Once again I found the conclusion to a two-parter less satisfying than its set-up, not on this occasion because of its depressive and downbeat atmosphere but instead because I thought the most prominent aspect of its conclusion was flat out ridiculous. But let’s set this out in proper order.
‘The Wrath of Hypsis’ continues directly on from the end of ‘The Ghosts of Inverloch’, breakfast at Inverloch Castle the morning immediately after, a very civilised affair as might be expected, except for the late arrival of Valerian and Laureline, who’ve been having the kind of reunion that was highly unimaginable at the end of ‘Brooklyn Line, Terminus Cosmos’. Our favourite redhead is positively giggly: all is once again well.
And as an adventure, things go well. Everybody has pooled their information, except for the Superintendent keeping to himself the vanishing of Galaxity until pretty late in the book. That an impending nuclear incident at the North Pole will effectively destroy the planet causes a mild degree of perturbation to Lord Basil Seal (but not Lady Charlotte). This demonstrates the importance of the task ahead, and leads to a task force consisting of all the assembled, except the good Lord himself, initially, to head for the North Pole to intervene in whatever Hypsis has planned.
The vehicle for this is the Royal Navy, HMS Crosswinds, under the command of the splendidly bearded Lt. Commander Merrywhistle (the rather more natural Merrywhether in the Wikipedia entry on the story), demonstrating true naval sang-froid towards the motley crew he’s being asked to transport. They’re looking for the ship that will be responsible for the incident.
Military navies can be discounted, as both inappropriate and subject to the escalating interferences that caused such concern. But there are rogue ships, not ghost ships as Val suspects they’d be termed but pirates and smugglers, crude vessels whose registered nationality doesn’t correspond with the languages spoken aboard, whose ports of call have been erratic. Once inspected, by Val pretending to be a Meteorologist, and Merrywhistle as an actual seaman, these can be dismissed as irrelevancies.
But there’s another ship, a tall, elegant three-master full of sail, whose appearance Laureline instinctively admires, earning her Merrywhistle’s approbation. This is the ‘Hvexdet’, supposedly Albanian but, when found in the ice floes, totally silent. And Ralph, the Glapum’tian, who has been engaged in enjoyable information-gathering from a less sophisticated but in many ways more akin Earth species, the Orcas, or Killer Whales to you and I, reports that they tell him there is nothing at all human about that ship.
By this point, and despite the overwhelmingly joyful relationship that he and Laureline have resumed, Val is frustrated. He is, after all, the man of Action, however good or bad that might be. They are acting passively, pursuing only, with no thought of any positive step being taken. He and Laureline have their Superintendent, their ultimate boss, on board, but he is keeping to his cabin, giving out no information, giving out no instructions. This isn’t Val’s thing at all. He’s still having dreams, of what happened in The City of Shifting Water, and he’s starting to get premonitions that Galaxity has gone. And that he, as a citizen and native of Galaxity, is also gone. Something has to be done.
And that something is an attack.
Merrywhistle doesn’t like it. It’s against Naval tradition, not to mention that the ‘Crosswinds’ is his ship (except that the Shingouz have won large sections of it playing their version of poker with his crew). But Val’s plan is backed by Lord Seal, who remains at hand at Inverloch Castle, communicating from the Spatiotemporal craft. The Superintendent’s hiding in his cabin, giving no directions. This is Valerian’s initiative.
Ralph can given them a course to the ‘Hvexdet’. Merrywhistle is to pretend an accidental collision course, across the sailing vessel’s bows. When he does… at the last second, the ‘Hvexdet’ blasts out of the polar waters and arrows into space! Val wishes he had their craft with him but the Superintendent corrects him: with that on board they would never have got near the ‘Hvexdet’.
Ralph is focussing his concentration upon tracking the ‘Hvexdet’ into the stars. ‘Crosswinds’ has been holed and is sinking, and all must abandon ship. Merrywhistle and his crew will be rescued by other ships, but Val and Co await Lord Seal, flying their craft like his Spitfires of old under Val’s remote direction and then into the stars into pursuit.
The nuclear threat to the North Pole has been removed, at least temporarily, but now the pursuit is to lead them to the mysterious whereabouts of the planet of Hypsis. Except that the course is erratic, irregular, illogical. It’s easy enough to suspect that they’re being led on a wild goose chase, to keep them occupied, never to find Hypsis which, for all they know in their absence, is substituting another attack ship to complete the intended destruction.
But Val has another ingenious idea. They’re not making the fullest use of Ralph’s abilities. If he’s plugged into the shipboard computers, he can not only better track ‘Hvexdet’s course but get out ahead of it. With his co-operation, of course, which he gives willingly.
And so the mysterious Hypsis, home to towers and domes of all SF sizes and shapes, is located and landed upon at last, and the party can begin to get to the bottom of the attack on Earth, and Galaxity.
But this is where the story starts to head off the rails into incomprehensibility as far as I was concerned.
It begins with the Superintendent suddenly having doubts about the mission, and whether to continue the pursuit to Hypsis itself, throwing the decision over to Valerian. Sense starts to dissipate as Valerian cannot decide either, because Galaxity is the place of his birth and death. So Laureline, who wasn’t born there and isn’t going to die there, decides for them and lands. Then she and Val go onto the planetary surface.
The first tower is classic SF imagery, an array of low domes on a metal tower of tremendous height, but they are not allowed to enter because it does not belong to them. The Shingouz direct them to the right tower, much more downmarket, a lumpy dome on a stone pillar. Everyone goes up. Inside, the tower is racketty, jerry-built and crumbling. But it is occupied by three people. The boss is a big, heavy-jowled, big-bellied and loud-voiced man in a trilby, trenchcoat and loose tie, who can throw lightning bolts. No, not Thor: wrong God entirely.
He is accompanied by his son, long-haired, bearded, casually-dressed in not so much the hippy style of the past as the hanger-on-to-the-hippy style. He looks both shifty and slightly out of it. The third is a talking machine, a portable one-arm bandit with a scratchy voice. Their family owns our solar system. The father started life on it. The son spent 33 years on it. Yes, this is Earth’s Holy Family, the Father, the Son and the Faulty Ghost.
Pass on. They are behind Hypsis’s attack on Earth and its immediately forthcoming destruction. And why not? God started it, why can’t he end it, he’s entitled to. Their fellow Hypsisians constantly complain about Earth sticking its nose in where it’s not wanted, always causing trouble. And it’s not as if he’s made as much as a penny off it in all that time.
Here is where the story logic started to get beyond me. The disaster in 1986 started a near four century period of total silence before what became Galaxity first emerged. Galaxity has been dealt with in its present, or rather Hypsis’s present by being teleported away to somewhere both unpleasant and undiscoverable.
But Mr Albert argues against destroying Earth in 1986, as well as Galaxity being banished in the Now, because that is what causes the subsequent appearance of Galaxity: doing that will only leave them having to tackle Galaxity again. Why not leave it alone, see how it develops? Meanwhile, Lord Seal can negotiate with Earth’s Governments for regular payments to their owners. The case is hardly expressed with this clarity in the story: I had to get an explanation that made sense from Wikipedia.
The Superintendent decides that no matter how horrible it is where Galaxity is, he wants to be there with them, so off he’s sent. Ralph wants to go back to Glapum’t, and the same goes for him. The Shingouz will trade out. But what will now happen to Valerian and Laureline? That we’ll begin to find out in the next volume. Let’s get back to that Holy Family, shall we?
As an atheist, I’m not personally affected by the adolescently blasphemous aspects of this portrayal, but even someone of my opinions can be offended by the cheap, nasty and altogether too unthinking Humanness of such creators. The only point to this portrayal, so far as I can see, is to poke stupid fun. Unlike Philip Pullman’s depiction of God in The Amber Spyglass, it has all the depth of a seven year old waving his willy at his parents’ guests.
It has no point to it other than to shock, and even less creativity. It’s meant to be offensive for no better reason than offensiveness, and the absence of anything approaching thought is insulting to the readers’ intelligence, unworthy of the series thus far and, quite frankly, thoroughly disappointing.
Now the series has undergone a radical transformation that will provide a new underlying structure to the remainder of the Saga, but I wish it wasn’t built on a foundation that is less brick than dung.
There isn’t an explicit explanation of the Superintendent’s cryptic comment last story about Galaxity’s ongoing disappearance being due to events he had set in motion, but I’m assuming that by sending our stars to frustrate the destruction of the Earth in 1986, we’re meant to see that as the gods’ retaliation.
And Valerian and Laureline? They end up back at Inverloch Castle. Though once more it was not that openly expressed in the story, Laureline saw Val as wanting to go with the Superintendent, and made him stay with her. And for her, the Shingouz arranged for them to retain their Spatiotemporal ship, so that she could keep him. We’ve come a long way from the end of the volume before last.
But Valerian was of Galaxity. It is part of him in a way Laureline can never understand. It will be on his mind, especially as he stares up at the stars…