FROM THE FUTURE
BY CHARLES ERIC MAINE
‘Escape… From A Contaminated World Of The Future Into
Unimagined HORROR’ – the novel ‘Calculated Risk’ by
Charles Eric Maine was published by Hodder & Stoughton in
1960, and it’s still makes for a powerful read!
5 April 1961.
When Charles Eric Maine wrote ‘Calculated Risk’ (1960) it was still a date in future-time. When the character pretending to be Nicholas Brent picks up the ‘Daily Courier’ and reads of ‘Rockets poised behind Iron Curtain, ready to strike within two minutes’, and ‘US Rocket Orbits Moon, ready to make a landing by radio control’ Maine was speculating about what was to come. Now, with hindsight, we know that during that exact week Elvis Presley would be no.1 in the chart with “Wooden Heart”, thirty-one anti-nuke protesters were arrested outside the London US Embassy, and on the twelfth of that month the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit as the first human in space. For Maine, those events were still unknowably beyond tomorrow.
But it was precisely that date in 1961 that Maine’s two time-travellers hurtle backwards through four-hundred years from their devastated radioactive hell, to arrive in London. The plot twist is that Philip Calland – with partner Kay, escape the future-horrors not physically, but through downloading themselves into the unsuspecting bodies of two victims, by secretly using a development of the Loetze theorum. Once in London, and deposited within the body of assistant advertisment manager Nicholas Brent, Calland must make sense of the antiquated society he finds himself cast into. Looking back on the novel now we share his disorientating sense of strangeness. This is no longer an England we recognize, an uptight morally-repressed grey world without mobiles or internet. The novel itself forms a kind of time capsule adrift in that lost past.
‘Calculated Risk’ is also a compelling narrative that holds the reader transfixed as it accelerates through moral ambiguities, narrowing inexorably towards a dread black climax. The cover of the Corgi paperback edition shows a slash-frame of haunted eyes, above the explicit torso of a naked woman, the two elements interconnected by a grid of white lines mapped by node-points. A luring attention-grabbing image suggesting a certain raciness, a fast-paced adult thriller, but also an accurate portrayal of the plot. Because the central weirdness, the SF time-travel gimmick is almost overshadowed by the tortured dilemmas faced by Maine’s protagonists as they wrestle through the escalating horrors of their predicaments. It’s what Leslie Flood astutely calls ‘heavily disguised science fiction for popular consumption… with an indefinable attraction that holds the reader to find out how it ends – something like experimenting with hashish’ (reviewing ‘Escapement’ in ‘New Worlds’ no.52).
After service in the RAF during WWII as a signals officer, and ‘seeing action’ in North Africa, he took up TV engineering and began writing journalism about TV and radio. His debut novel – ‘Spaceways’ (1953), was adapted from his own radio play, and later became a successful film. It led to a complex but fruitful interaction of mediums with subsequent film ‘Timeslip’ novelized into ‘The Isotope Man’ (1957), while novel ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames’(1961) was filmed with Nigel Davenport, Terence Stamp and Robert Vaughn in prominent roles. Yet to Leslie Flood his ‘talents in this field bear the hallmark of perseverance and hard work rather than natural brilliance,’ an assessment borne out by John Clute, to whom Maine was ‘an author of routine middle-of-the road genre SF, and as such has been successful.’ ‘Most of his SF shares a leaning towards thriller-like plots, and a disinclination to argue its often shaky scientific pinnings very closely, the latter tendency particularly visible in stories featuring hard SF themes such as space travel, as in ‘High Vacuum’ (1956)’ (in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by Peter Nicholls). With knowing self-awareness, the 37-year-old writer himself concurs, as John Carnell reports ‘long an advocate of the suspense-type of novel, Maine does not profess to write ‘pure’ science fiction, but rather the ‘scientific thriller’, of which his latest novel is a typical example’ (‘Count-Down’, 1959).
Meanwhile, Philip Calland swiftly realizes his good fortune in finding himself in the body of Nicholas Brent. He fakes a fall-injury to explain amnesia and his erratic behavior as he adjusts to his new life and identity. His new incarnation lives behind the chintz curtains of 6 Beynon Gardens (perhaps a sly reference to John Wyndham?) with his aunt, who he initially assumes to be his mother. He’s also engaged to be married to Sheila within a fortnight, which is inconvenient timing, but she belongs to a wealthy and well-connected family, a fact he’s able to exploit to his advantage.
The blurb on the paperback explains that, for the time-travelling duo, ‘the risk was undeniable, but the calculations were precise. Nothing had been overlooked – except the one point of detail that was to lead inevitably to the greatest horror of all…’ Calland had prearranged to rendezvous with Kay beneath the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus, only to discover that she had been less fortunate. She now inhabits the aged crone body of Mary Marney who lives with her even older sister in an impoverished Bethnal Green terraced house. He’s repelled by her appearance, and by her attempts at affection, but honours his obligation to her, and determines to rectify the situation.
There’s a time-travel conundrum about a modern person becoming lost in the Neolithic. None of the sophistication and wisdoms of today are remotely applicable to the hunter-gatherer community, even lighting a fire is impossible without matches or a lighter. For Calland, the predicament is not as extreme. In Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 movie ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, the alien Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie) adapts what he considers Earth’s low-tech industrial base to serve the advanced science of his own planet. In much the same way Calland announces to a startled Sheila that he intends to quit his advertising job, and specialize in biophysics. Conveniently, her father happens to be an associate of Sir Andrew Crossley, who happens to be chairman of the Biochemix company. An interview is swiftly arranged, and he’s promptly recruited as research assistant. From there he sets about replicating the Loetze equipment, which he had originally devised in a bunker in radioactive future-London.
The perfect solution they envisage is to switch Kay into Sheila’s body, so they can then logically share the benefits of the luxury Knightsbridge apartment gifted to them by Sheila’s father, as man and wife. That this perfect plan will involve wiping Sheila’s consciousness out of existence, despite his growing affection for her, is an unfortunate side-effect. The novel’s opening chapter shows Calland in the future wasteland brutally killing a man named Meillor, who had raped Kay, ‘sawing at the severed flesh’ with a dagger-like stone. So his degree of clinically determined unscrupulousness is already established, and haven’t they already obliterated the original Nicholas Brent and Mary Marney by invading their bodies? ‘The morality of the situation was hardly worth considering’ he argues, ‘there was a plan and there was a purpose, conceived in an alien age, and this strange world of the here and now was a kind of plastic medium to be moulded and shaped, dispassionately, in the discharge, as it were, of some higher destiny.’
Seduced by the comforts and luxury of his privileged life as Sheila’s husband, and increasingly content with his new wife, he resents his duty to rescue Kay from her horribly withered nightmare-body. But cleaves to his obligation to her. ‘Kay and I are refugees from the evil of inbred science, of technology channelled and perverted by security, and manoeuvred by politicians. We were more fortunate than the rest – we knew how to escape from a creeping radioactive death. And here we are, opportunists, preying on the innocents of an age that died long before we were born. We have to be ruthless, and I particularly have to be ruthless, even with Kay, if this scheme is to succeed.’
But how can it succeed? How can there be a satisfactory outcome? How can Charles Eric Maine’s plotting skills possibly resolve this most impossible of all eternal triangles? And ultimately, there is never going to be a happy ending. In a genuinely tense shock-climax, pursued by the vengeful authorities, with Kay and a drugged Sheila wired into his untested equipment, Calland is forced to unwisely accelerate the procedure. Even as the police break into the laboratory, he throws the final switch, not realizing that his terminals are reversed. With catastrophic results. Then Sheila’s body is dead. And Sheila wakes into Kay’s decrepit aged body. And a dejected Calland is led away to the waiting police car, charged with murder.
In the future his Loetze equipment is destroyed so there can be no further temporal interference.
CHARLES ERIC MAINE
(21 January 1921 – 30 November 1981)
1955 – ‘Timeliner’ (Hodder & Stoughton, Corgi, 1958, USA Bantam), developed from ‘The Einstein Highway’ BBC Light Programme radio play (broadcast 21 February 1954) Illicit lovers Paul and Lydia get rid of her husband, Hugh, by using his experiment in ‘dimensional quadrature’ to cast him adrift in time, first into the body of an early Lunar pioneer, then a man on Venus, and a terrific leap into the far future, only for him to return to his own time – into Lydia’s body! ‘Timeliner is fully as good as ‘Spaceways’ and is one of the few really credible time travel stories. It is mature, exciting, thoughtful and polemic’ (‘Authentic SF’ no.56, April 1955)
1956 – ‘High Vacuum’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 12/6d, 192pp, Corgi, 1959, USA Ballantine), the ‘Operational Programme’ of the ‘Ministry of Astronautics’ undertakes the first lunar landing in Moonship Alpha. Three of the four crewmen survive the initial wreck, plus the female stowaway, the second, Russian ship is sabotaged, Kenneth F Slater says ‘although there is a survivor, there is not a ‘happy ending’ to the story. It is all the more realistic for that’ (‘Nebula’ no.25, October 1957). Leslie Flood adds ‘the story collapses into formula melodrama’ until ‘a dream glimpse into the future of the moon-base involving the stowaway’s spaceman son – immediately belied by the child being stillborn’ (‘New Worlds’ no.66, December 1957)
1957 – ‘The Isotope Man’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 11/6d, 189pp, Corgi, 1959), ‘A Novel Of The Atomic Age’, and first in the ‘Mike Delaney & Jill Friday’ series, adapted from his BBC TV play and the subsequent film ‘Timeslip’. Reporter Mike of ‘View’ magazine investigates atomic scientist Stephen Rayner’s hush-hush hospital stay. ‘A fast, well-written story… an ingenious tale of a man who should have been dead but wasn’t, and who suffered from a seven-and-a-half-second slip in time. Add to this sabotage, a spy hunt, a too-inquisitive reporter and plenty of action and you have something worth reading’ (‘Authentic’ no.81, June 1957). ‘Not represented as strictly science-fiction, as it has crossed further over the borderline into the scientific-thriller class… owing not a little to the influence of Peter Cheyney’ (Leslie Flood in ‘New Worlds’ no.57, March 1957)
1958 – ‘World Without Men’ (Digit, 1963), ‘the world of five-thousand years from now was a world of only one sex’ says the blurb on the Ace Books edition. ‘After the introduction of a new contraceptive drug (sterilin) the ratio of male to female births falls steadily until it reaches zero – no male children are born,’ discussed by Kingsley Amis in ‘New Maps Of Hell’ with ‘one of the girl scientists facing the life of a fugitive in order to protect the experimentally produced male baby which the security council wants destroyed.’ Revised in 1972 as ‘Alph’ (Ballantine), M John Harrison tears it to shreds by applying academic-Lit critiques, ‘it rests on an absolutely absurd personification of nature; on what one can only interpret as a profound misunderstanding of how the sex of the child is determined’ (in ‘New Worlds Quarterly 6’)
1958 – ‘The Tide Went Out’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 12/6d, 190pp, USA Ballantine), seas drain away through earth-fractures as a result of atomic testing, ‘a quintessentially British disaster novel of the stiff-upper-lip school’ according to ‘The Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by David Pringle (1997). Marital problems complicate Philip Wade – editor of ‘Outlook’, as his report is censored and he’s recruited to the Information Bureau, as his wife and son are evacuated to the Arctic camp. Issued by ‘SFBC September 1959’ as ‘A novel for adult minds only by one of our best SF writers.’ Revised in 1977 as ‘Thirst’ (Charter)
1960 – ‘Calculated Risk’ (Hodder & Stoughton, then Corgi paperback 1962)
1960 – ‘Subterfuge’, second novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series
1960 – ‘He Owned The World’ aka ‘The Man Who Owned The World’ (Panther, 1963, USA Avon), Martian efforts to take over Earth
1961 – ‘Counter-Psych’, third novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series
1961 – ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames’ (Panther, 1969, USA Pyramid) ‘a man who wakes from a coma, a tabula rasa at the age of thirty.’ Issued as ‘NEL SF Master Series’ with Introduction by Harry Harrison (1977)
1962 – ‘The Darkest Of Nights’ aka ‘Survival Margin’ (Fawcett, 1968, USA Gold Medal), the breakdown of society in the wake of a lethal epidemic, in three sections, Diagnosis, Prognosis, Necrosis. Revised as ‘The Big Death’ (Sphere, 1978)
1964 – ‘Never Let Up’, fourth novel of the ‘Mike Delaney’ series
1966 – ‘B.E.A.S.T’ (Hodder, Ballantine 1967), the dangerous effects of attempting to simulate animal evolution by Biological Evolutionary Animal Simulation Test
1971 – ‘The Random Factor’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 187pp)
1938 – “The Mirror” self-published debut in his fanzine ‘The Satellite’ (vol.1 no.1) ‘Official Organ Of The Liverpool SFA’ produced by David McIlwain (CE Maine) with John F Burke from October 1938, in vol.2 no.1 (January 1939) is ‘Citadel Of Dreams (1 of 4)’ as by David McIlwain. From vol.2 no.2 (February 1939) editor is Burke alone, although McIlwain is in vol.2 no.7 (July 1939) with short story ‘A Mechelist On Mars’, and in vol.3 no.5 (August 1940) with spoof ‘Memoirs Of A Psychic Researcher’
1953 – “Repulsion Factor” (‘Authentic SF’ no.37, September 1953), art by Davis, Doc Macklin’s experiments in teletransition at K-Block of ‘Telesonics Inc’ anticipate the 1958 movie ‘The Fly’. ‘Macklin was satisfied that nothing could go wrong’ but naturally, it does. Soon, there are two duplicate Macklins intent on killing each other, absurdities complexify and comic murders follow
1953 – “Spaceways To Venus” (‘Spaceway no.1’, USA December 1953), editor William L Crawford cover-blurbs it ‘a novelette by the author of the movie ‘Spaceways’’, art by Mel Hunter
1954 – “The Boogie Matrix” (‘Authentic SF’ no.41, January 1954), art by Muller, ‘music can also be the food of hate. But hate and love are sisters under the skin…’, issue also includes his “STF Plotting In 3-D” essay
1954 – “Troubleshooter” (‘Nebula’ no.7, February 1954) art by Bill Price, ‘Captain of a danger-ridden spacecraft, his life was threatened by the mutinous crew, but somehow, things didn’t quite add up’
1954 – “The Festival Of Earth” (‘Spaceway Vol.2 no.2’, December 1954) novelette art by Paul Blaisdell
1954 – “The Yupe” (‘Nebula’ no.11, December 1954), art by Martin Frew, ‘It was the weird artifact of another world, its purpose was unknown – as yet’
1955 – “The Trouble With Mars” (‘Authentic SF no.59, July 1955), ‘When a radio message got a bit scrambled it showed what was…’ a dubious plot device, a Morse-telegraphy message from the Mars colony requesting ‘iron mules’ (‘Fe’-Mules) is mistranslated so that two-hundred ‘females’ arrive – to initial disapproval (‘this is a man’s world’ said Caird scathingly, ‘we don’t need you and your kind’!). The women gain eventual grudging respect. But in Maines’ favour, his Mars is accurately arid and hostile, with its colonisation as much imperilled by prescient treasury restrictions as the real-life NASA programme would be
1955 – “Mission From Space” (‘Fantastic Universe Vol.4 no.2’, USA September 1955) edited by Leo Margulies
1957 – “Reverse Procedure” (‘Space Science Fiction Magazine’ no.1, USA Spring/March 1957) illustrated by Bruce Minney
1958 – “The Big Count-Down” (‘Amazing SF vol.32 no.12’ USA December 1958) cover-billed novella, inner art by Novick
1961 – “L’introverti” (‘Satellite’ no.35-36, France July 1961)
1966 – “Short Circuit” (‘Tales Of Unease’ anthology edited by John Burke, Pan Books)
1974 – “Scholarly Correspondence” (‘Analog Science Fiction Science Fact Vol.VCIII no.2’, USA April 1974) edited by Ben Bova
1976 – “Jow Three Eyes” (‘New Tales Of Unease’ anthology edited by John Burke, Pan Books)
1953 – ‘Spaceways’ initially a 1952 BBC Radio Play, filmed by Hammer (black and white, 76-minutes) produced by Michael Carreras, directed by Terence Fisher, with Eva Bartok, Howard Duff, Andrew Osborn and Alan Wheatley. Screenplay by Paul Tabori and Richard Landau, ‘the first thing the movie people did when they got hold of the script of the radio play was to change the names of all the characters’ explains Maine in ‘Authentic SF no.41’, oddly the location was changed too, from Nevada to the UK. ‘Space Is A Cold Place To Die’ says the movie-poster, as a scientist is suspected of murdering his wife and placing her body in an experimental British satellite. ‘Vargo Statten Science Magazine’ (Vol.1 no.2, February 1954) says ‘this is a strong plot, worthy of better production than it gets in the film. Once again the effects of a small budget show too clearly, and the whole picture is made as if the cast are expecting THE END to flash into their faces at any moment’
1956 – ‘Timeslip’, initially a 30-minute BBC-TV play produced by Andrew Osborn, with Jack Rodney, Harold Jamieson and Robert Ayres (broadcast 25 November 1953) the basis for the later novel ‘The Isotope Man’. Filmed by Allied Artists (78-minutes, retitled ‘The Atomic Man’ in the USA) produced by Alec Snowden, directed by Ken Hughes, with Peter Arne, Faith Domergue, Gene Nelson and Joseph Tomelty. ‘This was the deadliest secret of all… the man with the Radio-Active Brain!’ an atomic scientist is found floating in a river with a bullet in his back and a radioactive halo around his body. Radioactivity has shifted him seven-and-a-half second ahead of us in time…
1957 – ‘The Electronic Monster’ (Anglo-American, 72-minutes), produced by Alec Snowden, directed by Montgomery Tully, adapted from the novel ‘Escapement’, with Rod Cameron, Meredith Edwards, Peter Illing and Mary Murphy. An insurance investigator finds there’s more to electronic dream therapy than meets the eye
1970 – ‘The Mind Of Mr Soames’ (Columbia Pictures, 95-minutes) produced by Milton Subotsky & Max J Rosenberg, directed by Alan Cooke, with Nigel Davenport (as Dr Maitland) and Christian Roberts (as Thomas Fleming). ‘Can This Baby Kill?’ John Soames (Terence Stamp) is a patient at the Midlands Neurological Hospital who has been in a coma for thirty years. Dr Bergen (Robert Vaughn), a recently arrived American neurosurgeon, revives him from his slumber during a lengthy televised operation