Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Flight from Yesterday


Robert Moore Williams Flight from Yesterday (1963)
This is the third I've read by Robert Moore Williams, and the one which seems to confirm certain ideas I've developed about the man's style and what he was trying to achieve. King of the Fourth Planet and Beachhead Planet both felt somewhat like philosophical allegory filtered through a narrative sensibility not dissimilar to that of A.E. van Vogt, and that this one should play with roughly the same deck of cards suggests that I wasn't simply reading too hard.

That said, Williams feels more conventionally pulpy than Alfred Elton, more pitched at a particular audience. Here we have persons projected forward in time from the last days of an advanced antediluvian city - identified as Atlantis on the cover but not in the actual text - their personalities possessing the present day bodies of a guy who runs a curio shop and who occasionally sells porn on the side, a nightclub bruiser, and a couple of prostitutes - salacious details hinted at in couched terms presumably designed to elude censorious editing, but some way from the usual cast of characters one might expect to encounter in a novel of this general type. These persons find themselves pitched against Keth Ard, our main protagonist - an out of work test pilot apparently for no other reason than as an invocation of something adventurous and futuristic; and Keth Ard is assisted by his psychiatrist.

With personalities switching between bodies and time zones, and with objectives seeming a little nebulous beyond the basic existence of conflicting interests, Flight from Yesterday is confusing and occasionally difficult to follow compared to the other two, neither of which could have been described as straightforward in the first place; and this one is maybe not quite so engagingly bizarre, but it's still pretty fucking weird in places. The narrative seems to be something to do with karma, reincarnation, redemption and so on, at least more so than it's about time travellers from Atlantis; and it's this invocation of philosophical depth which renders it so readable, even if it resembles the gonzo philosophy of a crazy person - like someone sat Richard Shaver down and made him really think about what he'd been saying. I dislike the term outsider art for all sorts of reasons I can't be bothered to go into right now, but Williams' novels probably qualify; which isn't to say that he's a bad writer in any sense, because there's too much conviction in this for it to have been the work of a person without any real clue as to what they're doing; but he seems to have been playing by his own rules, and yes, that is a recommendation.

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