the University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia and this edition is slightly revised and extended. It deals with an episode in a long, long face-off between repression and freedom, a future where everyone is immune to aging yet entire stars can be blown up to destroy rebels against an empire linked by teleport gates throughout the galaxy (and you have to go through them naked). It’s about strangers in a very strange land finding love. But it’s not a military adventure yarn nor a romance in deep space. What is it, then?
In The Penguin New Literary History of Australia, science fiction critic Professor Van Ikin commented: “[U]topia is an elusive grail with a different meaning in every age, and contemporary writers of speculative fiction...examine the dangers and pitfalls of utopian fervour. The most notable of these works are Beloved Son (1978) and Vaneglory (1981) by George Turner, and Valencies (1983) by Rory Barnes and Damien Broderick.” Critics Ikin, Dr. Sean McMullen, and Dr. Russell Blackford, in Strange Constellations (1999), also point out that “in its structure, although not its thematic concern with individual freedom and universal human dignity, the book is atypical of Broderick’s fiction, quite different from his novels of time travel and altered realities....”
If all this sounds a little downbeat, take heart! Brian W. Aldiss, in his classic history of science fiction, Trillion Year Spree, praised Valencies as “one of the more playful SF novels of recent years” and quoted it at some length. Ikin, McMullen, and Blackford say: “Some of the book’s set pieces...are glorious pieces of comic writing.” So, yes, it is a literary dystopia, but we hope it’s a lot of fun as well.
In Hyperdreams (1998), Russell Blackford described the novel thus:
A far-future parable about political and cultural imperialism. Barnes and Broderick propose that by 4004 AD the Universe has been filled with human beings, thanks to the teleportational network (the “Aorist Discontinuity”) and countless terraformed planets left behind by a von Danikenesque alien race known as “the Charioteers.” Humanity is organised into a bleak and clinically brutal Empire. The novel focuses on a frustrated group of libertarian anarchists who live on the planet Victoria. By the end, their politically futile activities elicit from the reader a mixed emotional response. There is a sense of pathos, since all the moves in the game are foreknown and controlled by the rulers of the Empire, as becomes apparent in the final chapter, while the book’s revolutionaries cannot even understand each other, let alone overthrow an omnipotently entrenched system. At the same time, there is a strong sense of dignity and courage, and this is magnified rather than diminished by the depictions of human weakness. Valencies, then, represents a struggle against Empire, a struggle that can never amount to more than futile gestures. The narrative is dominated by the characters’ pranks, games, and parodies, and the complexities of their love lives. The incomprehension between person and person is suggested not only by the book’s focus upon the difficulties between spirited Anla and dispirited Ben, and those between vulnerable Theri and gentle Kael, but also by the cunning juxtaposition of narrative viewpoints, which enables Barnes and Broderick to weave for the reader a delicate web of understanding of the characters’ misunderstandings.
If this is (like much science fiction) a relic of a future that never happened—sadly, for example, the Good Doctor Isaac Asimov is no longer alive in this real tomorrow—we’re quite content to note that in one respect we saw farther than our critics in the early 1980s. One of them denounced us for our failure of imagination in supposing that students and other radical activists would in future gather once more in the streets and parks to confront the rich, the powerful and the brutal. So 1960s! we were told dismissively. Then the massacre of student protesters in China’s Tiananmen Square shocked the rest of the world in 1989, and the Berlin Wall fell before the fury of those sickened finally by the gulag cultures, and later the Occupy movement took to the streets of the USA, and the Arab Spring changed the Middle East tyrannies, or tried to, and not all of it was hopeless and self-deluding.
So we don’t expect the real future to be much like the setting of Valencies, but we’re pretty sure that generation after generation will keep finding ways (sometimes with sarcastic laughter) to confront the absolute power that inevitably corrupts everyone who wields it.
Our babes’ll wander naked
through the Cities of the Universe.
Blows Against the Empire
The strangers of the Foundation knew nothing of the swirling days and nights of the bloody Sack that had left the University untouched. They knew nothing of the time after the collapse of the Imperial power, when the students, with their borrowed weapons, and their pale-faced inexperienced bravery, formed a protective volunteer army to protect the central shrine of the science of the Galaxy.
Foundation and Empire
He was two thousand years from home, lonely as only the ancient can be lonely, sick at heart.
“Matey,” he called to the lout murdering the guitar at the next table, “lend us your axe for a mo?”
The fellow gave him a contemptuous glance, smacked his fingers clumsily against the strings. Catsize leaned forward on his timber table-top, expectant, undeterred. One of the young women at the other table glanced back over her shoulder.
“Bit.” He shrugged. “You know.”
“My gran made this with his own bare hands,” the lout
“It’s a beauty,” Catsize agreed. He left his arms folded. “You play it real good, zinger.”
The fellow’s lips twisted. “Yeah, well, it’s a hobby of mine. The fuckin’ imperials don’t like it, see?”
Catsize was impressed, widening his eyes in the dim light of the swig bar. “You know any...seditious songs?”
Now all of them were looking at him, hard and suspicious. He gazed from one to the other, mild, slightly dopey, and saw them relax.
“Give him a go, Scums.”
“Bit of a laugh, anyway.”
The big fellow hesitated, then abruptly shrugged and thrust the instrument across the gap between them. “Treat it with respect, zotter. My gran—”
“Made it, yeah.” Catsize hefted it. Not too bad, balance was okay. He tightened the strings. Clear notes rang like ice.
“Sing us one of those songs. You know,” the interested woman said.
“Well, okay.” With a last quaff from his jar, Catsize sounded a run of notes that turned every head in the bar. “This is a real old one, I’m told. From some place so far away you need to take a hundred Aorist trips to get here.” He sang, then, in his cracked, angelic voice:
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
“Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
“All mimsy were the borogoves—”
When he came up for air, exultant and flushed with the joy of it, they clicked their fingers, and someone on the far side of the bar hooted in approval.
“Cool, man.” The lout was impressed. “Was that about...?” Scums lowered his voice, looked around furtively. “Kurd?”
Catsize gave him a knowing look.
“What’s it mean, man?” the woman asked. She left her bench at the other table, came to sit beside him.
“It’s Creole,” he told her. “Man probably shouldn’t, you know....”
“No,” she said, nodding, then shook her head. “No.”
“Sing us something else, zinger.”
“My throat’s dry.”
“Get the guy a drink, Marty.”
Catsize leaned back, the large bulk of the antique instrument fitting against his body like a lover.
“This is a dude from Old Earth. Yeats.” He closed his eyes and sang:
Under the passing stars
Foam of the sky
Lives on this lonely face—
As he drew to the end of the ancient ballad, tears leaked from his meshed lashes.
Finally he handed back the guitar, head ringing, fingers numb. He went to the lavatory out back, under the white fragrance of some mutant vegetable from earth, the scent of salt and kelp, listening to the sound of the ocean beyond the pub’s high walls, and when he came out into the night the woman was waiting for him. She took his arm and drew him into deeper shadow. Voices played like mantras within the bar, enriched with bursts of laughter. He allowed himself to follow her into shadow. She kissed him, deeply, like a besotted girl, placing his right hand on her full breast. For the first time in years he felt aroused. She pulled away, then.
“They want you back, Commander.”
He sighed. She was beautiful, but they were all beautiful now.
“We’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”
He found a waist-high garbage container, hopped up on it, the painted metal chilly under his buttocks, and pulled the woman close to him. Into her ear he said, “Chomsky is closed.”
“Yes. Interdicted. But we won’t stay closed forever, Commander.”
“Open the gates again and the Imperials will be all over us like swarming rats.”
“Not if those of us on the outside do our jobs.”
“The Revolution, ah yes.” Catsize sighed. A perfumed Newstralian wind blew across the buzz garden, and the sea hushed and retreated. The woman leaned back against him, solid, alive, yes, still somehow alive.
“You are sardonic, sir.” Her voice came crisp through the haze of her long hair. She turned her face sideways, to him, allowing any spy who chanced to be watching them to assume a kiss. “But yes, the revolution. We need you back with us.”
Two thousand years blew through his small body like stale incinerator smoke.
“I find it cold out here, my dear. My poor old bones, you know.” Catsize kept his hands on her for balance and for the memory of it, pushed himself down off the trash container. His feet crunched in sand. She was a good head taller, her hair in his lips. “I’m expecting some friends. It was pleasant to meet you.”
“Tell them I fought the good fight. Tell them I’m retired.” In the half light, Catsize rubbed his aching eyes with the heels of his hands, then smiled up at her. “No, nobody would believe that. Tell them I have my own way of doing things.”
The woman’s mouth twisted. “Commander, I’m disappointed. We’ve been searching for you for more than century. Am I supposed to report that you’ve become nothing better than an...adventurist?”
“Tell them that I wish them well, as always.” He reached up, drew her down in an embrace, kissed her lowered forehead as one might kiss a child’s head, a child one loves, a child one must leave now. “Tell them— Well, you could tell them that the mome rath outgrabe.”
“The— Sir, what the fuck does that mean?”
He beamed at her, delighted. “There, I knew you were an anarchist at heart. ‘Sir’, indeed. Good grief.” He bowed. “Good evening, and farewell,” and took himself back to the thick fuggy air of the swig. Kael and Theri had arrived. They waved, beckoned him to a table. Through the heavy timber doors from the dropspace out front, Ben and Anla entered, arguing ferociously. Catsize beamed. His children. His wonderful innocents.
“Drinks!” he cried to them, capering. “Buzz! Poetry and song!”
“Banal tinkering?” Putting his spasm of outrage to best advantage, the DNA sculptor indolently slipped lower on his couch. “Surely you’re confusing my profession with the vulgar craft of cosmetic genetics.”
Anla lifted one knee a trifle. Recklessly, the sculptor told her, “Why, if it weren’t for our work the entire logistics of Empire would be inconceivable, you silly, pretty little foddle.”
Instead of punching him on the nose, Anla clapped her thighs together, skidding him down the spine of a snake to totter dismayed at the foot of a ladder he’d begun to ascend an hour earlier.
“I’ve picked up a fact or two during my meager span, doctor,” she said. “I certainly don’t want a lecture on gene promoters and repressors at this point in the evening. It’s the tune your fiddling produces that I object to.”
“But now I’ve offended you!” Reluctantly he sat higher and seized her hand. “There’s no call for formality. Ralf’s my name and you must use it, for I’m sure we’re meant to be firm friends.”
“What, a man of your considerable caliber interested in a silly little female, a funny wee muffin, a fluff-brained baby chicken, a double-X chromosomed foddle, a twat—”
“My dear, of course it was a clumsy thing to say and I do apologize. I acknowledge your intelligence. I like women. But you happen to be mistaken about stochastic biosis.”
Smiling faintly, Anla uncrossed her legs, and allowed her knees to begin once more their slow tectonic drift. “Suppose we give politics a miss,” she said, with every semblance of conciliation. “No doubt you deem my views puerile, as I consider yours senile.”
A hovering toff, resplendent in codpiece and chiffon, threw himself down beside her and let his dark hand fall on her bare calf. “Oh I say, my sweet, that’s rather unsporting. I’ve known Ralf since he was a babe in arms. He’s no older than your father.”
“I haven’t got a father.”
“Oh.” The toff blinked. “You’re a clone?”
“No, they found me under a cabbage patch. Of course I’m a clone.”
“I’m sure we didn’t mean to put you in a state. Can I get you a stimulant?”
“How kind.” Most of the gathering had subsided to the floor, or retired to privacy. Anla could spot none of her friends. As the toff glided away she caught a glimpse of her glowering husband, propped stiffly on the far side of the room. Bugger him, she thought irritably. What’s wrong with the man, the place is crawling with it. Next to him swayed a bountiful woman of Dravidian extraction, eminently available, with a spangled cleavage as big as all outdoors. Thrust your hand in to the wrist, lad. You’re supposed to be a tit man, aren’t you? But all Ben did was scowl pitifully back at her before turning clumsily and shaking off the dust of his heels. Take that, you harlot. Oh shit, toujours gai.
A touch on her shoulder proved that the bloody toff had not been ambushed in the pursuit of his duties. Anla shot the stimulant buzz and ignored him in favor of Empire’s manifest destiny.
“Ralf,” she said, “did anyone ever tell you that you have beautiful eyes?”
“And just what do you propose doing when we’ve captured the little bugger?”
“Kill it,” Kael said. “And then eat it.”
“Hmm.” Catsize brooded. “Killing it is just the kickoff. Then we’ve got to skin it and take out its guts.”
“Half the inhabited universe once dined on meat,” Kael said. “Our ancestors throve on it. You were there, Catsize, I’m sure you remember it well.”
“All right.” Catsize stood up. “You find the instrument, I’ll bring the skite around.” He nimbly hurdled outstretched, drunken legs, crossed the patio and jumped for the shadows; out and away, up the track to their hired skite. Kael went the other way, toward the kitchen.
Ben waited for them with Kael’s Theri on the moonlit gravel, watching the waters of the river run black and well-polished between matched banks. Summer night, holiday world: dull gleam of vehicles, murmur of failing party. Only Anla’s voice, precise and intelligent, rose distinctly, in debate with the gene-sculptor. And then the sculptor’s laughter, overhearty, self-satisfied, across the blurred conversations of the other guests. Ben, surly, kicked at the gravel, pretending he hadn’t heard.