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Fall of Chronopolis

by Barrington J Bayley
Pan Books
$14.95

In 1974 it was said that Bayley ". . . has not yet received due recognition for the hard-edged control over plots whose intricate dealings in time paradoxes make them some of the most formidable works of their type". The writer went on to say "He is currently underestimated ... and his reputation is likely to rise in the next few years". After reading this collection of two of his better novels, I find it hard to believe that anyone could have spoken so highly of him.

Bayley's style makes for easy reading mainly because nothing unexpected happens. Characters observe events then cease being characters when Bayley wants to use them to further the plot. Bayley follows the pattern that many science fiction writers use of substituting explanation of scientific theories for characterisation. He lets stereotypes suffice where individuals would obscure the too obvious.

Characters don't have motives; they have roles which they follow without any credible reactions. This is taken to tasteless extremes when a female character who is fleeing from a religious cult is caught, double-raped and then proceeds to escape and flee without any subsequent reaction to the rape. If you find that sexist, you'll be interested to discover that this character is the most detailed depiction of a female in either novel.

Only once does Bayley do anything that raised my interest level. In The Fall of Chronopolls, a 1960s stereotypical homosexual character is presented who has gone forward in time, seduced himself and returned to the present with himself. His name, you guessed it, is Narcis. This was the most interesting character in either novel but Bayley only uses him once then returns to the boring hero's "adventures".

Both novels in this volume are space opera, involving empires at war, misread motives and travel through time. There is nothing in here from which to learn about the human or alien condition. There are descriptions of fleets of vast spaceships drifting through the black velvet, and huge palaces in the middle of vast cities, but no real people. If interesting theories on time grab you, then this book is for you. While I found it unimaginative and predictable, I have to admit it wasn't actually painful to read. Buy it for your flat mate's birthday, then read it when the television breaks down.