Saltflower by Sydney J van Scyoc

Avon, 1971, 174 p.

In the prologue three alien space ships appear over the Puget Sound in 1979 (eight years in the future when the novel was written) then make their way to the Great Salt Desert in Utah where one of them deposits something into the salt, but later investigations fail to reveal anything. Twenty-five years on Marley Greer finds a crystal on the salt bed and lifts it up. It melts in her palm to leave a tiny black seed, which she feels compelled to swallow. That night she tells her husband she is pregnant.

The body of the story unfolds over fourteen days in 2024 when protagonist Hadley Greer (daughter of Marley) undertakes a trip to the Salt Lake Desert where there is a settlement known as New Purification, inhabited by adherents of a cult which effectively worships the aliens. It is led by a Dr Braith (who perhaps surprisingly isn’t the usual money-grasping, sexual predator such leaders commonly are.) In New Purification everyday life is made easier by robotic assistants known as mechs. Over the years of the settlement over twenty people have disappeared in the desert. Braith maintains they have been taken up by the aliens.

Hadley is silver-eyed and has metallic hair which often moves of its own volition. Later we find she is prone to salt hunger. Braith’s associate Jacob has similar attributes to Hadley. Her companion, Richard Brecker, turns out to be a minder, employed by the State Investigation Bureau to keep tabs on her. (His organisation’s initials allow Scyoc to allot them the neat nickname, SIBlings,) Through him she finds there have been other trans-species children but only those close to salty deserts survived.

Unknown to Brecker, Hadley takes trips into the desert at night. There she finds she can see and travel through a strange city, that of the aliens, whose civilisation was dying and so they sought to seed other Earths. In an incidental conversation Brecker and Hadley appear to express themselves as in favour of a return to a system whereby people are imprisoned if they are deemed psychologically capable of a crime rather than actually having committed one. This is an oddly illiberal notion which does not really fill out the background.

The discovery of two murdered bodies in the desert precipitates the novel’s crisis. Brecker finesses the situation by blaming the deaths on rogue mechs but it is Jacob rather than Hadley who is involved with the resolution.

SF is full of linguistic coinages, some more mellifluous than others. Scyoc overdoes the tendency here, where people do not undergo air travel in aeroplanes, they dart in machines called avidarts. Among others we also have a transceiving device named a communipact, food dispensers called autocafs, and the word mecheries where ‘factories’ would be perfectly sensible. But it was her first novel. We can forgive a certain exuberance.

Pedant’s corner:- “the street – and the city itself – were deserted” (those dashes remove what’s inside them from the surrounding phrase so make the verb singular. Either they should be removed themselves or it should be ‘the city was deserted’.) “Besides each work stood a slender pole.” (Beside each work,) nonplussed (nonplussed,) metallicly (metallically.)

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script