Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: October the First is Too Late

Book Review: 'October the First is Too Late', by Fred Hoyle

2 / 5 Stars

‘October the First is Too Late’ first was published in hardcover in 1966; this Fawcett Crest paperback (160 pp) was published in July, 1970. The cover artist is uncredited, but probably is Paul Lehr.

The novel has an intriguing premise: through the action of an entity or entities unknown, in August of 1966, Earth is subjected to a ‘Timequake’ which places different geographic areas in different ears in the planet’s history.

In England, it’s still 1966, but in Western Europe, it’s 1917, and World War I is raging. In Greece, it’s 425 B.C. And ominously, in Russia and China, the entire landscape is a featureless sheet of glass – suggesting the far, far future.

The first-person narrator, referred to as Richard or Dick, is a skilled pianist and composer of avant-garde works. By virtue of being a friend of the talented mathematician John Sinclair, Dick is invited along on exploratory trips made by a bewildered UK government to see the extent and breadth of the Timequake’s effects on the planet.

But as the intrepid British explorers are to discover, the likelihood of reversing the altered state of the Earth may not just be impossible, but unadvisable……….

I found ‘October’ to be a disappointment. Despite having one of the more interesting premises in sf, it really does very little with it.

At the time he wrote the novel, Fred Hoyle must have been obsessed with music and musical creativity, because large segments of ‘October’ are devoted to expositions on playing music; composing music; the effects of music on the emotional and psychological state of the listener; how music is transformed, but remains the same, over the passage of the centuries; etc., etc. And this is all classical music that is being dealt with, of course. I was thankful ‘October’ didn’t revolve around a reverential treatment of Jazz, an exasperating affectation on the part of so many novels, but still………..

I won’t disclose any spoilers about the novel’s denouement, save to say that I found it underwhelming and contrived – as if Hoyle, in setting up his premise of a Timequake, was indifferent as far as resolving it.

The novel’s prose style, like those of Hoyle’s other novels, is clean and fast-moving, which helps to some extent in mediating the overemphasis on Music Theory and Practice. But when all is said and done, I can’t give ‘October the First is Too Late’ more than two stars.

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