Wednesday, 18 July 2018

A for Andromeda

Fred Hoyle & John Elliot A for Andromeda (1962)
A for Andromeda was, as you probably know, a television drama written by Fred Hoyle - astronomer of note and the man who coined the term big bang - and John Elliot, BBC scriptwriter. It's therefore hard science-fiction in, I suppose, the vein of Arthur C. Clarke, and could probably be said to foreshadow at least Carl Sagan's Contact in having been spun upon a message from deep space containing instructions by which our heroes build something futuristic. In Contact they build a device which opens one end of a wormhole leading back to the distant planet from which the message originated. In A for Andromeda they build a really massive futuristic computer, which in turn grows an artificial life form as an interface between itself and the scientists who first detected the message. The TV show was 1961, the book a year later, and Harold Wilson's speech about the white heat of technology came along in 1963, presumably in response to a general mood or feeling of which this was similarly an expression, even a warning.

It starts off fairly well, and the general sobriety of the subjects invoked are such as to allow for even wonder-fuelled discussions of computers the size of buildings seeming more breathtaking than hokey. It's not Arthur C. Clarke, but it manages a decent impersonation thereof for at least the first hundred pages; after which it becomes difficult to tell quite what the story was trying to do as it gets bogged down in cold war politics. Flashes of inspired narrative come and go, but the political intrigue begins to drone a little.

Decent, but it falls some way short of amazing.

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