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Following on from his multiple award-winning debut novel ‘The Forever War’, Joe Haldeman wrote this, an immensely enjoyable pulp sf classic which looks at both telepathy and humankind’s first contact with another species, one much more advanced than our own. The Levant-Meyer Translation (LMT) is the product of an incredibly fortuitous scientific accident. It allows people to be instantaneously moved vast distances, with the proviso that they must return back to their point of origin after a set time (once again, instantaneously moving the vast distances involved) and that any matter they bring back with them from the place they visited will disappear back to its own original location after the exact time of the human mission duration. Jacque LeFavre is a tamer, a member of a military team which routinely makes use of LMT technology to travel to other planets. On a relatively routine mission Jacque’s team encounters a small creature. Ch’ing, the first person to touch it, passes it to Jacque, and in the moment they both share contact with the animal they find that they can read the other’s thoughts. As other people touch the creature, of a type which eventually comes to be known as the Groombridge Bridge, they also experience telepathic sensation, although it is soon realised that the effect decreases with each person to touch the creature … another trait being, unfortunately, that the first person to touch a Bridge dies shortly afterwards. When strange gravity signals are discovered emanating from a distant location at the very boundaries of the LMT’s range, a team is sent to investigate. What they find at Achernar is another intelligent life-form, one that is in fact more advanced than mankind. The first encounter proves disastrous, and the aliens are assumed to be deliberately hostile, something which takes on an entirely new meaning when the strange gravity distortions are detected in a much, much c
loser star-system than Achernar, and it seems the enemy is right on humanity’s doorstep. When the race is finally contacted properly and a basic communication established, it is via the Bridge, connected to LeFavre, the only human who appears to be able to communicate with the alien L’vrai even utilising the Groombridge discoveries. What he discerns from this contact, however, is not good: it is considered highly unusual by most advanced races in the galaxy for a starfaring race to still cling to primitive individualistic ideologies, and the expansion of humanity into the cosmos is, therefore, considered a threat. Mankind may be on the brink of annihilation… Written in a very easy prose style, with large sections of the novel in the form of scientific articles from newspapers, extracts from Jacque LeFavre’s published diaries and stageplays, and even the more conventional chapters being constructed of short, informal sentences whose author was obviously considerably more interested in readability than literary excellence (and what a shame, that these two objectives now seem so diametrically opposed) when writing, Mindbridge is a science fiction novel written by an author who is (possibly subconsciously) of the school of thought that states that sf is a genre of ideas rather than style, which should not be judged by the narrow-minded literary standards of more mainstream novels. In this, this is a book that most certainly succeeds; the LMT, Groombridge Bridge and the L’vrai are all interestingly constructed elements of the novel which, when thrown together in such a small melting pot (185 pages) combine to produce a rich and satisfying mixture which most genre fans will find difficult to put down. Character-wise, the book is reasonably good anyway; actually, I might have classed the characterisation contained herein as very good had I not read the author’s previous work ‘The Forever War’ pretty
recently. As it is, the characters encountered here are very similar to those of the slightly earlier work, although this is no way detracts from their effectiveness in this storyline. This is the first book I have bought so far in Victor Gollancz’s new SF Collector’s Editions. Obviously spurred on by sister company Millennium’s success with their SF Masterworks (and now Fantasy Masterworks to boot), the books in this series would seem to be selected by the same people responsible for the more established series, with many of the same authors being featured in both cases, even if the Collector’s Editions seem to be featuring slightly less well-known works. I was slightly dubious at first about the format of the books, the addition of a thick cover with flaps to an essentially paperback book not immediately justifying, in my mind, a 50%-plus price increase on a standard paperback edition. In retrospect, however, these are very handsomely-produced editions: the gaudy yellow cover has grown on me, the books are certainly more durable than their bog-standard counterparts and, if the quality of this entry in the series is anything to go by, I shall certainly be buying more of these in the future. Recommended.
Published by Victor Gollancz Science Fiction