A Double Shadow by Frederick Turner

Sidgwick & Jackson, 1979, 252 p.

A Double Shadow cover

I picked this up at the same time as The Infinite Cage. It’s of similar vintage.

A Double Shadow is Turner’s only SF novel. He was (is?) mainly a poet.

The book is a strange one, discursive and at times dense, quite often telling rather than showing, to the detriment of characterisation. The main body of the novel is set on a terraformed Mars, with its smaller moon Phobos turned into an auxiliary sun. Here, humanity is divided into Normal humans and the Bloods or Cocks among whom there are three sexes (one hermaphroditic.) The set-up before this is strange, though, being a foreword narrated by a man during the time in which the terraforming is taking place who tells us he is the author of the subsequent novel – into which he occasionally interjects his authorial presence.

The internal novel has characters with names like Chrysanthemum, Narcissus, Hermes and Cleopatra but these do not seem to signify anything. As to the plot, at a theatre performance Narcissus is insulted by some remarks about his performance that he and others hear Michael has made to his wife Snow. The upshot is that a “status war” is declared between the two, where they have to go around gathering support to undermine the other’s position. To this end Michael and Snow climb Olympus Mons (here called Nix Olympica, as it used to be before Mariner 9 showed it was a volcano) while Narcissus and Cleopatra cruise the Martian canals. There is a thesis to be written about the attraction SF writers have for both of these endeavours – especially the canals. That notion seems to have become so embedded into the human collective psyche that it must have expression on every possible occasion.*

In the volcano’s caldera Michael and Snow meet the goddesses who rule Mars in the sense of umpires. One of these, Aphrodite, intervenes in the status war to tragic effect.

The final climactic Cockfight is almost literal – the antagonists strap on wings and spurs and hack at each other – and occurs in the Great Canyon of Coprates, more usually known nowadays as Valles Marineris.

File this one under historical curiosity.

*Mea culpa. My first published story The Face of the Waters centred on the construction of such canals and the possibility of climbing the volcano. When I questioned him (apropos his “Plenty” books) on this general need for there to be canals on Mars Colin Greenland said, “It’s the best bit.”

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