Cirque by Terry Carr

Science Fiction Book Club
, 1979

This is by Terry Carr (on title page and dust jacket) though for some bizarre reason the spine says Terry Hall. It’s old now; I picked it up in a second-hand shop a few months ago mainly because Terry Carr wrote the short story “The Dance Of The Changer And The Three” which features probably the most alien aliens in all of Science Fiction. Otherwise he is more well-known for editing The “Universe” series of anthologies as well as a large number of “Year’s Best SF”s. I was interested to see how he dealt with a novel length work. A welcome boon was the book’s brevity, only 187 pages. Most SF novels nowadays are doorstops by comparison.

The city of Cirque stands on the edge of a gigantic abyss into which flows in a great cascade the river Fundament. (In passing, I’ll say there is something scatological about this image and its phraseology on which I shall not dwell.)

This setting bears some similarity to that in the recently read Scar Night. (Though I doubt Alan Campbell has ever read Cirque. In any case his city was much more gritty.)

The tale here is yet another multi-stranded narrative wherein we have: an alien millipede that can see the future and consequently does not believe in causality, a woman who has taken a pill in order to unleash her multiple personalities, a city Guard and her boyfriend, an adolescent who monitors the minds of everyone in the city and telepathically broadcasts interesting things which people are witnessing to all the other inhabitants, a priestess of Cirque’s particular religion.

Inevitably, in the abyss something is stirring, and it is observed by the city Guard who is overflying it in a gravity boat. She investigates and we go down to the bottom of the abyss – which is hoaching with white-tentacled creatures apparently fed by the rubbish which Cirque’s inhabitants have poured down on them for centuries – but curiously the river by then seems to be absent.

The inhabitants of Cirque immediately resolve that the creatures are harmful and decide to poison them. But they don’t get them all. One escapes to the surface. Cue panic and mayhem, followed by resolution.

The most thought provoking ideas are propounded by the millipede who not only does not believe in causality but thinks that only one number, 1, exists. Sadly, apart from a bit of foreshadowing, this seems to be the only reason for the millipede’s appearance in the book. It is there merely to observe things, as are we, the readers. The other characters are not much more than ciphers to propel or observe the plot. Only the monitor really develops as the novel progresses. Even the millipede is not as convincingly alien as those in “The Dance Of The Changer And The Three.”

Perhaps then, if modern doorstop SF does allow more space for characterisation, inordinate length becomes less of an issue.

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