Monday, 9 July 2018

Gateway to Elsewhere

Murray Leinster Gateway to Elsewhere (1951)
Sporting a cover which caused my eyeballs to pop from their sockets and roll halfway across the store before I could stop them, I would have bought this one even without the inducement of it being written by Murray Leinster; and I needed something comforting after three hundred pages of How I Did It by Lord Percy. Gateway to Elsewhere is, roughly speaking, a fantasy novel in so much as that its hero is pitted against shape changing djinn across a landscape owing much to the Arabian Nights, but it's a fantasy novel seasoned with sciencey touches - a country inhabiting a parallel dimension, the physics of the djinn, and their King who knows all about our atomic weapons and wants a piece of the action. It's the kind of twisted narrative those with short memories tend to regard as having been invented by Alan Moore, but above all else, Gateway to Elsewhere is a comic novel.

Being very much of its time, its mostly Arabic cast are subject to certain stereotypes - although nothing too mean spirited - and the general attitude to women is all a bit creaky, even psychologically suspect, belonging to the my wife doesn't understand me school.

'May Allah forbid!' said Tony grimly. 'I've never yet talked to a woman who didn't try to make me apologise for being a man, or any who'd have bothered to talk to me if I hadn't been! You are a queen, Majesty, and you're giving me what I take to be rather complicated instructions. I'm only a man, so whatever I do - because I'm a man - you will explain should have been done differently.'

Tony, our generic fast talking New Yorker abroad, likes the ladies of this mysterious realm with their dusky beauty, long legs, and the rest, and that at least two of them are slave girls is as much part of the pantomime as camels and men gruffly swearing on the beard of Allah himself; at the risk of invoking political correctness gone mad amongst other red herrings, this book is honestly only doing what the rest of the culture was doing at the time. There's certainly stereotyping, but nothing which anyone sane would be justified in calling racism, and the narrative is laced with sufficient good intent to offset whatever cheese footprint might be left in the reader's thoughts.

I say comic novel to mean that whilst there may not be actual jokes cracked, the tone is reminiscent of the Andy Griffith Show, with that same gentle, goofball humour taking delight in absurdity and familiar archetypes, not least the ditzy blonde female djinnee who takes a shine to our guy.

He swaggered in exactly the manner of the solitary general he had come in contact with in the greatest war of the human race.

'Admirable!' he repeated in that general's very tones. 'The one who carried me is a very pearl among camels!'

The camel he had ridden turned its head. It looked at him sentimentally. It sighed gustily. It giggled.


I doubt Gateway to Elsewhere is likely to get a reprint any time soon, so it's worth hunting down. It's probably one of the more stupid things I've read this year, but as usual you can tell Leinster had a blast writing it, and surely only the most curmudgeonly dim-bulb could possibly resist its charm.

No comments:

Post a Comment