Really Good Books: The Further Adventures of Halley's Comet

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This is a book which defies categorization. It doesn't even fit well when grouped under the headline of Books Which Defy Categorization. It's a romance, in the historical sense; a story about radicals fighting The Man; a thriller about deep corporate conspiracizing. On the sf continuum, it falls approximately at "science fantasy", since all its scientific facts are well-nailed down-- except for the notion that comets are inhabited by spirits which may, near perihelion, take on human form to visit Earth...

Most of the threads pick up in late 1985, when, as the book has it, "the hippies had long since left law school." Cedric Broadsword, a bearlike trader "said to have once growled the stock market up a point by closing," is holding a banquet at his great hall in honor of his ward's return. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his prodigal son has also returned after thirteen years in "the Holy Wars".

Yes, it's also a retelling of Ivanhoe, with the Comet Incarnate, Voluntas Hallei as it is now styling itself, playing the role of the returning king. Waiting for it is Cedric's grandfather Wavy Rufus, who bumped into the comet in 1910 while impersonating a Rockefeller and has devoted his life ever since to the study of comets, both scientifically and spiritually. (Further flashbacks show the comet's encounters with Natty Bumpo and an apple-obsessed Isaac Newton.)

Back in the present, since this is Ivanhoe, there is a Spring Games, with jousting, with lances, taking nearly every joke you've heard about lances and manhood to nearly their logical extreme. During the Games, two of Broadsword's lawyers, their girlfriends, and a couple of random Communist agents stumble across the key to a mysterious something that the gigantic Means Corporation has been frantically trying to get ready in time for the comet's visit: the "Macho Project", or, as it is later called, "Harold Starr". And it will, as later explained in a carefully organized and numbered outline, imperil the whole of the Solar System.

Naturally this ultimately leads to a spectcular set-piece of a siege, where our heroes pull out all their weapons-helicopters, meteors, arrows, divine light, and The Who playing at 400 decibels. Arrows? They have of course been joined by a group of foresters with bows and feathered hats. It will seem perfectly reasonable by this time that they are disgruntled engineers and astronauts who take their noms de guerre from cancelled NASA projects.

The core of the book is anger at failed revolutions and false revolutionaries. It's about the disillusionment of the hippies when too many of their heroes were shot, and bound up with that, the equally deep disappointment of the Space Age which reached the moon and then largely gave up. But it also looks up at the cosmos in both scientific and spiritual wonder. The evil plan of the Means Corporation is nothing to do with anything so crude as superweapons or coups d'etat; it is an attempt to tilt the entire future of humanity to its advantage in a very simple but insidious way. Read this book for the weirdness, but it will leave you thinking.

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