Valerian et Laureline: 14 – The Wrath of Hypsis


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…

7 thoughts on “Valerian et Laureline: 14 – The Wrath of Hypsis

  1. Not long after the above post appeared, I had an email from my mate Garth Groombridge challenging my comments on the ‘Holy Trinity’ and their depiction. I thought that our debate on the subject deserved a wider exposure so, with Garth’s consent, I’m going to post our exchange as a succession of Comments. Furtther opinions will be very welcome.

    1. Garth:

      Have to disagree on Valerian. As a long-time atheist I regard the Christian idea of god as silly and unrealistic, so I have no problem in anyone’s non-Christian interpretation. It can only be blasphemous if you believe in the Christian god. If you don’t, the so-called ‘blasphemy’ is meaningless. Is it ‘blasphemous’ to depict Mohammed? Only Moslems would so, the rest of us don’t. If Christin had had a Greek, Egyptian or Norse god, would it have been blasphemous? Hardly. Pierre Christin (belies his name) but is both French and an atheist, so he is one of a long and distinguished line of philosophers and writers who have tilted at Christianity for at least 300 years. The idea of god actually being just another little cosmic godling who happens to ‘own’ our solar system – so what? It’s original, and delightfully silly. Yes, it makes a mockery of the Biblical god, but again, so what? That’s nonsense anyway. Christin just makes the nonsense into his fiction. I don’t see it as childish, and nor does Frank Plowright
      ( That god is depicted as Orson Wells in “Touch of Evil” is a brilliant touch, likewise Jesus very much a Jew. Time to kick against centuries of Westernised Christianity depicting Jesus with pale skin, noble face, and blonde hair – even Frank Hampson’s version in the “Eagle” was like that. The real historical Jesus wouldn’t have looked like that. He was Jewish. He would have looked Jewish. I’ve seen other depictions in fiction of god, this isn’t really any different – indeed, it has it’s own logic. The gods have ownership over chunks of the cosmos (much like the intergalactic overlords in Jeff Hawke), and upstart little Earth is just one such. It puts us well and truly in our place, nothing special, even our so-called god is only just another ‘owner’ (Sydney Jordan’s story “Sitting Tenants” is much more silly and illogical). And remember Valerian’s Earth has been throwing its weight around on the cosmic universe. It was time for comeuppance. It also was part of the overall resolving of the 1986 problem, which, yes, actually takes the series in a different direction completely.

      1. Me:

        I was expecting disagreement from you on that subject but my opinion is undisturbed by your comments. I am not a lifelong atheist. I have come to that viewpoint over many long years, without discussion with others and my position is not one I have seen any other atheist espouse. Perhaps I’m still more affected by my childhood than I imagine, even though I gave up all going to Church at the age of 11 (I attended two RC masses with (a previous girlfriend): otherwise nothing but christenings, weddings and funerals). There’s an awful lot wrong with religion, I don’t need to tell you that, but I attribute what’s wrong to people, and their vested interest in power and control, not to mention pseudo-superiority. And then are also a great many people out there whose belief is real and sincere, and which leads them to lives of humility, humanity and the giving of themselves to great benefit.

        Which is why, though I can’t share it, I respect the beliefs of those who genuinely seek to practice kindness and graciousness to others. I’d like to hope that I can be as open, honest and decent as them without the need of a fictional construct inviting me into the club if I promise to believe in ‘Him’, but simply because I believe that’s the right way to act towards people.

        I find Big Slob Trenchcoated God and Pseudo-Hippy Jesus to be shallow and hollow, and I stick with my characterisation of the intellectal element being no better than willy-waving. The idea of Gods owning chunks of the cosmos is an interesting one and has heft to it, but this ‘Holy Trinity’ is crass and has nothing more to it than the intention to be insulting. Clive James once re-defined blasphemy in a non-religious manner. I can only half remember how he put it and since it appeared in one of his three books of Observer TV criticism (the series he was talking about was Private Schultz) I haven’t the time right now to go and hunt it out.

        But it was along the line of ‘cheapening the central experience of someone’s life’. Which is all Christin set out to do. It was disappointing. I don’t agree with fucking over what is important to someone, no matter how deluded you think they are, just to make yourself look and feel superior to them. Wrath of Hypsis was bound to annoy me in that respect. To me, God does not exist: end of story. Or, to be precise, rather than believing God does not exist, I do not believe that God exists – a subtle but significant distinction. It’s the same as saying that I do not believe that there are giant purple-spotted winged monkeys in Sumatra. Show me a giant purple-spotted winged monkey and I’ll change my mind. Show me God, and I mean something I can empirically experience, and I’ll also change my mind. I’m not interested in changing anyone’s mind to my point of view. It’s not a point of view, rather an absence of a point of view. As long as you don’t try to convert me, I won’t try to convert you. As long as you do not do harm to others, I will not oppose your right to believe in what you believe.

        I don’t agree with Frank either. Here endeth my ‘sermon’.

  2. Garth:

    “The three men I respect the most – The Father, Son and Holy Ghost – Took the last train to the coast – the day the music died.”

    Yes, that’s a rather silly lyric in an otherwise quite good song.

    So, anticlericalism and atheism has always been big in France, even before the Revolution, with thinkers, philosophers and writers. Did you know the French government in 1903 actually passed a law disallowing any religious orders to operate in France. It was decades before that got eased. Paris and the Vatican were still arguing as late as 2005. I know this (it came as a surprise) from my research, one Catholic teaching Order, the Brothers of Christian Instruction, had to decamp to England and finished up in one country house less than 2 miles from here. So, as both an atheist and a Leftie, Pierre Christin would regard Christianity and the Christian idea of god as fair game, no different, as I said, from writing about Thor or Odin or Ra, or Zeus/Jupiter. Yes, some people will get upset, but those same people (I’m talking paid-up Christians, especially of the Evangelical order) often are quite arrogant (I’ve found) in thinking we non-believers are somehow missing out, in desperate need of converting. My non-belief is as strong as your belief, and based on more proven facts and observations. Other people attack our political convictions. I see no difference in attacking religious convictions, most of which are much less rational or having any basis in truth.

    I’ve been an atheist all my adult life. I’ve never had any doubts on the idea. Many of the writers, thinkers, scientists I’ve read or respect are or were atheists. The nearest idea to a Cosmic Creator god is Olaf Stapledon’s “The Star Maker”, a maker of universes, but he is not the (rather silly and childish) Jewish/Christian/Islamic god. The Cosmos is so vast, and so naturally violent and dangerous, that any Cosmic Creator would not be concerned with species, planets or individuals. To me, that idea of a god who is personally concerned with us as individuals is rank egotism. Do you really think we are so important in the great, vast, cosmic scheme of things? I liken it to ants living in the foundation of a vast palace, thinking the architect (who has overseen the palace being built perhaps, but now moved on) would be interested in our ant lives. We are an insignificant little species of intelligent ape, on an insignificant tiny world, around an insignificant medium sequence star, on the outer fringes of just one of billions of galaxies, all of which contain tens of billions of stars, in a violent dangerous cosmos of deadly radiation, exploding stars, wandering lumps of rock that could easily wipe us out, black holes…

    So let’s take God, or the V&L version (as depicted by Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan in “Touch of Evil”) – he’s the Old Testament Jewish god – violent, bad-tempered, cruel, thoroughly unpleasant and unreasonable, expecting animal (or even potentially a human) sacrifice, wiping out entire cities, drowning the world, regardless of good or bad, sanctioning the Israelites to massacre their enemies or anyone in their way, slaughtering the unfortunate menfolk, enslaving the women and kids… I could never reconcile this rather nasty, moody god with the New Testament Christian god of love and mercy. Indeed, the Gnostics argued the OT god was the Demiurge, actually Satan, not the real god, the Cosmic Creator god, who we can never know, or he/it know us. Naturally the orthodox Christians, being ‘merciful’ and loving, called them heretics and slaughtered them, even into medieval times in France and the Balkans. Another reason I never liked Christianity – it was always so intolerant and vicious, to pagans, non-believers, even each other. I’m lucky, by a fluke, I’ve never been baptised. My freethinking, sometimes atheist father was against it, mother was indifferent, and my family were definitely non-church. But the more I read about Christianity, its history, the more horrific it was. At least the pre-Christian pagans didn’t really care who or what you worshipped, or even where. Wanna worship a tree or a turnip in my temple – go ahead. Just leave an offering.

    So the OT god is “old school”, throwing thunderbolts and threatening to wipe everyone out. But then we came to Jesus. The historic Jesus bar-Joseph was a holy man, in Jewish terms, “a son of god”, not meant literally. The time he lived was one of turmoil, Roman occupation, questioning of traditions and beliefs. Judaism was bitterly divided – ultra conservatives against reformists. Into that mix came Hellenism – the Greek influence, stronger than the Roman/Latin influences. The Jewish world was thus divided again – those who were ‘true’ Jews, those who were only ‘half Jewish’ in their orthodoxy, and those who mixed Jewish belief with Hellenist ideas and philosophies. Saul/Paul come into that last category. He was an Hellenistic-Jew. The Biblical Jesus makes no sense, even the gospels are in disagreement, and there were dozens more gospels that later got suppressed. To any Jew (then or now) the idea of Jesus being literary divine and God’s son is blasphemy, as it is to Moslems. God had no form, and god would never beget children. That was Greek myth stuff, which Paul lifted because it appealed to gentiles, non-Jews, mostly Greeks, later Romans. But it was sacrilege. It is also no more believable to a rationalist then the idea of Zeus making all those semi-divine human babies. Almost certainly the early followers of the Jesus creed (originally just another Jewish sub-sect) split, with Paul really the heretic, going for converting non-Jews, and the original disciples (probably under Peter, but also Jesus’s brothers, even possible Mary Magdalene), based in Jerusalem, until the fall of that city to the Romans in 70 AD. After that Paul’s lot forged ahead.

    And the Holy Ghost. Who or what was that? I’ve never really worked that one out. Even my Brewers wasn’t much help actually explained what did the HG actually do? To me, it is make-believe. Three is a more magical/sacred number than two. So we have god (the father), Jesus (the son), oh, we need a third. Can’t have Mary (the BVM as she became, much later), because she’s not divine. She’s human. Worse, she’s a woman. And women in the Greek and Jewish world didn’t count. Indeed, when it came to having babies they were just vessels for the male sperm. They contributed nothing to the child. So Mary was out, out, out. Ok, let’s make up this ‘holy ghost’ idea. That makes the number up to three. Runs off the tongue – the father, son and holy ghost. For what the HG actually does, it may as well be a one-armed-bandit-cum-clock.

    So, a schizophrenic god – good guy, bad guy – a Jewish holy man/teacher elevated into son of that god, Greek myth style – and something vague called the holy ghost, that seems to serve no real purpose whatsoever. Bubble that around for a few centuries (mixing in even more rank paganism and hocus-pocus), and you have Christianity, not a religion to be much proud of. No, I don’t have a problem with anyone taking a pop at it. Not least a Leftie 20th century freethinking atheistFrenchman. Besides, anyone think of anything better? Science fiction is supposed to shock and be thought-provoking. It’s supposed to upturn the tables, and make you question the norm, the conventional, the dreary orthodoxy. Me? I would do away with organized religion completely. Religion should be personal and individual, no rules or scriptures or dogma. Do as thy wilt, as long as it doesn’t hurt or harm others.

    1. Me:

      If I wanted to, there’d be a lot in (your comment above) to go into, but the single most important thing I take from what you say below is that whilst we are both atheists, we come from very different positions, with very little in common. Your is an intellectual position whereas I would define mine as a personal one. Your atheism is a lifelong thing. I came to mine in gradual stages, baptised but never confirmed, and going through a long agnostic phase before reaching the place I am. You are a militant atheist. I’m not.

      Fool that I am, overlooking the anticlerical tradition in France. Taking due account it’s easier to see how and why Christin cocked the kind of snook he did. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it, and I don’t. In philosophical terms there’s no difference between Christin’s attitude to religion and, say, Dennis Wheatley’s. They are products of their environment the same as we are. I can understand where Wheatley comes from but that doesn’t require me to agree with him one little bit (he, incidentally, was fond of the line ‘to understand all is to forgive all’, which is probably bigger bollocks than anything else he wrote).

      I don’t disagree with the things you say about the illogic of religion and the notion of a God concerned with each and every one of us. One of the factors in my shifting to atheism was, ironically, a conversation with a once-very-dear friend who was herself a committed Christian: we were at the party of a mutual friend and how we got onto the topic I don’t know but she was disabusing me of the notion that God took any account of what you actually did. I could live the most ‘Christian’ of lives in how I acted towards other, follow every precept, but if I did that because I believed it was the right way to act towards people, I would neverthess go to Hell. To reach Heaven I had to do it because I believed in God. I had to be in the club.

      I wanted to ask her if for one second she had ever considered just how petty and mean that made God sound? But she was a very dear friend and I was much more all round Mr Nice Guy than I’ve since become. That’s why I say my atheism is personal, not political. I do not believe in atheism. That’s conceding to the religious who can’t function without claiming atheism to be just another form of religion. No. The clue is in the a-theism, meaning no or non. That’s the distinction I drew last time: not God doesn’t exist but Don’t believe he does.

      (My ex-wife) would have agreed with you on your Do What Thou Wilt But Harm None. That’s the Pagan Creed and she was more pagan than anything. Of course, in Satanism it’s Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law, and I agree with Wheatley as to how that’s meant to be interpreted.

      We’re not going to come to an accord on this. I never was much into converting anyone to my position, on anything, and even less so in my old age. If you do want to make any more points, please feel free to do so: I will read them with interest.

      1. Garth:

        I too have a Christian lady friend who believes in heaven. She knows – I make no secret – I’m a non-believer, but she has been a good friend, even if I know her god won’t always approve of some of things I know she gets up to! Good old double-think at work again. I inherited from my father/grandfather “The Bible Handbook” (1937 G.W. Foote & W.P. Ball) which lists all the contradictions and falsehoods in the Good Book. Naturally I have Dawkins “The God Delusion”, although I find Dawkins a bit OTT at times. A few years back I found “Atheist Manifesto” by Michael Onfray, so I bet Pierre Christin has a copy (the case against Christianity, Judaism and Islam) – how get yourself on the IS hit list. Actually Islam as a religion does at least make more sense rationally than Christianity, but both are about angels and such. As James Randi might have said, “Show me a miracle that can’t be explained by science or wishful thinking.”

        Yeah, political atheism goes deep in France. The little church at Borrowdale (back in the 1970s) was one of few churches where I actually felt something like a spiritual (still not Christian – heaven forbid!) presence.

  3. Me:

    I bought ‘The God Delusion’ when it first came out in paperback and read it with avid enthusiasm, but found it impossible to re-read. ‘The Bible Handbook’ sounds very interesting. I’ve long known that there are multiple differences of fact between the Four Gospels – many of them were detailed in ‘The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’, another book I used to have in the days when I was more interested in conspiracy theories than I’ve been for a long time (especially Kennedy). Interested in, not convinced by, that is.

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