Readers from the first days of my blog might recall my rather dismissive comment in my review of John Brunner’s abysmal Born under Mars (1967),
“I have still yet to find in Brunner’s early pulp(ish) novels any solid indication of his future brilliance that manifests itself so poignantly in his great novels of the late 60s and 70s (Stand on Zanzibar, Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up, and to a lesser degree The Jagged Orbit).”
Well, I was wrong — Meeting at Infinity (1961) is a top notch effort which can be read both as a fast paced adventure story or a scathing attack on pure capitalism. Likewise, John Brunner successfully turns the cliché of the noble primitive society–prevalent in so many works of the 50s and 60s–completely on its head (a theme he returns to in his masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, 1969).
Plot Summary (rather minimal spoilers)
The Market looms above a city of twelve million still partially paralyzed by the devastation caused by the White Death. This horrific disease came was introduced through the indiscriminate use of the Tacket Principle. This Principle allows passage between an infinity of parallel worlds (at various stages of development). Because of the contamination brought from another parallel world, The Directors, a group of merchant princes, franchise out the use of the Tacket Principle to trusted individuals. These merchant princes journey to various parallel worlds in search of technology and food (to import back to the home world) The entire world survives ONLY by taking advantage of various peoples they encounter in parallel worlds. The city itself is dominated by various factions who survive by collecting information for various merchant princes who are constantly fighting other merchant princes.
The plot follows a jumble of characters who slowly uncover information about the world of Akkilmar. Akkilmar, a seemingly primitive peaceful altruistic society, supplies technology to Ahmed Lynken, the merchant prince who first “discovered” them. The famous physician, Jome Kenard, purchased a piece of equipment from Ahmed Lynken (from Akkilmar) to treat a serious burn patient (Alyn Vage) who develops peculiar skills despite being completely bandaged. I best not reveal the rest!
John Brunner adeptly weaves the various narrative threads together (although initially they seem impossibly disparate). I’m still not exactly sure of the point of the bizarre prologue. By far the most interesting concept developed is the purely capitalistic state which utilizes colonialism in its most basic form in order to survive which is, subjected in turn to similar impulses under a drastically different guise. Don’t expect well rounded characters. But, there’s great action and the plot unfolds nicely! There are also some harrowing images. Tacket, the creator of the Tacket Principle, is completely vilified by the populace since his discovery resulted in the White Death. Despite the fact that the limited use of his principle is the ONLY way which society is maintained, various cults have emerged in opposition to the merchant princes. These cultists pound nails into the mouthes of wooden carvings of Tacket!
John Brunner, within the constraints of early 60s pulp science fiction, produces a remarkable (forgotten) little gem.