‘Twining around him in a loathsome way…’

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s existential angst is centred around the ‘g’ in the word ‘alignment’.

DSCN3440‘Oh dear, I’m feeling really negative today…’
‘Are you Sandra?… Bob is looking a bit negative too…’
‘Hm… It’s probably something to do with the thermonuclear device that’s just gone off over there, it has destroyed the city…
‘Oh, yes… That’ll be it Sandra…’
No, but don’t panic, this is just another British pulp science fiction novel from the early 1960s – a ‘Badger Book’ from my modest collection – it is The Negative Ones by John E. Muller, also known as the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe MBIS.
Shall we see what the blurb on the back cover can tell us dear reader?
‘Henderson was a brilliant nuclear physicist until the night he staggered home a pathetic wreck of his former self, raving wildly about flying saucers and a strange being named Ravan. No scientific nation could afford to lose a genius of Henderson’s capacity, and Parnell Scott, an experimental psychiatrist, was given the job of restoring Henderson’s sanity… This mature, thought-provoking novel is an attempt to fill the gulfs of Time and Space with possibilities…’
Hm… Now let’s turn the book back over and take a look at the marvellous cover painting by the usual Badger cover artist Henry Fox (signed bottom left-hand corner).
So, what do we have here? I expect these three people are indeed the ‘negative ones’ – perhaps Fox thought that in order to depict their ‘negativeness’ he would paint them in monochrome green, a bit like an old-style photographic negative. It works too – they do look suitably unworldly. Also I notice that these three are pretty neatly attired and well turned out considering the state of the city behind them… ah, but now… what about those round collars with the little button at the side? You do get smart little collars like that on regular space tunics, I’ve seen them in films, but I wonder if Fox might be suggesting a religious side to this drama by making the protagonists appear a little bit priest-like?…
Having spent ten minutes delving into the novel, on your behalf, to get the gist of the story, I must confess that I can’t figure out who these three people are; I suppose that the nicely eyebrowed woman (girl) in the middle might be mad old Professor Henderson’s daughter Melanie, and one of the chaps might be ‘experimental psychiatrist’ Parnell Scott, but the other is too young to be Henderson – perhaps the pointy-bearded one at the top is the mysterious Ravan mentioned in the blurb? Mysterious people always have beards – everyone knows that!… I think I’m losing the will to live here…
Anyway, it’s a very nice painting, super colours in the sky… Oh, look, I can see a couple of tilted crosses sticking up amid the glowing radio-active rubble – perhaps Fox slipping in a hint of religion again?…
It is now time for me to dive in and choose some snippets of text from these crumbling pages to give us a flavour of the writing style:
“Oh, made me jump!’ said the doctor. ‘I’d forgotten about your father’s wee pets.’
‘Yes, the chipmunks,’ replied Melanie, ‘they’re rather lovely aren’t they? Dad gives them free run of the house.’
Another small flying shape raced past in pursuit of the first.
‘Perhaps you’d like a coffee?’ said Melanie suddenly…’
“I’m engaged on the new psychiatric work, personnel testing, that kind of thing. I’m a friend of Hardcastle  – well, not exactly a friend,’ winced Parnell Scott.
Melanie pouted deliciously…’
‘The computer began clicking its relays and flashing its valves; it hummed and clucked to itself in an angry manner. If it could have got up and fled, if it could have unbolted itself from its moorings and run for its life, Parnell Scott was certain it would have done so, but it didn’t; it was helpless…’
‘Sticky, poisonous juices dropped from the undersides of the leaves as soon as they sensed his presence. Tendrils began twining around him in a loathsome way, like fawning adulations of an idiot. Rama creased his brow into a stark angry frown…’

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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