Although there is a journey by human beings, via a crystal spaceship, to a distant, alien world, David Lindsayʻs A Voyage to Arcturus is hardly science fiction. It’s something more, and also something less–the prose styling is mostly godawful, and while it does try to extrapolate how beings might live if they embodied a particular philosophical characteristic (a la science fiction), the novel’s expression and examination of these philosophies is so rushed and feverish that its ideas (unless you’ve been thoroughly schooled in the principles of Gnosticism) appear and disappear incoherently.
In short, the general plot is thus: the Black Sabbath-ly named protagonist Maskull, disgusted with the machinations of his home world, travels with consciousness-hopping buddies Krag and Nightspore to the planet Tormance, which revolves around the solar Arcturus. After he’s separated from his companions, Maskull traverses the plains and mountains and chasms of Tormance (think of the of Avatar planet mixed with the crumbling dream world of Inception) searching for Surtur, who is also called Shaping, aka Crystalman, for some reason. Along his way, Maskull encounters the varied inhabitants of the planet. Each encounter, which ultimately ends in death, involves Maskull acquiring a new sense of life–although on Tormance, where people do not love, and have six eyes, and three arms, and are named things like Spadevil and Tydomin, a new way of life hardly has any context. If I were to boil the plot down further, I would put it this way: man travels to weird world, sees some crazy stuff, and proceeds to kill everyone, usually by breaking their necks. Maskull’s body count is nearly one per chapter, whether the victim deserved it or not.
In some ways, with its nightmarish landscape and its sad anecdotes related by isolated spirits, the novel comes across like a Divine Comedy, if Dante happened to murder the unquiet dead along his journey through Hell. Or like a Simpsons episode where Homer eats something disagreeable and takes a vision quest.
Review by Jeffery Ryan Long
Jeffery Ryan Long is the Chief Editor of Hawaiʻi Review.