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:: A Pertinent and Engaging Vision

(‘The Zael Inheritance’ by Tim Stretton)

 by Paul Rhoads

 Those attracted to the new and original but unwilling to compromise their reading pleasure; repelled by the vapid experimentation of so-called serious literature but fatigued by the deep-worn paths of the genres; who want something into which to sink their mental teeth but relish the stylistic crème chantilly which only English humorists can whip up, will cheer the entrance on the literary scene of Tim Stretton. The territory staked out in his first novel, ‘The Zael Inheritance’, extends from the Demon Prince stories of Jack Vance to a hypothetical episode of ‘Yes Minister’ as written by P. G. Wodehouse. This story is a merry quadrille as mechanically oiled as a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and a socio-cultural study as casually astute as a cycle of Thurber drawings, both elaborated against the background of a futurism as intriguing as anything in the SF genre.

The setting will be readily understood by readers of Jack Vance. The Terran Hegemony, however, is no mere imitation of the Gaean Reach. Vance’s Interplanetary Police Coordination Company, Historical Society (with its military arm), Jarnell corporation (with its monopoly on faster-than-light drives) and his Institute (clandestinely and subversively controlling technology and morals), are private organizations providing, or supplementing, a loose or absent structure of galactic governance, while Stretton has postulated a future in which the ensemble of government services have been corporatized and inter-planetized. Juggling with the worst nightmare of today’s forces of anti-globalization, Stretton offers a spectacle which must please the philosophical; the elite of the Terran Hegemony are subject to the full range of human failings, notably mediocrity. They are shown in a constant struggle to balance or blend personal interests with professional duties, personal weakness and official power.

 The main characters in ‘The Zael Inheritance’ are mid-level operatives in the ‘Historic Monopolies’, such as Pangalactic Security Services Incorporated, Genix, or TLZ Spaceways, source of the Zael fortune. Stretton’s day-job, as a bureaucrat in English local government, has profoundly informed his story. The major protagonists, Lamarck and Voorhies, are Apprehensors in Pangalactic’s Contracts Division, and that Voorhies is a woman is no mere sop to political correctness. The ever more involute, baroque and spectacular search for the missing heiress Taslana Zael which Lamarck and Voorhies undertake, is both driven and baffled by the sexual tensions endemic to our own contemporary work-place. These are by no means limited to conflicts of power and seduction between Lamarck and Voorhies: they are inter-hierarchical, inter-service, inter-corporate. Stretton’s adroit handling of this matter promotes his story to the status of a fable for our time.

The enthusiastic plotting of ‘The Zael Inheritance’ will be savored by connoisseurs of that aspect of the literary problem. Stretton orchestrates a series of chechendo and de-chrechendos, punctuated by interludes of variegated atmosphere, in whose fiery finale the story loses none of its point. When Voorhies suspects Lamarck of romantic interest in one of the more likely pretenders to the perilous identity of Taslana Zael, she maneuvers him out of the investigation. Lamarck, insubordinate, escapes supervision by carrying the investigation off-planet, but bureaucratic entanglements follow him. The weight and luster of the Zael fortune weighs in every possible manner on the investigation. As matters advance on official and unofficial fronts, the investigation is baffled by a shadowy crime organization, the outlines of which slowly emerge. Progress is hampered as professional and personal jealousies pollute relations between the glaxes and Genix laboratory workers charged with screening DNA samples from the various Taslanas.   

In the course of the story we are introduced to several societies, as well as various more or less repellent galactic fads, such as ‘lizard skin’, mirrors of today’s multi-cultural experience and emerging global culture. Stretton deploys a varied arsenal of pathos and humor, which only the most audacious writers attempt to control, and control of which only the most talented achieve. Those who delight in pointed repartee, thought-provoking conceptions and speculations, sociological and psychological insight, all suavely marshaled in a beautifully constructed story, will savor this book.

 


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:This essay is © Paul Rhoads 2005
:Reproduced by permission of the author
 ::last modified: 17 November 2005
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