Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

Abacus, 2010, 397 p.

 Pandaemonium cover

I’ve mentioned before that distinct similarity in the set-up of most of Brookmyre’s non-Jack Parlabane or Angelique Di Xavia stories (and even in some of them) wherein a group of more-or-less innocents come to a confined place – usually in a remote part of Scotland – and are brought into confrontation with others intent on criminality or mayhem, who are overcome in the end. Pandaemonium conforms to these parameters precisely, except in one respect.

The innocents here are a cohort of schoolmates on an Outward Bound type expedition to help them come to terms with the violent deaths of two of their contemporaries. The danger they meet is of an extraordinary kind though, as it is not human. Scientists funded by the US military have been conducting experiments to find the graviton but instead broke the boundaries between the different worlds of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics whereby each decision ever made spawns an alternative universe and less than a molecule’s width separates us from universes not our own. In this case daemons – horns and tails and all – have been brought through the portal between the worlds and kept in captivity under the former Fort Trochart. On the basis that the Church knows most about the potential threat from such creatures a Catholic Cardinal has been brought in to help investigate them. It turns out that demons have been “coming through into our world for centuries, most probably for millennia” and the Vatican knows all about it.

At the outset the disconnect between the two story strands is jarring. After a prologue set in the laboratory where the scenes are par for that sort of course, but with the usual conflicts between scientist and soldier exacerbated by the presence of Cardinal Tullian and his acolytes calling the shots Brookmyre’s tone alters considerably as he illustrates the pupils’ attitudes to the other sex and the prospect of the act itself; or, more pertinently, the lack of it. The peculiar mixture of bravado and innocence of the teenage boy is portrayed well enough as is the girls’ cliquishness and stoking of ammunition for point-scoring against each other but there are too many characters and they are insufficiently distinguished. Throw in among the adults in the party a martinet of an older teacher, a youngish Priest unsure of his faith and an unmarried woman of his age and parts of the story could write themselves. The balance between the two strands is also off-kilter.

Brookmyre illuminates the pressures of a Scottish Catholic upbringing and schooling. His clearly left scars. To his three dedicatees he says, “Be glad you went to PGS.” PGS is of course not a Catholic school. The baddies in his scenario are not the daemons – they are merely innocent victims of the project to find the graviton and only cause the destruction and bloodshed that they do because they have been starved of their soul food and in any case see us as the daemons, bent on their destruction. The real villain is the man who lets the daemons out of their confinement.

His later novel Bedlam was presented as Brookmyre’s first foray into SF. In fact, in its serious consideration of the many worlds theory, higher-dimensional space and expounding thereof, this has a greater claim to the title: even if the treatment more belongs to the coming of age and, perhaps, horror genres.

Pedant’s corner:- sat (placed,) crenulated (crenellated,) “none … are” (none is,) rarified (rarefied,) Rocks’ (Rocks’s,) “epicentre of this beam-quake” (not off-centre; so hypocentre,) “gas at peep” (at a peep,) gotten (got,) “an acid and an alkali, these last two of corresponding pH” (an acid and an alkali can not have corresponding pH; one must have pH lower than seven, the other greater than seven,) “a record altitude below sea level” (altitude is a descriptor of height; not depth,) “a strong alkaline solution” (a concentrated alkaline solution: chemically ‘strong solution’ means ‘fully ionised solution’ – it is possible to have a dilute solution that is nevertheless strong, and similarly to have a concentrated solution of a weak [only partly ionised] alkali or acid,) “close enough to the centre” [of the galaxy] “to allow the higher elements to form” (the higher elements form in supernovae, I’m not aware proximity to the galactic centre is pertinent,) Jimmy Hendrix (Jimi,) adrenalin (adrenaline,) Copernicus’ (Copernicus’s,) “when the situation behove it” (behoved,) “‘the most binding non-disclosure agreement outside of Cose Nostre’” (Cosa Nostra,) “‘Our sun isn’t actually hot enough to fuse hydrogen to helium’” (it is and it does,) epicentre (centre,) “and show up all the pooks on their clothes” (???) Miss Ross’ hand (Miss Ross’s.)

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