Killibol is a bleak, dark, gray rock planet in another galaxy populated with isolated termite-mound-like cities of its human colonists. Because of the inability to grow food in Killibol’s soil, society is structured around protein producing tanks. As a result of the rigid system of food production (i.e. power), life on Killibol is insular and unchanging. Stagnation.
Earth, on the other hand is populated by the people of Rheatt. An artistic, relatively peaceable drug taking bunch. In contrast, the Moon — which over millions of years has spiraled closer and closer to earth — is the home of the sadistic and brutal empire-coveting Rotrox who descend in space craft to frequently pillage and indiscriminately kill the Rheattites.
Despite the science fiction backdrop, Bayley’s work is really an extended gangster movie/dime novel homage. This kind of makes sense since Killibol’s cities are ruled by strongmen who no longer have access to food tanks and resort to petty crime in the Basement. This amalgamation is actually quite original…
Enter, Klein our gangster main character and his brilliantly manipulative friend and master, Becmath. In an attempt to procure a food tank run they run afoul of the police and other more powerful food tank strongmen and in a motorized tank gunship (queue scenes from the horrendous 1977 sci-fi film Damnation Alley) flee the city.
Scientific research has been replaced by alchemy (a theme Bayley uses heavily in Star Winds). Klein and Becmath take prisoner an alchemist whose books tell of a portal to Earth (the origin of Killibol’s inhabitants). The gun ship plunges through the portal and arrives on Earth. Soon, the evil Rotrox invade from the Moon and Klein and Becmath become their allies and teach them how to effectively enslave people.
Eventually, our completely unlikeable, occasionally brutal, and unintelligent “hero” sees the light.
Bayley’s work builds upon a fascinating backdrop — that is, Killibol and its termite cities and their protein tanks. Likewise, having a main character who is on the whole a worthless flunky content to let his boss kill and sleep with the various women he falls in love with is a daring move.
However, on the whole the novel comes of as trite and succumbs to endlessly banal set-piece battle scenes to fill up space. Low and behold, I discovered that Bayley expanded an unpublished short story for the first half of the novel — i.e., the worthwhile part. Bayley still has not figured out how to pace a novel. While good ideas abound (alchemy as the science of a stagnate future, protein tank based society, etc), the characters are unlikable and almost as brutal as the Rotrox.
Only pick up the work for its cover and the first half….
…I wanted to personally toss the main character in a protein tank.
NOT because he was a bad person but because he was COMPLETELY boring bad person….
…Now that I think about it, I’m tempted to throw the book in after him.