Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Candle in the Sun

Book Review: 'Candle in the Sun' by Robert Wells

1 / 5 Stars

‘Candle in the Sun’ (158 pp) was published by Berkley Books in June, 1971. The cover art is uncredited, but likely is by Paul Lehr.

Robert Wells (b. 1929) is a UK writer who published a number of sf novels in the 60s and 70s, including The Parasaurians (1969), Right-Handed Wilderness (1973), and The Spacejacks (1975).

‘Candle’ was a struggle to finish....I routinely gave up on reading it, only to reluctantly pick it back up again so I could complete this review.

The plot is straightforward: on an un-named colony planet, a flood of Biblical proportions forces the entire population to flee via ‘space arks’. The main character, Robert Gascon, is trapped by intelligent dolphins (?!) on the sea floor, and misses the evacuation. When he finally escapes captivity and reaches the surface, he discovers he is the last man left on the planet. He sets up a meager existence in a suite of rooms in one of the taller buildings protruding from the submerged ruins of the major city.

Gascon, by now partly deranged, spends his days sending out radio communications in the desperate hope of contacting someone still left on the planet. In the course of doing so, he receives a garbled answer from a woman named Clavelle. 

Elated, Gascon travels to a ruined subway station and gets aboard a still-functioning train, anticipating a rendezvous with Clavelle. Instead, he discovers that he has been abducted by the residents of Arcadia, a subterranean complex populated by the survivors of a crashed space ark.

Subjected to constant surveillance, Gascon must pretend to comply with the wishes of his captors, who – beset with mutations due to radiation – harbor a scheme to use him as the progenitor of a reborn human race, destined to live underground in perpetuity. Gascon uneasily participates in the scheme, but when the moment comes, he breaks for the surface - and freedom. 

But the Arcadians have no intention of giving up so easily…..

One of the reasons why ‘Candle’ is such a trying read is its prose style: author Wells uses an awkward combination of traditional pulp prose mixed with a self-conscious effort to adopt the 'modern' diction of sf’s New Wave writing.

This leads to frequent segments of clumsily rendered stream-of-consciousness text that is difficult to understand, and unrewarding to wade through. For example, early on in the novel, Gascon converses with a mutant; the two pages chronicling this conversation are made entirely up of text interspersed with ellipses. An example:

The eye opened and stared at Gascon, trying to remember. “I…will…show you a…quietthink…a thing…un…a…a”

“A secret ?”

“Ahh…hhh…Yes…a seacret ?”

Gascon is prone to talking to himself aloud, and he often gives vent to some of the more tortured outbursts I've ever read in the sf literature:

“I hope your reptile skins peel off and the sea boils you alive when it strikes up there !”
(addressing the intelligent dolphins who captured him)

“Scram, you bloody lepidopteric sheep !”
(addressing some mutants in Arcadia)

“Damned, poisonous, gut-rotting slime.”
(after eating a unique species of fungus)

“Come here, you damn beetle !”
(addressing still other mutants)

“Don’t tell me they built walki-talkie dolls that RUN on fruit !”
(addressing a robot)

A steady diet of these phrasings and literary contrivances make ‘Candle in the Sun’ a chore to read. You’re better off passing on this novel.

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