Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Star Virus

Barrington J. Bayley The Star Virus (1970)
In a 1999 interview, Michael Moorcock - Bayley's friend and collaborator - asks Juha Lindroos:

Did you know William Burroughs loved The Star Virus and wrote to tell me he'd used it as inspiration? The idea of people as a virus very much appealed to Burroughs, who enjoyed at least some of Barry's work, though I don't know how much he read. Burroughs definitely recognised the originality of mind.

Whatever you may make of such a recommendation, it seems to say something about the quality of Bayley's writing, which in turn raises questions as to why he isn't better remembered.

I don't know. I suppose it's all to do with marketing.

Anyway, the quality of the writing really stands out as incongruous with something which has become so difficult to find and apparently resistant to reprinting. The guy really paints pictures, beautifully drawn sentences and a love of unusually baroque imagery suggesting genuine confidence - a man very much at one with his typewriter, and who probably didn't really have to write science-fiction, but thank God he did. It's so much better when sprung from conscious choice rather than necessity.

This being my second Bayley - or fourth if you count a couple of fairly long and thoroughly peculiar short stories - I'm beginning to notice themes and preoccupations - the nutty scientist who seems more John Dee than anything of Asimov's heritage; plant life exerting control over humanity; and unexpected, inexplicable structures underlying our existence, even our history. The Star Virus is a significantly philosophical novel seemingly concerning free will and whether it plays a role in the course of the future, or destiny if you must; and it manages to do this with space pirates, rockets, an inscrutable alien civilisation, and a star drive based on the perception of an observer; and all of this without reading like the work of anyone else, or at the risk of alienating anyone who just happens to be in it for the planets and the monsters. It achieves something quite complex whilst appearing fairly straightforward.

Seeing as I've already given the game away, the virus in question is the projected spread of humanity across the galaxy - this being contrary to the established history of the universe in relation to something older and more abstract. In case it isn't obvious, and in the event of anyone reading who might care about such things, you could quite easily read The Star Virus as inhabiting the same basic cosmos as Faction Paradox, if that helps, and certainly it is writing of this kind which I would say has been ancestral to the aforementioned mythos, whether directly or otherwise.

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