Monday, 10 December 2007

Collision with Chronos - Barrington J Bayley

I am not a huge fan of science fiction. I don’t mind the science and the exploration of ideas – these are vital, not just to science fiction, but to all literature in a scientific age. What I dislike in most books categorized as science fiction is the awful writing and the often right-wing political sympathies masquerading as forward thinking. I won’t name names as I know I will be jumped on good and proper by a bunch of people who won’t have anyone dump on their antediluvian darlings.

Barry Bayley is one of the science fiction authors I do like. For one thing, his science is good. He has a far better understanding of it than a lot of so-called scientists and science writers who have also turned out space operas. For another, he has an excellent grasp of social complexities and can explore this through the science and the science through social situations without having to stitch the two together and hold it together with a bolt through the neck.

And as if that wasn’t enough, he is a good writer. Even where the exploration of a scientific or philosophical idea is central to the story, it isn’t clunky exposition peopled with cardboard cut-outs. Bayley is a brilliant novelist, an extraordinary intellect, one who feels at home in the ‘genre’ he has chosen. It would not surprise me if you hadn’t heard of him, or if you had it was for the books he wrote to put food on the table.

Some of his books are now back in print in the US and some can be bought through Amazon. It is to the eternal shame of the UK publishing industry that Bayley isn’t on the shelf of every bookshop where he would outshine much of the turgid nonsense that is there.

Collision with Chronos is an exploration of time. Although some of the theories (from J W Dunne) have been expanded and superseded since the mid 1970s, it is nonetheless a fine, taut thriller that turns all the time-travelling clichés on their head or simply grinds them into dust. It also paints a horrifying picture of the evils of the ideology of ‘racial purists’ and how ideology is used to subvert scientific and other truths.