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Young poet Okinwe Orbinson is persuaded to investigate a spate of suicides among hybrids on a secret planet. Several death and strange dreams all become involved with the solution. And of course there is love.
Each of the 5 novels of the series Towards the unMaking of Heaven takes place within an intergalactic civilisation known variously as the Supreme Civilisation, or, more often, simply as Space. And the fourth, Not Now: Death, Dreams & Reasons for Living, is an sf exploration of desire, dreams and self-deceit. A clever and conceited young poet, Okinwe Orbinson, is recruited from his artificial city world - part of a moribund space civilisation - by a small mysterious stranger calling himself Leon Reduct. Only when Okinwe has accepted Leon's challenge is he told that his mission is to save a, by now, rumoured hybrid-human race, Talkers, from self-extinction.
Talkers are telepathic and individual suicides are becoming epidemic. Left on one of their planets Okinwe is witness to 3 suicides in quick succession. Suspicious of all around him, doubting himself, not knowing if his thoughts are his own, he becomes friends with a Talker woman, worries for her safety and falls in love with her daughter. Their love affair is not easy. Nor is the solution to the suicides. It happens through a casual touch, through pregnancies, through paintings..
I could claim deception. I could claim coercion. But, to be honest, I leapt at the chance of escape.
I was young, clever, and impatient. Eighteen years old I'd had my own apartment and independence for the last year. It had changed nothing.
Intelligent enough to see what was wrong with my world, I was impatient with my peers and their no-solution solutions. Young, I was not without scruples, but I was certainly without loyalties. Better if we abandoned our city/world, I told them, better if we united with other cities, other worlds. This shrinking dispersion was foolish.
In that city/world, though, each of my peers believed themselves to be big names. And that was the trap they laid for me.
I have a literary bent, was, moreover, of that tender age when ancient poets talked to me about my to-be life. I therefore wanted to be a poet like those ancients.
On that city/world, though, the fashion was solely for experience-based poetry; and all poems had to be written in the shape of a right-angled triangle — with the apex of the triangle being the first line, the longest line being the base.
The other poets were all very clever, and there was much mutual back-slapping. The women, though, were neurotically sensitive to the point of quivering inertia, while the men sought to loudly impress their dullard women. All played safe, sought to titillate rather than to shock; and these were the poets who defined poetry as the distillation of raw experience.
But what new experience could be had on that outside-in world? None. And, with no new experience to write of, one ended up with a vacuum. Ergo — vacuous poetry.
All of the remaining population on that city/world (poets included) lived in clusters on the clement levels a third below the outer surface. To manufacture experience, aspiring poets took themselves down to the curved and self-enclosing ceilings of the deeps. Whose rooms were lit on their arrival, and which were... empty.
Or the aspiring poets took themselves out to the surface, to the temperate forests and lawns of our outside-in world. Which, on their arrival, was light or dark and... empty.
The modern poets projected their imaginations onto this emptiness and wrote of the feelings imaginatively experienced. Very cleverly. With meaningful allusions and obscure words.
A few of my contemporaries, those I thought of as my friends, genuinely longed for adversity to test their mettle. They couldn't find, nor manufacture, any such test of their own characters.
The result of all this was that, with contempt for us all, I called myself a poet and I facetiously wrote,
Instead of their taking offence the poetry-lovers praised it. Stroke of genius, they said, '...takes bravery to be that simple and direct...' '...poetry as the art of brevity here finds its summation...' 'Okinwe Orbison has the naiveté necessary to the simple vision of genius...'
At first incredulous, then aghast, then amused, then appalled, I found myself nevertheless enjoying the attention. Which lowered my self-esteem. So I wrote,
This was heralded as absolute and consummate proof of my growing genius. I quickly wrote a second version,
I can convince
myself I am honest’
Again I found myself flattered by the disproportionate praise. (On other cities, other worlds, 18 might be thought rather young to be a poet of renown. But, as I said, ours was a diminishing population; for which selfsame reason our education had been crammed. Largely on our own initiative. There being so few of us, so little else to do.)
I thought to merit this celebrity by turning to prose. Contemporary prose I soon discovered, however, to be little more than the dressing up of the author's perversions as literature. And I was too young to have any convincing fetishes.
I did have ideas circling at the back of my mind, ellipses touching the profound; but when words gave shape to those thoughts they came to the paper trite. Frustration was mine.
I confided that literary frustration to a few of my poetic acquaintances. They appeared, initially, to understand and to sympathize; but from the more they said the more it became apparent that they, although they said otherwise, didn't truly want their work to be original, didn't truly want to say anything new, only to be accepted.
Angry at this sham that I was being made a part of, overcome by the smell of pseudery and the weight of gush, I wrote,
My plaudits were sung even louder still, and my reputation puffed out of all proportion. I subsequently wrote what was to be my shortest poem.
The applause was deafening.
Shortly after my nineteenth birthday Leon Reduct found me.
My childhood was unusual (no childhood is usual) in that my mother stayed with my father until I was ten. By which time she could no longer stand my boyish energy and instant excitements and she moved across the city. Only to return regularly to visit my father.
Although to their children all parents are faintly ridiculous, I liked her. She held herself very erect, gave the appearance of contemplative calm. Until I came banging into a room. If I have one clear memory of my mother it is of her blinking at me.
Needless to say she was initially impressed by my public success as a poet. And not the least surprised when I was held to be overturning tradition — as I had overturned her furniture.
* * * * *
My father laughed at my every juvenile antic.
"Okinwe Orbison," he shook his head, "Okinwe Orbison. What is going to become of you?" And picking me up he would swing me around, knocking over more furniture.
My mother left the two of us.
* * * * *
My father liked to play games. Physical games. He made of our city/world a maze and mapped out routes for himself, tracked himself through it, laughing in triumph when he arrived at his destination at the time set, laughing at himself when he got lost.
At home he amused himself corresponding with people throughout Space. Or he read. Or, when my mother called, he told her fabulous stories, made her smile. Or they both looked in wonder on me being quiet, reading with the hunger of the young, to fill my head with knowledge, to just know, to know, to fill all the inner spaces. And they looked on too with parental concern, guessing at the desperate blunderings taking place inside my head.
My father laughed. To break the silence, to sunder the mood, he laughed. After he laughed he said my name,
"Okinwe Orbison." The laugh again, "Okinwe Orbison."
My father was happy for me to be in his life. He was happy for me to leave. He was happy when he met me on one of his travels through the city.
"Okinwe Orbison!" he would shout. Then the laugh, "Okinwe Orbison."
The blame, if blame there is to be for what became of me, is not theirs.