The Mercury Annual by Michael Wyndham Thomas

The Mercury Annual by Michael Wyndham Thomas

The Mercury Annual is one of the strangest stories I have read in a long while. It commences with a lengthy Prologue which describes the world of Razalia and its neighbouring planets, together with their peoples. To say that this system is bizarre would be an understatement; it is the purest fantasy of the most unrealistic kind, in that no account is taken of any laws of science. The system's sun wanders among its planets, the inhabitants of one planet likes to visit others by means of giant catapults, Razalia is covered with barriers of pure white, like cracks in reality, into which people vanish never to return, and its humanoid people have a rather flexible anatomy, immediately growing organs as and when they need them. Each town is ruled by a Tharle, who acquires other peculiar abilities.

This is not the easiest story to get into and I was beginning to feel dubious about continuing until I reached the first chapter, which is dramatically different. This and much of the rest of the novel are set on present-day Earth and focus on the entirely mundane lives of Keith, whose main passion in life is his massive collection of classic comics, his dominating and aggressive wife Donna, their daughter Imogen and Keith's strange friend George, who shares his enthusiasm for the odd collectables of life. Donna is determined to convert their attic into something useful and plots to clear the space by manipulating her husband into selling the comic collection which covers the floor (the book's title refers to one of these). There is much loving description of the stories in the comics as Keith sorts through them, trying to decide what to do. The characters are well-drawn, the scenario and relationships entirely convincing. Only at the end of this part of the book is there any hint of a connection between Earth and Razalia.

The final part of the story returns to Razalia and describes the efforts of the Tharles to discover why the white barriers have begun to expand. One of their number has invented a peculiar device which he claims enables him to see and hear the legendary Maker of Razalia, who lives in a world which sounds increasingly familiar.

This short novel (under 160 pages) is only Part 1 of Valiant Razalia, and the various story threads are all left hanging in the air at the end of it. I am still trying to make up my mind about this book. It isn't the stuff of best-sellers, and the series could either vanish without trace or attract a cult following. However, it managed to hook me to the extent that I will be looking to get hold of Part 2 when it comes out.
I've just noticed that BBC Radio has been broadcasting some work by Charles Chilton. See: This link for details.

I remember the original versions of these stories, when Journey into Space was broadcast in the 1950s - it helped to get me interested in SF. I've still got one of his books from 1960 - The World in Peril. I must re-read it sometime!

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)