Saturday, October 20, 2007

Eric Frank Russell's "Sinister Barrier" (novel): Earth & humans are "owned" by higher sentient species!

Quote from the novel titled Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank RussellOK - so even the great Russell can slip up. Easily his worst story I have read yet.

Actually, first third of "conspiracy" novel is a pretty good murder mystery; then suddenly it goes completely hopeless. I didn't find last 10% very boring because it is fast paced, & momentum carries you through. But cutting it out at first third would have been a far better choice.

Last two thirds is not only dull, dumb, & extremely contrived, I also found it racist. "East is superstitious, dumb & gullible; West is smart & reasonable" kind.

Story summary.

The year is 2015. Much of the story will happen during May & June.

Bill Graham is "a government liaison officer between scientists and the US department of special finance" in New York. He is walking on footpath & is witness to apparent suicide of Professor Walter Mayo by jumping off sixteenth floor of Martin Building. Bill had been dealing with Mayo, & cannot digest it as suicide.

He gets involved in investigation by getting his boss, Sangster, to pull strings. He will be working with the cop, Lieutenant Art Wohl. They soon find this is not an isolated case; many well known scientists in Europe & US has been dying in mysterious circumstances recently.

This discovery of widespread unexplained dying of scientists draws the attention of US Intelligence Service. Bill & Art will henceforth work under Colonel John Leamington.

Trail eventually leads to Professor Edward Beach, of National Camera Company, Silver City, Idaho. And still alive, but apparently a marked man. By the time Bill reaches Silver City, the whole city has gone in a massive blast! Blast origin was at National Camera Company!

Fortunately, Edward is among the few survivors. After a bit of drama, Bill is able to meet Edward, & make him talk. In an underground facility protected with many gadgets. Here is the story he gets from Edward.

Professor Peder Bjornsen, of Stockholm, had stumbled upon a way of chemically treating human body that made your eye see a much wider range of colors - towards low frequencies - infrared & beyond. And a whole new world opened up before him.

"Beyond that sinister barrier of our" visual limitations, "are our malicious, all-powerful lords and masters - the creatures who really own the Earth!" They "look like floating spheres of pale-blue luminescence," & are dubbed Vitons by Bjornsen. They are to humans what humans are to cattle.

They are telepathic energy beings, can influence your thought, & quickly eliminate anyone who discovers their existence.

Bjornsen's discovery was shared - directly or via an intermediary - with all the scientists who have died.

The book goes on to describe Vitons in vivid detail, particularly in later two thirds. "The nervous energy produced by the act of thinking, also as the reaction to glandular emotions, has long been known to be electrical or quasi-electrical in nature, and it is this output which nourishes our shadowy superiors. They can and do boost the harvest anytime they want, by stimulating rivalries, jealousies, hatreds and thus rousing emotions."

This human "nervous energy" is one of the Vitons' favorite foods; other is radiation near a radar installation. When they are through with someone, he looks like the wreck left by dementors (in J K Rowling's Harry Potter series) after they suck the victim's "soul"!

This is the end of good part. Rest is just stretching - a world war where the Asian Combine are the villains incited by Vitons, the many villainous deeds of Vitons, & the hint of their eventual elimination by humans. In fact, in the later parts, Vitons come out as such dumb creatures - you wonder how could they ever have ruled humans! Bill, of course, is the hero that survives.

Fact sheet.

"Sinister Barrier", novel, review
First published: "Unknown" magazine, March 1939.
Rating: B
Related: All stories of Eric Frank Russell.