Book Review: The Pillars of Eternity, Barrington J. Bayley (1982)

4/5 (Good)

Barrington J. Bayley, an English sci-fi writer and a member of the Science Fiction New Wave, is considered a lost great — if not for his novels as novels, but for his well of bizarre/extraordinary/and disturbing ideas.  I recently reviewed one of his earlier works, Star Winds (1978) and was completely put off.  However, a trip to the local book store yielded very few works of my standard authors so I picked up yet another Bayley work based solely on its cover!

For once the back cover blurb pans out!

“A novel about:

How clones made murder a new sexual experience…

How rebuilding one man’s skeleton made him the most sensitive and powerful man in the future…

How a deck of cards was devised that was really programmed to reveal the future…

How a lost planet became the mecca of every treasure-hunter in space…

How Joachim Boaz plotted to derail the entire universe!

It’s exciting, “nova” science fiction…”

Brief Plot summary:  Our hero, Joachim Boaz, has his skeleton replaced by a group of philosophers called the collonadists.  In a nutshell, the collonadists believe that history moves along a wheel and everything will eventually repeat itself.  Similar to Vulcans, collonadists also believe in reducing one’s own emotions.  A horrific accident occurs which, without the special collonadist skeleton, would have killed him.  In order for him to survive, he is linked to a ship, which serves as his life support and routes data from its censors to his mind — however, with a catch, he can’t move very far from it.

Eventually, Boaz discovers that a planet, called Meirjain the Wanderer has moved near inhabited space.  A horde of prospectors (including brothers with hats permanently attached to their heads) and an eventual friend whose corrupted collonadists deck of cards appear to tell the future, descend on the planet to seek its treasures.  Boaz, looking for some mysterious time gems, discovers something extraordinarily peculiar….  And here, the summary shall stop — READ FOR YOURSELF!

WOW.  In Bayley’s works, bizarre worlds, characters, Masonic influence (the pillars of Boaz and Joachim), weird philosophies, strange technologies, and occasionally, wry black humor, are more important than characters.  Joachim Boaz as a character is flat and listless — however, the world around him which he views through his attached ship/skeletal extension is vibrant and disturbed (for example, sexual deviance involving killing one’s partner who resurrects in a nearby clone — repeat).

In a nutshell — Bayley’s works are lush and imaginative and on the whole, low on dialogue and very well written.  I wish Bayley wrote a series involving this world — I want to know more about the Hat Brothers and the various other characters we quickly meet before Boaz moves on.  As with Star Winds, female characters are practically absent (one does “populate” half of the book but so unimportant that I immediately forgot her name).

Well done!

Find a copy!

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Pillars of Eternity, Barrington J. Bayley (1982)

  1. Joachim, I started this and got sidetracked, but have been thinking about it ever since. The description of the accident that leads to his linking to the ship, eegah! This reminds me of Delany`s NOVA in terms of the character revealing the world through his interactions before the big quest gets rolling. It`s tough to write but the slower pace provides the opportunity for details to sink in. So far, so good.

    • Ah, one of my oldest reviews. Not sure how it would hold up if I read it now… Especially having read a LOT more of the New Wave Movement — Bayley was a “member” of the movement, sort of… But liked to satirize pulp more than, shall we say, try to be literary…

  2. Joachim, I became familiar with him belatedly, after reading a tribute by Moorcock. He was indeed satirical but not in the treatment of the sf elements, at least not in this case, more like using sf to mock the overly-heroic type. But I find the writing refreshing, his focus more interesting, than some better-known sf writers who just don`t work for me. But I`ll have a complete view after I finish.

  3. Joachim, I enjoyed this very much, and your review is accurate. Indeed, Boaz is a bland central character but he`s the right kind of character for this book. I love the treatment of time travel and the `eternal return` and what he must face to achieve his goal [SPOILER], repeating the event he`s trying to avoid [END SPOILER]. I have several other of his novels, a shame he wasn`t more popular or prolific; I enjoy these brief, punchy books that deal with ideas efficiently; he handles in 160 pages what it took Stephen King more than seven volumes to deal with, and does it without a lame ending or pretentiousness [this is a HUGE concept, folks!!].

    • Hehe — well, with that in mind, I think you’ll like any of Bayley’s treatments of time travel — Collision with Chronos (I have a review of that as well) and Fall of Chronopolis…

  4. I loved the scenes on the alien planet finding the jewels. The ending was refreshingly stark. A fun little sf novel that deals lightly with heavy philosophical topics.

  5. Ghod, those early DAW Books. They really did sf a service in those early days. From bringing out new works from old established authors (Andre Norton, Joseph Green, Barrington J. Bayley, John (Ugh!!) Norman), discovering new talent (M. A. Foster, C. J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee) and reprinting the near-complete out-of-print works of influential authors (Philip K. Dick, John Brunner, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock). I was too young for the Ace Doubles so it was through the DAW Books imprint that I discovered Bayley. I don’t recall ever being really disappointed in his books, but that was long, long ago. Time to reacquaint myself with his works (as I’ve been doing with Murray Leinster).

    • I have a love/hate relationship with DAW. They published so much crud…. and yes, some good ones every now and then. My issue is more what happened to the press in the 1980s (mostly reprint sword and sorcery, etc).

  6. By-the-way, do I have a dirty mind? Does the cover seems to have some subliminal sexual symbolism to it, or have I been reading to much Freud?

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