Honorary Member

by Edward Cloney,
ISBN: 0887508677

Ethel on Fire

88 pages,
ISBN: 088753225X


by Heather Spears,
ISBN: 088878306X

Two of Me

by Kim Atwood,
ISBN: 0969418035

Double Bind

134 pages,
ISBN: 1550390198

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First Novels - Double Vision
by Laurel Boone

THE PEOPLE in Moonfall (Beach Holme, 239 pages, $6.95 paper), a science-fiction novel by the wellknown poet Heather Spears, literally have two heads. According to the back cover and the publicity material (although it isn't made explicit in the book itself), Moonfall takes place after a holocaust caused by the disappearance of the ozone layer. The polar ice-caps have melted, most of the earth's surface has been baked into a glassy sheath, and only the European Arctic is habitable. Two-headed humans, initially thought to he only mutants, have gradually replaced the unicephalic "Outdead." Tasman, the protagonist, is a unicephalic throwback, at first hated, feared, and persecuted, but finally revered as the focus of a new religion.

Spears invites her readers to see the two heads of her characters as representing the two sides of human nature - the physical, and the spiritual or intellectual - upon which every thinker since Plato has speculated. In such an allegory, the elevation of Tasman would seem to stand for the return or evolution of the integrated human personality. But there should be more to Moonfall than this. To a reader unfamiliar with the conventions of science fiction, the book's episodic plot seems without motivation. Why would anyone (bi- or unicephalic) believe the moon would fall? How is the spaceship, operated by Tasman's crippled unicephalic son, connected with the huge lens uncovered in the desert? How does the lens prevent the moon from falling? The quasi-religious prose doesn't help at all, and the device of the strange manuscript found in an old chest betrays the author's tack of faith in her ability to communicate straightforwardly.

Yet Moonfall seems expertly crafted. Part of it was originally published in Tesseract, and Spider Robinson gives it a glowing endorsement. I can only surmise that fans of the genre will understand the plot, and will be able to integrate it with the allegory more successfully than I could.

In The Honorary Member (Oberon, 163 pages, $25.95 cloth, $12.95 paper), Edward Cloney's treatment of double vision and a trip to the moon is historical. In the summer of 1961, Danny O'Brien, the 11-year-old hero, comes to terms with his dead father, his crazy grandfather, his love for his grandmother, and his own wanderlust. He and Matthew, his 14-year-old cousin from Toronto, induct a new member into their club. John Rutledge, although an adult, is a hunchbacked dwarf smaller than they are. The new tallyman at the lumbermill, he comes to board with Danny and Matthew's grandmother, and his friendship sets the boys on the road to manhood.

Together, the three decide to ask Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian cosmonaut, to be an honorary member of their club. This choice is not as outlandish as it seems, because Gagarin is only 12 miles away at Cyrus Eaton's Pugwash Conference on World Peace. Danny, Matthew, and John hike along the railway tracks to Pugwash, find traces of Danny's father, camp on an ocean beach, and finally, after all hope is lost, succeed in their quest. When Gagarin joins their club, the members forge a connection with the outside world and with the race to the moon, and they begin to feel the creative aspiration that frees childdren to become adults of ability and vision.

Kim Atwood's harrowing novella Two of Me (Roseway 92 pages, $10 paper) is a girl-grows-up story with a very ugly twist. Told by a woman in her 40s, it consists mainly of flashbacks to a childhood in which she was beaten, raped, and otherwise brutalized by her father. Like many successful adults with such backgrounds, Shelley Poole has split off the part of her personality that suffered these crimes. Two of Me represents Shelley's attempt to accept what happened to her as a little girl, an acceptance that will let her start to live an unfettered adult life.

P. J. Smith first wrote Double Bind (Sono Nis, 134 pages, $9.95 paper) in 1977, when a longer version was chosen as a finalist for the first Seal Book Award. The present book, truncated rather than abridged, lacks internal consistency. Persephone Greenstreet comes to her senses at a bus stop in front of the Vancouver Public Library; soon she learns that she has lost six months out of her life. Her last memory is of drinking coffee on the ferry from Nanaimo, en route from a dead marriage to a new job as a pharmacist at Vancouver General Hospital. Her discovery that "Persephone Greenstreet" has in fact been working in the pharmacy all this time leads to the d6nouement of what - all of a sudden - turns out to be a mystery story.

Persephone's name suggests that Double Bind may be allegorical, but her character is so shallow that any allegory is either well hidden or utterly transparent. The book's point of view is limited to what Persephone learns, thinks, and remembers. Occasional excursions into pseudophilosophy highlight rather than temper her general frivolity, and until the last few pages her tone is either flippant or ironic. Consequently, her "double bind" looks at first like a joke or a misunderstanding, not a genuine threat. Double Bind also suffers from a structural defect: at the crucial moment, Smith simply abandons Persephone to her fate, whatever that may be, and the book ends.

Set up a historic village, extract dollars from tourists, and spend the money on heritage preservation could any civic endeavour be more blameless? In her funny and sardonic novella Ethel on Fire (Black Moss, 88 pages, $14.95 paper), Helen Humphreys takes the reader behind the scenes of one such project. Christine, Michael, and Gavin, their boss Mary, and Joanne, the summer intern, operate the MacLeod Heritage Museum, situated somewhere near Kingston, Ontario. Mary's grim devotion to its decrepit household odds and ends contrasts with Michael's alienation from his own present as well as from the past, Gavin's lack of interest in anything cerebral, and Christine's contempt for the reverence in which they are supposed to hold the MacLeod family and their boring hand-to-mouth existence. Joanne, the one true worshipper at the MacLeod shrine, -arrives at a costume party dressed as a MacLeod daughter best known for being dead.

Ethel on Fire shows innocent historical interest turning into ridiculous obsession, and obsession replacing people's real lives. The hilarious lies Christine tells her tour groups about the MacLeod family's origins, activities, and possessions have a strong subtext. Unlike ordinary pioneer yarns, Christine's feature women as the doers of the improbable feats, and men in the supporting roles. But Humphreys's touch is light, her characters are likeable, realistic, and always very much themselves, and her book encourages us to laugh at our pretentious selves in the most delightful way.


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