Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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George Turner

Didn't they know it would happen? Oh yes, "they" knew; back in the 1980s "they" were warned but "they" were busy. "They" had the nuclear threat and the world population pressure and the world starvation problem and the terrorist outbreaks and the strikes and the corruption in high places shaking hands with crime in low places, and the endless business of simply trying to stay in power--all to be attended to urgently. They weren't attended to; "they" tried but the troubles were too big, too well entrenched to be amenable to sense or force--and the emerging troubles of the next decade had to be left until there was time, until feasibility studies could be made, the problems seen in proper context, the finance found...

The above comes from George Turner's The Sea and the Summer (or Drowning Towers, if you have the American version, like I do; but the former is a better title).

I began reading the book because L mentioned it, in passing, and I thought, "I've got that somewhere around here," and sure enough, I did. I quite like Turner's brand of social science fiction: fiercely intelligent, concerned with social issues, the environment, and written in that prose that isn't beautiful in that way the prose can be, but is well written, and elegant, in its own way. I'm especially fond of the way that he threads narrator voices through the book. In The Sea and the Summer, he does it by switching from alternate first person narrators, and has it bookended by a third person narration set in the future. I could have probably done without that, actually. The conceit that people from the future are reading a book one wrote about the past is, I think, unnecessary.

Since I've begun reading it, I've been trying to track down some of Turner's older work. Before he turned to science fiction in the late seventies, he reportedly established himself in the mainstream, and in 1962, won the Miles Franklin, one of the top literary awards in the country. (A reasonably meaningless one as well, I might add, since as you can see it didn't keep Turner's work in print after his death in 1997. He shared the award that year with Thea Astley, who I had never heard of until I started doing a bit of googling on Turner, but who died recently, in 2004. Her last book, Drylands, was released in 1999.) Of course, it's not just that the Miles Franklin didn't keep Turner in print: The Sea and the Summer won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and Turner won the Ditmar for best novel three times for separate books. But I guess if there's no huge interest in you, awards aren't going to matter, and at any rate, you can still buy his science fiction of ebay, which is what I'm going to do to snag a copy of The Destiny Makers, which I haven't got. I haven't read his last novel, either, Down There in Darkness, but given that it was released after his death and incomplete, I don't think I will. It's not as tragic as the competition that was run in the back of Jack Dann and Janeen Webb's Dreaming Down-Under to finish Turner's novella, 'And Now Doth Time Waste Me' in under two and a half thousand words, but it's always sad to see the unfinished work of the dead put out and spread round, half born. Like seeing the body in a casket at a funeral showing, the half born work of the dead can often be the last impression you're left with, and are best ignored, I think.

To continue this tangent on Turner, I want to also pause and say just how goddamn awful the American covers of his books are. I mean, really. Just awful. Hideous.

At any rate, I am actually finding The Sea and the Summer quite fascinating. Published in 1987, it has that funky quality that old social science fiction novels sometimes have, of looking back almost twenty years and seeing what the concerns and interests of the authors were, and then applying them to the now. I picked the quote at the top of this post because, really, in many ways, world powers still act like this, though there is renewed concern about the environment these days. Still, when you can see events such as the Prime Minister John Howard and three State Leaders getting together to discuss the worse drought in Australia in over a thousand years, as I believe it is now called, and they reach the conclusion that in April next year they're come back and discuss it there, and maybe do something, but hopefully it would have broken by then and they won't need to do a thing, you just get this awful sense of cynicism and frustration at the whole thing. Even moreso as you watch Howard pour water from a pitcher into a glass while smiling for the press photographers.

The Sea and the Summer is concerned with things that we're still concerned with now, and that, really, is its greatest strength outside Turner's own considerable ability as an author. There are, of course, things in the book that don't quite work. Splitting up the population in Sweet, Fringe and Swill doesn't really work, and the way the Conway family views employment is a bit inconsistent for me. Still, it's got that fascination, and that carries me, and even gets me recommending it to people.

A storm has kicked up here just and I should post end this post so it doesn't get lost. Power out here is held together by a key at the end of a kite, flown high, as J once said to me. Kicks up enough wind and lightening and it flickers and flutters and pisses off, only to come back in a couple of hours. Frustrating, but what can you do?

If you've never read any Turner, I recommend hitting ebay, or abebooks, or whatever bookseller you used for old things. My favourite work of his is Genetic Soldier, the last book he wrote properly before his death, but I haven't yet come across a bad book of his, so go with whatever interests you, I say.

That storm appears to have moved on quickly.

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