Sunday, 7 October 2012

Andromeda Breakthrough

Fred Hoyle & John Elliot Andromeda Breakthrough (1964)

A boldly exciting work of imagination... filled with physical excitement and intellectual stimulation... much of it reads like a James Bond adventure, it proclaims upon the back cover, presumably referencing Completed in Triplicate, that obscure Ian Fleming novel wherein Bond spends the entire story in a laboratory frowning at things seen under a microscope. The rest of the back cover is taken up with glowing praise for all the mighty deeds of Hoyle and Elliot which aren't this novel.

A for Andromeda was a 1961 BBC television serial written by Fred Hoyle - renowned astronomer and cosmologist famous for kicking Stephen Hawking's head in on numerous occasions - and John Elliot, widely respected and eminently talented author of television plays. The story begins with a radio signal picked up from the vicinity of the Andromeda galaxy, a signal delivering instructions for the building of an advanced computer which, once running, itself delivers instructions for the creation of artificial life, specifically a seemingly human woman who grows to adulthood in a matter of days. This being the BBC in the early 1960s, I gather most of the drama took the form of men with moustaches holding forth in either laboratories or governmental offices which, in the absence of competition, proved so exciting as to justify a sequel, 1962's The Andromeda Breakthrough.

This is of course the novelisation. Unlike A for Andromeda, the television serial still exists in its entirety and is available on DVD, but as I keep trying to explain to people regardless of their utter incredulity, I like reading books and for the most part I couldn't really give a shit about TV, so here we are.

Fred's later novel, Seven Steps to the Sun co-written with  Geoffrey Hoyle, is a weird and extraordinarily clunky effort, a long, long way from being one of the best things I've ever read, and distinguished by this sentence:

A duck looked at him from the water and laughed in cynical fashion.

Andromeda Breakthrough benefits from the involvement of a writing partner qualified by his ability to string sentences together rather than by his being fruit of the author's loins, so it's reasonably well-written, avoids the clich├ęs one might expect of this sort of novel, with no obvious pantomime villains and the rulers of the somewhat implausible middle eastern country of Azaran turning out to be entirely reasonable people despite the kidnappings; and the story is decent enough, a suitably Quatermassy apocalypse, although it may be stretching the point a bit when we learn that the beings of Andromeda merely pretended to desire the destruction of life on Earth so as to shock humanity into getting its ecological act together.

The problem is that for all its virtues Andromeda Breakthrough is very, very dull, a presumably faithful adaptation of a conspicuously studio-based television serial, all men in white coats frowning at clipboards and suggesting calls to the ministry. It may have worked well enough on the screen in 1962, but fifty years later and in an entirely different medium, some of the magic has gone.

1 comment:

  1. I was looking at a cheap copy of this at the Book Farm last weekend. Glad a walked away and left it there