The Star Quest

Part III of The Life and Times of Grant August Elik, the Great Gunner, sequel to The Star Sloop and The Star Command as reviewed at the end of the Millennium, in an unusual back-to-the future fashion. More

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Words: 144,790
Language: English
ISBN: 9781301645695
About Verity Fountain-Douglas

The Star Quartet books of Verity Fountain-Douglas began as an attempt to show that it was possible to use our power to suspend disbelief as the foundation for a different level of future fiction. The suspension of disbelief is, of course, the basis on which we build fairy stories and myths, gods, superstitions and miracles, daydreams, and the ultimately certain triumph of good over evil. It is vital to many sorts of novel. I once began to read a novel [because it had a promising title] in which, within a few intriguing pages and for reasons unknown, a protagonist who had seemed normal, suddenly changed appearance, including dress, just by thinking he would. There are lots of examples of this fairytale kind of behaviour, some older than the serpent in Eden, some much newer than Superman, with dozens and dozens of witches, wizards and djinnis constantly being created. But because the opening text of the novel made the twist unbelievable, I put it down and, eventually, into a village recycling bag.
I say "a novel.," but we have a passion in English publishing for putting our books into categories --'genre fiction' would be a very broad group of categories for instance-- some of them trash. The book I have mentioned would be classed precisely as 'genre fiction: fantasy.' But publishers work themselves into knots sometimes, trying to decide, for example, whether a work is a novel with a good deal of fact, or a memoir because it doesn't contain too much noticeable fiction. Thus, 'science fiction' may contain a lot of fact or factual types of situation and much credible behaviour. I find it interesting that the Germans, who tend to matter-of-factness and physical image [philosophers and sages are likely to be described as tooth-suckers], do not have this problem of description. Specimens of all sorts are described as 'about-books.'

So my 'Star' progression, with all four volumes now in print, is comprehensible as a series of 'about-future books' -- concerned with events four or five hundred years from now. They are also 'about-science-fiction' books in that they do purport to explain, in passing, how we overcome the limits that enclose us in one solar system. But the works are also about-people books --and wry enough [I hope] to be true to that subject, because that qualification is the essence of a good read. Since the characters are drawn in 'life-and-times' fashion, they have to be believable, and entertaining when looked at with a little sympathy for the ironies of the human condition. The principal, Grant August Elik [the Great Gunner] proves to be one of our 'disturbers' on the grand scale: something of a benign 'Napoleonic.' But the works are, therefore, also adventure stories told 'back to the future' by an author working at the end of the present millennium. This author, represented as Verity Fountain-Douglas, exists for the stated objective of debunking Our 'Hero.'

If anyone has a word or two that accurately and kindly [please!] sums all these features in a few syllables, I would be glad to hear about it. I'll cheerfully hear criticism too, of course --but it will be wasted if it comes from those who have forgotten the pleasures to be had from suspending disbelief, however rational. An early friend and mentor Geoffrey C. Pinnington, Bomber Command squadron leader, and later Fleet Street giant, sometime editor of The People, put it this way when we were still swapping comics by authors like Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke: "Everybody has some kind of warp, even if it is not mentioned," he told me: "That is just taken for granted." Indeed it is, and the joke of it is this: there is a growing chapel of scientists who have such a high opinion of ourselves [including themselves] that they are distressed by the thought that mankind will never be more than a 'one-planet race.' They greatly desire the realization their own fantasies. They are reluctant realists. They find relief in the suspension of disbelief.

Perhaps I should add that this is not another of those yarns that can be dragged through innumerable volumes. Sagas, as they are called, which are now a genre unto themselves: another separate, apparently unending, literature. The entire life-and-times life story of Grant Elik exists in four modest manuscripts essentially completed before a word was published. The books also wear the colophon of Dvanda Masda in arms: an artist's charcoal sketch figure of Apollonian enlightenment and enemy of all the Dionysian excesses that scar what we have made of the world we began with. That is another story --one that I cannot tell as well as others who have specialized knowledge. But in this case it ensures, broadly speaking, that reader and author will probably share much the same standards of good and ill, which is as it should be for their joint satisfaction. --Oliver St. Gaudy [leading editor]

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