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Saturday 25 June 2011

Space Odyssey

In an earlier post I talked about the Fortean fiction that Lionel Fanthorpe produced in the 1950s and 60s, and mentioned that his science fiction novels were generally of a much lower standard than his (often excellent) supernatural stories. One reason for this may have been that his enthusiasms at the time were for subjects like history, folklore, archaeology and mythology -- subjects which were generally much easier to work into stories set on Earth than into his outer space adventures!

One notable exception to this is the 1963 novel Negative Minus (pictured left), which is nothing less than a retelling of Homer's Odyssey in outer space. The various islands of the original story become planets, while their mythological inhabitants become alien beings... and the names of all the characters and locations are spelled backwards!

The central character of Fanthorpe's novel is a spaceship captain named Suessydo (Odysseus), a native of the planet Acahti (Ithaca). In the first episode recounted, a large part of Suessydo's crew is massacred on the planet of Suramsi (Ismarus). The survivors, trying to navigate their way back to Acahti, stop off at the planet of Naybil (Libyan), where they almost fall victim to a narcotic local fruit called Sutol (Lotus).

They then proceed to the planet of Spolcyc (Cyclops), where Suessydo defeats a gigantic one-eyed alien named Sumehpylop (Polyphemus). It turns out that the alien was a protégé of a powerful superbeing named Nodiesop (Poseidon), which will have repercussions later.

Not everyone they meet is hostile to them. A disembodied, ethereal being called Suloea (Aeolus) helps them on their way by providing a gadget which (until they manage to lose it) allows them to control the forces of nature.

After a brief encounter with the hostile world of Senogyrtseal (Laestrygones), the ship lands on Aeaea (Aeaea!) where a female alien named Ecric (Circe) converts several crewmembers into ungainly quadrupeds. Suessydo, with the assistance of a superbeing called Semreh (Hermes), manages to defeat Ecric and persuade her to help them return to Acahti.

Ecric hypnotizes Suessydo and transports him into a strange dimension called Suratrat (Tartarus), or the Land of the Dead, where he is given plenty of good advice by the wraithlike people living there. On his return to the land of the living, Suessydo blasts off with his crew and they enter hyperspace (the "Negative Minus" of the book's title) where they narrowly escape an attack by alien radio-beings called Sneris (Sirens).

Passing through a region of space called Anissem (Messina), the ship navigates past the twin hazards of Allycs (Scylla) and Sidbyrahc (Charybdis) -- the description of the latter sounding almost exactly like a Black Hole! They survive this ordeal only to encounter two seriously hostile superbeings, Soileh (Helios) and Suez (Zeus)... and the ship is completely destroyed by an energy blast from the latter. Only Suessydo manages to escape in a life capsule.

The capsule crash-lands on the planet of Aigygo (Ogygia), where a female alien named Ospylac (Calypso) helps Suessydo make the necessary repairs. In space again, he is assailed by a meteor storm generated by Nodiesop, who is still sore at Suessydo for his treatment of Sumehpylop.

Eventually Suessydo lands on the planet Airehcs (Scheria), where the king's daughter Aacisuan (Nausicaa) persuades her father to help Suessydo build a new spaceship so he can finally return to Acahti. This he eventually does -- but only after he has recounted all his adventures to a minstrel named Remoh (Homer)!

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