Raven said to Charles: "Well, Mr. Grayner? Destruction or salvage? A corrupt and decadent world--do you destroy it or do you try to mend it?"
Charles stood in silence; he felt that his irresolution must be written all over him. Raven and Dinkhul were both looking at him--Raven with calm confidence, Dinkhul with the trace of a mocking grin.
He said: "I don't know--"
|I can't actually remember any|
pretty blonde ladies in the book
Planet in Peril was first published in the United Kingdom in 1955 with the considerably more appropriate title The Year of the Comet and stars Charles Grayner, 21st-century scientist. Grayner is a sophisticated man--when he comes home and finds the cleaning lady has left the telescreen on the pop music channel, he switches it to the classical music channel. After a long day studying diamonds as a possible power source, a little Mozart is just what he needs! In the first ten pages of the book Grayner visits a used record store, where he runs into the guy who operates and stars on (as a kind of DJ or talk show host) the classical music TV channel, Hiram Dinkhul. Even though they have only met once before, this guy seems to know all about Grayner's career, including the fact that the diamond expert has just this very day learned he will be transferred from Michigan to sunny California!
|Fellow SF fan|
we salute you!
Outside this managerial system is "Siraq," a religious state (Dinkhul calls it a "deity-centered nation") that controls the "Near East." (Though Grayner and Dinkhul are Americans, they use British lingo--Dinkhul at one point talks of the paucity of students who "read History" instead of the American usage "study History," while Grayner tells Dinkhul that he "tipped down the drain" the "containers of mescalin" provided him by his managers for use on vacation.) While Westerners all smoke cigarettes, use "mesc" and engage in casual promiscuous sex (Grayner is said to frequent brothels), the Siraqis refrain, having what is said to be a "puritanical" culture. (Christopher never uses the words "Islam" or "Muslim," just like he never uses "socialism" or "fascism.")
Like the Siraqis, Dinkhul is critical of the managerial states and to some extent lives outside of them. His TV channel represents "one of the few remaining strands of capitalism in the modern world," he tells Grayner, and he complains that the society of the managerial states is decadent, pointing out the failure to colonize Mars and Venus though the technology to do so is available (Raymond F. Jones in The Cybernetic Brains also used the failure to explore space as a sign that a socialistic high-tech society had fallen into decadence.) We later learn that Dinkhul, besides being a broadcaster, is a bigwig in an underground organization trying to undermine the managerial system, The Society of Individualists. This group doesn't have a plan to take over, they just want to see the whole managerial system fall apart, assuming what comes next will be better.
|I guess those are the Siraqis on their|
diamond-powered flying machines
Much of the book consists of Grayner being cajoled or kidnapped by Dinkhul's Individualists or one managerial or another, all of them trying to convince Grayner to work for them. Again and again Grayner is liberated from captivity at one managerial by another managerial or by the Society of Individualists--in this book people are always getting put to sleep by gas or drugged drinks or hit on the head by blunt instruments and then waking up in the custody of some other faction. People in this book are also always putting on disguises, and members of one managerial keep turning out to be moles or turncoats who are in fact working for a different faction. When Grayner is "reunited" with Sara Koupol, Dinkhul, after some days, exposes this woman as an impostor (no wonder she was putting out!) This is the kind of book in which the protagonist is carried along by the winds of fate and manipulated by mysterious forces--until the very end Grayner doesn't make any decisions, figure out any mysteries, or defeat any foes; Grayner does not drive the plot in any way, he is merely its passenger.
Anyway, all the managerials want Grayner (and Humayun and Sara Koupol) under their control because everybody realizes that they are on the brink of figuring out how to turn diamonds into a super efficient power source and super powerful weapon--if one managerial gets this power before the rest it will be able to rule the world. Dinkhul, who I guess is like the book's conscience and Christopher's spokesman, tries to preserve Greyner's freedom to choose his own way while hoping Greyner will not stand in the way of a collapse of managerial society.
When I bought Planet in Peril, and when I started reading it, I had hopes it would be an exciting adventure story and/or a human drama. I was disappointed because it is a kind of satire of and meditation on modern Western life, religion, radicalism and conservatism. (I didn't realize it at first, but the character's names have an allegorical ring--Grayner, Ledbetter, Raven, etc. Is "Humayun" supposed to reminded us of "houyhnhnm?") Do I agree with Christopher that individualistic capitalist societies are more vital and productive than bureaucratic collectivist ones? Of course I do. Do I agree that while religion is a scam, it brings structure, meaning and even joy into people's lives? You bet. Does my agreement with what I think Christopher is trying to say here mean I loved this novel? No way.
The scene I quoted as an epigraph to this blog post, in which Dinkhul and Raven (head of Atomics) both try to sway Grayner, reminded me of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, in which a representative of modern liberalism and a representative of religious and communist radicalism compete for the soul of a bland middle-class guy. The book as a whole reminded me of Anthony Burgess's satiric The Wanting Seed, which I also found didn't inspire in me much feeling. Planet of Peril, however, suffers in comparison to The Wanting Seed because while Christopher is subtle (to be kind) or limp (if you want to be harsh about it), Burgess is loud, sharp, edgy. Burgess just comes right out and tells you homosexuals are disgusting and that English people are superior to Third Worlders and lays his theories about history and religion right on the table for you to see. This is a way to generate excitement, or at least interest, in your novel if it lacks human drama and tension. Christopher's Planet in Peril, unfortunately, though it has a provocative theme (Muslims armed with a super weapon are going to conquer the world, and we decadent Westerners should welcome it!) isn't stirring or captivating because it is too soft and too vague.