To start with the shorter story – it’s called “Beneath the Bermuda Triangle” and it was published in the June/July 1979 issue of Galaxy magazine. This was a few years after the Skull the Slayer comic series I mentioned earlier this year, and it’s just as wacky a take on the Bermuda Triangle mystery. It’s got jewel-smuggling hippies, malevolent aliens, survivors from Atlantis, underwater pyramids and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
As far as I can tell, “Beneath the Bermuda Triangle” is the only story Jane Gallion ever wrote that doesn’t have any sex in it (apart from a couple of indirect references to Tantric Sex). But there is a tenuous connection to the world of erotica. The stand-in editor for that particular issue of Galaxy was “Hank Stine” – an alter-ego of Jean Marie Stine, who used the same byline on one of the avant-garde erotic novels published in the late sixties by the short-lived Essex House imprint (see my post about The Geek by Alice Louise Ramirez). Jane Gallion’s Biker was another Essex House novel – and according to an autobiographical note, she also worked as an editor there. At the same time, she seems to have been active in science fiction fandom – see this photograph of her (there were other links between Essex House and science fiction – Philip José Farmer also published several novels with them).
The novel I just read, and found so impressive, is called Going Down. In her autobiographical note (which dates from 1990), Jane Gallion says the book was written for Essex House but never published (partly because it broke two of their house rules – “no humour” and “no politics”). However, it was eventually published as an ebook in 2001, two years before the author died.
Unlike Biker (which is available as an ebook in America but not in Britain), Going Down is listed on the UK Kindle store, which is where I got it. I don’t think the listing does the book any favours – there’s no cover image or preview, the blurb is misleading and it’s classified as erotica, which it isn’t really – it’s a dystopian SF satire in which sex (or the suppression of sex) plays a significant role.
Going Down is written in the kind of avant-garde literary style that was popular in the early seventies – all in the present tense, and with no quotation marks around dialogue. In that sense, and in other ways, I found the style reminiscent of Barry Malzberg, who was one of the big name writers of the time. Thematically, on the other hand, the novel is closer to Philip K. Dick – all about a sharply stratified future society in which information is tightly controlled, and the government knows more about you than you do. The book’s structure is also reminiscent of PKD, with the point of view alternating between three different characters – one high up in government, one at the very bottom of society, and one who is a major figure in the (ultimately fruitless) rebel movement. Also, like both Dick and Malzberg, the novel has a strong undercurrent of humour, even though it’s basically a very angry book.
I mentioned science fiction portrayals of the future last week – and Going Down is one of the most prophetic I’ve come across. The society it describes is ultra-capitalist and ultra-puritanical. The government has electronic spying machines everywhere, ready to pounce at the first hint of subversive or “perverted” behaviour. Giant corporations charge people (who are always referred to as “consumers”) for absolutely everything – including having sex and going to the toilet. If you try to avoid paying for something, it’s a serious crime because it “damages the economy”. Also prescient (given recent headlines) is the utter hypocrisy of the ruling class, who impose puritanical laws on ordinary citizens while indulging in the most disgustingly obscene behaviour themselves.
Although Going Down was originally written in the early seventies, I’m not sure if it was revised for its ebook publication in 2001. If it wasn’t, then it contains one amazingly prescient reference. I can’t remember anyone back in the 1970s worrying about Genetically Modified crops, but one of the characters in the novel does. It’s in a scene between a high-ranking member of the government, named Hennering, and his boyfriend Penrod (“a slender lad of eighteen”). Hennering wishes to deep-throat a certain part of Penrod’s anatomy after said anatomical part has been thrust up a chicken’s backside:
The pullet had been organically raised. Penrod refused to have anything to do with a chicken exposed to genetically engineered or chemically adulterated food. He was afraid it might give him high blood pressure or possibly a rash. There’s a lot of that around. But Hennering made sure the bird was clean before he gave it to Penrod. Heavens to Betsy, he couldn’t have Penrod catching anything, could he?This scene struck me as doubly prophetic – not just the reference to genetic engineering (and pathological aversion thereto), but also the way a conservative politician indulges in behaviour that’s so perverted it wouldn’t even cross a normal person’s mind. Remember this news story from a month ago?