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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

       
Night Of Light

Copyright 1966 by Philip Jose Farmer

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Good (2/5)

I first read this in 1970 and most recently on the 14th December 2002.

On the edge of known space is the planet Kareen, also known as "Dante's Joy". The inhabitants worship the goddess Boonta and her sons Yess (the good one) and Algul (bad to the bone). The two gods are rivals for physical manifestation for only one can exist at a time. Every seven year the planet undergoes seven nights of physical and mental upheaval in what is called the Night of Light. During this time believers in the planetary religion believe that the manifested god risks murder by supporters of his rival.

However, the natives believe that during this Night the power of the goddess Boonta will pervade the planet. They believe that any survivor of this chaotic, hallucinatory Night will be transformed physically. The result may be something wonderful or terrible, depending on the individual's personality and presumably on the whim of the god.

One might say this is a religious detective thriller. No, it’s not the “Name Of the Rose” – a worthy book but seriously lacking in the SF content – it’s a science-fiction, religious, detective thriller. It’s also in two parts. There’s a first part, and after that, unsurprisingly, there’s a second part. They’re quite different.

Our hero, john Carmody, is a psychopathic wife-murdering outlaw who has escaped from Earth and made his way to Kareen. He's planning to kill the resident god, Yess. Let’s make no bones about it, Carmody is a most unpleasant man. He chopped his wife into little pieces and has betrayed and killed God knows how many people since. So if anyone’s going to make a hit out of deicide it could well be him.

The only problem is that he’s going to have survive the Night Of Light in order to succeed. Anyone not drugged into deep enough unconsciousness stands a very good chance – about 75% - of dying.

In the second part of the novel, our hero returns to the planet. This time he’s in a somewhat different guise, and this time we’re into full-on detective-religious-thriller mode as would-be god-killers attempt to assassinate Yess, and just about everybody else is trying to dissuade the god from his latest plan: to force all inhabitants of Kareen to go through the Night Of Light, risking the death of the majority.

I started reading Philip Jose Farmer as a kid. I very quickly learned that he could be relied upon for some unusual novels Look at this small selection:

  • "A Feast Unknown"
  • "The Image of the Beast"
  • "Blown: or Sketches Among the Ruins of My Mind"
  • "The Maker of Universes"
  • "The Lovers"
  • "The Gate Of Time"
  • "Lord Tyger"
  • "Timestop"
  • "Venus on the Half-Shell" (writing as Kilgore Trout)
  • "To Your Scattered Bodies Go"

Now you might notice that several of these books had a lot of sex in them, a lot of very strange sex in them. And vampires. And Tarzan. And even Richard Burton (no not the actor, dolt, but Sir Richard Francis Burton, the translator of the Kama Sutra and the Arabian Nights). So Mr. Farmer had quite a formative effect on my childhood. Whether it was salutary or not I dread to consider.

However, as I was saying, you could be sure of an imaginative read. That's true even for this book, which I didn't recall favourably until I got around to rereading it this month. It's surprisingly stimulating for fairly straight, old-fashioned SF. I particularly liked the anecdote of the fate of Mrs Kri's husband. The novel is definitely still worth reading, especially if you got bored out of your skull reading the Riverworld series, can't get hold of "Image Of The Beast" but still want to read some Philip Jose Farmer.

One odd tidbit of information I picked up from a web page at the Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club is that this novel contains the phrase "Purple Haze" and is said to be the inspiration for the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name.

[Short break while I sit back and listen to that musical masterpiece]

Loaded on the 27th December 2002.
    
Cover of Night Of Light