FORGOTTEN BOOK: The Tithonian Factor by Richard Cowper, 1984
This is the 113th in my series of Forgotten Books.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, Richard Cowper was a brilliant force to be reckoned with. His short stories were infrequent but generally brilliant as her his novels. I still remember reading THE ROAD TO CORLAY and OUT THERE WHERE THE BIG SHIPS GO and being astounded. But he never quite reached that big audience in America to become a household name, the way, say, John Brunner or Brian Aldiss did.
I was in Houston last year doing some work and on Friday as I headed for home relatively early because my boss had flown out and I was not allowed to do our work if he was not in town (silly contractors) so I stopped by one of the many Half Price Books. There amid the various science fiction titles, I spied the bright yellow dust jacket that frequently symbolized a Gollancz book.
The book was there for $8 and I said “This one’s mine!” and brought it home. Took a while to get onto my To Be Read stack which is roughly 500 books, but it was short stories and a relatively thin book which made it good for the Forgotten Book series.
THE TITHONIAN FACTOR is composed of six stories, five reprints and one new, and I did not remember having read any of them. So a real treat was in store. The book starts with the title piece, a future England story set in the 23rd century where a young girl meets and befriends a Sempitern, a form of ghost from 100 years earlier, when people decided to drop out of the society. It was a very odd story as 100 years “dead” Mrs. Cassell and 16 years old Sara have an encounter that changes the world for both of them. I enjoyed this one pretty well. It originally appeared in CHANGES – Stories of Metamorphosis.
Next up was “Brothers” an odd tale of life on the front during war time and how your perceptions of good change during the war. It was OK, but probably my least favorite in the book. Then came “Incident at Huacaloc” from F&SF. This is a tale of a small band of tourists in Peru who take an off the books tour to a forgotten city in a dirigible painted to look like a sun bird. The new bride and her husband attract a lot of attention and she may be visiting with the Gods soon if he does not watch out. It is one of the best stories I have read in a while. Then came “What Did the Deazies Do?” also from F&SF. This was my favorite story in the book and it brought to mind some of the Appalachian stories of Manley Wade Wellman, not in language but in the type of folk tale that was being told. Set in the English countryside just prior to World War II it is the story of young Richard who finds his destiny caught up with that of a “witch woman” who knows much of the old ways and her ancestors did things that no one can really describe.
“The Scent of Silverdill” has another young protagonist in the future, hanging around an abandoned space port where he meets a man who has walked, worked and lived on Mars. The boy, Kevin, wants to know what it was like, but not just the words. He wants to feel the wind, see the sun, hear unearthly echoes. He does not get it from the books he reads and has to try and get it learn it from the stories and intonations of those who lived it. A good story all the way.
Finally, there is “A Letter from the King of Brogdingnag”, a reference from GULLIVER’S TRAVELS about being able to increase food production. An interesting cautionary tale that brought to mind some of James Tiptree, Jr.’s more depressing tales. This was the original tale in the book. In most other volumes it would be the shining star. Here it is middle of the pack but it is a nice six pack.
The book is generally available at the normal used places on the net and is not very expensive at all, except maybe for the signed one. Scott says “Check it out!” It’s different from a lot of the current things and well worth finding.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.