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A Voyage to Arcturus

David Lindsay

Average Review Rating Average Rating 7/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher :

Published : 1920, 2011

Copyright : David Lindsay 1920

ISBN-10 : PB 1-4209-4297-2
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-4209-4297-2

Publisher's Write-Up

Scottish novelist David Lindsay (1876-1945) was born to a middle-class Calvinist family, forced by poverty to work as an insurance clerk instead of attending university, and at the age of forty took up the cause and worked his way to Corporal of the Royal Army Pay Corps in World War I. After the war he moved to Cornwall with his wife and began writing full-time, publishing his first novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, in 1920.

Although the science fiction novel initially sold less than six hundred copies, it has come to be known as a major "underground" novel of the 20th century, and heavily influenced C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet.

The story is set at Tormance, an imaginary planet orbiting Arcturus, where an adventurous Scot named Muskall has travelled and where he encounters myriad characters and lands that reflect Lindsay's critique of various philosophical systems.

After attending a séance, Maskull, a restless and rootless man, finds himself embarking on a journey to the planet Tormance, which orbits Arcturus. Alone, he wanders the startling landscape, open to a bewildering range of experiences from love to ritual murder, encountering new monsters at every turn, metamorphosing, constantly seeking the truth about the divinity known as Shaping, Surtur and Crystalman. A Voyage to Arcturus is David Lindsay's masterpiece, an extraordinary imaginative tour de force.

'Calvinist mysticism, triple-distilled, is the dangerous juice that fuels this blazingly strange Scottish rocket-ship of a novel from 1920... brilliant... unique... '

The Glasgow Herald
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Emilie (311012) Rating (7/10)

Review by Emilie
Rating 7/10
Reading A Voyage to Arcturus is a unique experience; imagine taking LSD with Plato and then going for a stroll through a video game. There's mysticism, adventure, and some pretty radical explorations of what it means to be human - especially when you consider the author, a quiet Edwardian insurance clerk who died in genteel poverty. With nearly every chapter containing sensual gender-switching aliens, technicolour pulp landscapes and at least one murder, afternoon tea at David Lindsay's house must have been a riot.

Our protagonist is Maskull, a bushy-bearded Scot who after a strange experience at a London séance is caught up in the interplanetary ambitions of Krag and Nightspore - two men as mysterious as their names imply. After a bewilderingly quick series of negotiations, Maskull is waking up on the scarlet sands of the planet Tormance with no clothes, no companions, and two new sensory organs. His personal odyssey is about to begin in high style, and the weirdness never lets up. If anything, it deepens dramatically as Maskull travels northward. By the time he's snuggling up to a fiery intersex warrior using the third arm he's managed to grow, you think you've been desensitised - until you meet the tree man and the river which flows upward. With each new region of Tormance comes transformation for Maskull, as he searches for Surtur; the transdimensional being who informs our hero that he has a noble destiny. As his search leads him into situations both dangerous and dazzling, Maskull is forced to re-evaluate everything he had previously assumed about himself, his life, and the very nature of the universe we inhabit. Plus, there's an enormous lobster-monster.

It's difficult to give this book a definite mark out of 10, because it largely depends on what the reader is looking for. The style is easily discussed; the quality of the ideas makes up for sparseness of expression, while it's important to keep in mind the politically incorrect time in which David Lindsay was writing - male qualities are strong and noble and fierce, while female qualities are soft, wibbly wobbly piles of overly emotive, smotheringly sacrificial nonsense. This can be pretty irritating if you don't keep the context in mind. As for the substance, this is where it gets difficult. The whole point of A Voyage to Arcturus is its deeper, metaphorical subtext; Tormance, its lands and its peoples aren't meant to be representative of just themselves. They are religious systems, psychological approaches, examples of how humans relate to abstract concepts. It's obviously not a giggly holiday read, but it's three steps removed from most other classics as well. If you feel like losing yourself in a wonderful story, it's probably going to be very annoying meeting a character in every chapter who might as well say 'Hi, I'm Mr. Metaphor! I'll be speaking obliquely for the next seven pages'. There'll be eventual ennui and sense of utter pointlessness, so give it a miss for now - there are lots of other brilliant books.

However, if you've got some spare time and fancy giving your brain a rigorous workout, I urge you to give this a go. It's challenging and fascinating and unashamedly clever, and unusually for science fiction/fantasy it is in no way similar to Tolkien. It'll stick with you after you read it, and possibly lead you to start irritating conversations with uninterested friends about the nature of reality. Not bad for a poorly received 1920s novel which earned the author barely any money!
Emilie (31st october 2012)

Note: Free for the Kindle: A Voyage to Arcturus, Ed.

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