Damon Knight’s dismal Beyond the Barrier (1964) is all plot, lacks even the most cursory world development, makes no attempt to construct a “character”, and contains one of the single most ludicrous scenes I’ve encountered. Knight is considered somewhat of a “master” of sci-fi but his supposed skills are not on show here (short stories?). Yes, there’s adventure, intrigue, action, bizarre technology, green frog aliens, time travel, Earth core traversing oscillating field machines, and time barriers.
142 pages of continuous action has never been so utterly dull. Avoid unless you have a penchant for a character who tests a random girl’s knowledge of the English language with the question, “Did you know that you are a dirty slut?” (106). Pathetic.
I guess I should have known if the selected positive cover quote proclaiming it an “absorbing and exciting story” came from the Edmonton Journal. It’s kind of like asking fifty amazon reviewers to write a positive review for Spam — someone is bound to proclaim deep admiration for its “solid meaty nature.”
I apologize for my snide summary in advance but this book was awful…
Brief Plot Summary
Professor Gordon Naismith is an amnesiac (Knight’s off to a great start!). He has vague memories of an accident but no knowledge of his previous life. During one of his classes an Indian girl mentions the mysterious word “Zug.” It ends up that the Indian girl really isn’t from India but is actually an alien frog-like creature with lots of makeup — Naismith figures this out because the not really Indian doesn’t hang out with the real Indians who probably would’ve sense with their ultra-sensory Indian senses that she wasn’t an Indian. And there’s another frog-like creature with tons of makeup running around as well with the “not really an Indian girl but really a frog-creature.”
Adding to the confusion, Naismith appears to have been framed for a murder — or, he could have committed it himself. Frantically running around with no real sense of what is happening he meets up with the frog creatures (called Uglies) who tell him that he’s really from the future and a Shefth — a warrior class impervious to poison.
He learns from the frog creatures that Time Barrier was constructed in the future to prevent Zugs (think evil angel looking crazy-fast monster mutating sometimes illusionary monsters) from going into the future. Think “genocide barrier.” The future humans want a Shefth to go kill a Zug which survived the Time Barrier.
The Uglies take Naismith to the future where they hang out on a grounded spaceship. Naismith begins to suspect things (vague not really real things) so he runs away and finds the ship’s library where he learns that most humans died during a plague. The Uglies catch Naismith.
Naismith escapes onto a half-finished time machine which doesn’t go through time but oscillates its fields and spins widely into the core of the Earth before popping out the other side (the insanely preposterous scene mentioned before).
Naismith is rescued by a girl who takes him to the point in time when the Time Barrier is erected — he’s expected to kill the surviving Zug but has other ideas…. Silly ones…
This was downright terrible.
I’ll take one of A. E. van Vogt’s (famously bashed by Knight) most incomprehensible novels any day. At least they ask some interesting questions and don’t feature a main character whose sole characteristic is insulting random women.
Maybe I just read the wrong work. What are your favorite Damon Knight pieces (short stories, novels, novellas…)?