Read Cryptozoic! Online

Authors: Brian Aldiss


Brian W. Aldiss's
". . . concerns itself with power structures
on several Levels, including the psychiatric
and political; but its main speculative pre-
occupation is with man's orientation in
time. . . .
"What he has hold of, I think, is a concept
so right intuitionally that the very attempt
at analysis shatters it. . . . What does matter
is the excitement, long gone from most of
the genre, of snatching at, and sometimes
seizing on, a strange, alluring, and fright-
ening avatar of Truth. . . . Read it."
Judith Merril,
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Brian W. Aldiss
An Avon Book
A division of
The Hearst Corporation
959 Eighth Avenue
New York, New York 10019
Copyright © 1967 by Brian W. Aldiss.
Published by arrangement with Doubleday & Co., Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-10576.
All rights reserved, which includes the right
to reproduce this book or portions thereof in
any form whatsoever. For information address
Doubleday & Co., Inc., 277 Park Avenue, New York,
New York 10017.
First Avon Printing, June, 1969
Cover illustration by Don Punchatz
Printed in the U.S.A.
All of the characters in this book
are fictitious, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
whose cities fly
words too
In te, anime meus, tempora metior.
St. Augustine, Confessions , Book II
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works
backwards," the Queen remarked.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
They lay heaped about meaninglessly, and yet with a terrible meaning
that hinted of the force which had flung them here. They seemed to be
something between the inorganic and the organic. They proliferated on the
margins of time, embodying all the amazing forms the world was to carry;
the earth was having a nightmare of stone about the progeny that would
swarm over it.
These copromorphic forms suggested elephants, seals, diplodoci, strange
squamata and sauropods, beetles, bats, octopoidal fragments, penguins,
woodlice, hippos, living or dying.
Ungainly reminders of the human physique also appeared: torsos, thighs,
groins lightly hollowed, backbones, breasts, suggestions of hands and
fingers, massive shoulders, phallic shapes: all distinct and yet all
merged with the stranger anatomies about them in this forlorn agony
of nature -- and all moulded mindlessly out of the grey putty, without
thought turned out, without thought to be obliterated.
They stretched as far as the eye could see, piled on top of each other,
as if they filled the entire Cryptozoic . . . or as if they were the
sinister fore-shadowings of what was to come as well as the after-images
of what was long past. . . .
Book One
1. A Bed in the Old Red Sandstone 15
2. Up the Entropy Slope 30
3. At the Sign of The Amniote Egg 37
4. It Takes More than Death 53
5. A New Man at the Institute 64
6. The Clock Analogy 74
7. The Squad 82
8. A Word from William Wordsworth 93
Book Two
1. In Another Garden 101
2. The Great Victorian Palace 117
3. Under the Queen's Skirts 127
4. A Case of Incoherent Light 137
5. On the Decrepit Margins of Time 144
6. The Himalayan Generation 152
7. When the Dead Come to Life 161
8. Walkers of the Cryptozoic 172
9. God of Galaxies 180
Chapter 1
The sea level had been slowly sinking for the last few thousand years. It
lay so motionless that one could hardly tell whether its small waves broke
from it against the shore or were in some way formed at the shoreline and
cast back into the deep. The river disgorging into the sea had built up
bars of red mud and shingle, thus often barring its own way with gravel
banks or casting off wide pools which stagnated in the sunshine. A man
appeared to be sitting by one of these pools. Although he seemed to be
surrounded by green growth, behind him the beach was as bare as a dried bone.
The man was tall and loose-limbed. He was fair-haired, pale-skinned,
and his expression in repose held something morose and watchful in it.
He wore a one-piece garment and carried a knapsack strapped to his back,
in which were his pressurized water ration, food substitutes, some artist's
materials, and two notebooks. About his neck he wore a device popularly
known as an air-leaker, which consisted of a loose-fitting hoop that
had a small motor attachment at the back and in front, under the chin,
a small nozzle that breathed fresh air into the man's face.
The man's name was Edward Bush. He was a solitary man of some forty-five
elapsed years. As far as he could be said to be thinking at all, he was
brooding about his mother.
At this phase of his life, he found himself becalmed, without direction.
His temporary job for the Institute did nothing to alleviate this inward
feeling that he had come to an uncharted cross-roads. It was as though all
his psychic mechanisms had petered out, or stood idling, undecided whether
to venture this way or that under the force of some vast prodromic unease.
Resting his chin on his knee, Bush stared out over the dull expanse of sea.
Somewhere, he could hear motor bikes revving.
He did not want anyone to see what he was doing. He jumped up and hurried
across to his easel. He had walked away from it in disgust; it was farther
away than, he remembered. The painting was no damned good, of course;
he was finished as an artist. Maybe that was why he could not face going
back to the present.
Howells would be waiting for his report at the Institute. Bush had drawn
Howells into the picture. He had tried to express emptiness, staring out
at the sea, working with flooded paper and aquarelles -- in mind-travel,
such primitive equipment was all one could manage to carry.
The heavy color came flooding off the ends of the pencils. Bush had gone
berserk. Over the sullen sea, a red-faced sun with Howells' features
had risen.
He began to laugh. A stunted tree to one side of the canvas: he applied
the pencil to it.
"Mother-figure!" he said. "It's you, Mother! Just to show I haven't
forgotten you."
His mother's features stared out of the foliage. He gave her a diamond
crown; his father often called her Queen -- half in love, half in irony.
So his father was in the picture too, suffusing it.
Bush stood looking down at the canvas.
"It's masterly, you know!" he said to the shadowy woman who stood behind
him, some distance away, not regarding him. He seized up an aquarelle
and scrawled a title to it: FAMILY GROUP. After all, he was in it too.
It was all him.
Then he pulled the paper block from the clamp, tore off the daub, and
screwed it up.
He folded the easel small and stuck it into his pack.
The sun shone behind Bush, over low hills, preparing to set. The hills were
bare except along the river bed, where runty little leafless psilophyton
grew in the shade of primitive lycopods. Bush cast no shadow.
The distant sound of motor bikes, the only sound in the great Devonian
silence, made him nervous. At the fringe of his vision, a movement on
the ground made him jump. Four lobe fins jostled in a shallow pool,
thrashing into the shallows. They struggled over the red mud, their
curiously armored heads lifting off the ground as they peered ahead with
comic eagerness. Bush made as if to photograph them with his wrist camera,
and then thought better of it; he had photographed lobe fins before.
The legged fish snapped at insects crawling on the mud banks or nosed
eagerly in rotting vegetation. In the days of his genius, he had used
an abstraction of their veridian armored heads for one of his most
successful works.
The noise of the bikes ceased. He scrutinized the landscape, climbing
onto a bank of shingle to get a better view; there might or might not be
a cluster of people far down the beach. The ocean was almost still. The
phantom dark-haired woman was still. In one sense, she was company; in
another, she was just one of the irritating ghosts of his over-burdened
"It's like a bloody textbook!" he called to her mockingly. "This beach . . .
Evolution . . . Lack of oxygen in the dying sea . . . Fish getting out.
Their adventure into space . . . And of course my father would read religion
into it all." Cheered by the sound of his own voice, he began to recite
(his father was a great quoter of poetry): "Spring . . . Too long . . .
Gongula . . ." Too bloody long.
Ah well, you had to have your fun, or you'd go mad here. He breathed in air
through the air-leaker, looking askance at his custodian. The dark-haired
woman was still there, dim and insubstantial as always. She was doing some
sort of guard duty, he decided. He held out a hand to her, but could no more
touch her than he could the lobe fins or the red sand.
Lust, that was his trouble. He needed this isolation while his inward
clocks stood still, but was also bored by it. Lust would get him stirring
again; yet the Dark Woman was as unattainable as the improper women of
his imagination.
It was no pleasure to him to see the bare hills through her body. He lay
down on the gravel, his body resting more or less on the configurations
of its slope. Rather than wrestle with the problem of her identity, he
turned back to the moody sea, staring at it as if be hoped to see some
insatiable monster break from the surface and shatter the quiescence
with which he was inundated.
All beaches were connected. Time was nothing to beaches. This one led
straight to the beach he had known one miserable childhood holiday, when
his parents quarreled with suppressed violence, and he had trembled behind
a hut with grit in his shoes, eavesdropping on their hatred. If only he
could forget his childhood, he could begin creative life anew! Perhaps
an arrangement of hut-like objects . . . Enshrined by time . . .
Characteristic of him that he should lie here meditating his next
spatial-kinetic group age, rather than actually tackling it; but his
art (ha!) had brought him easy rewards too early -- more because he was
one of the first artists to mind-travel, he suspected, than because the
public was particularly struck by his solitary genius, or by his austere
and increasingly monochromatic arrangements of movable blocks and traps
expressing those obscure spatial relationships and time synchronizations
which for Bush constituted the world.
In any case, he was finished with the purely photic-signal-type groupages
that had brought him such success five years ago. Instead of dragging
that load of externals inward, he would push the internals outward,
related to macro-cosmic time. He would if he knew how to begin.
Bush could hear the motorcycles again, thudding along the deserted beach.
He pushed them away, indulging further his train of thought, his head
full of angles and leverages that would not resolve into anything that
could move him to expression. He had plunged into mind-travel at the
Institute's encouragement, deliberately to disrupt his circadian rhythms,
so that he could grapple with the new and fundamental problems of time
perception with which his age was confronted -- and had found nothing
that would resolve into expression. Hence his dereliction on this shore.
Old Claude Monet had pursued the right sort of path, considering his
period, sitting there patiently at Giverny, transforming water lilies
and pools into formations of color that conspired towards an elusive
statement on time. Monet had never been saddled with the Devonian,
or the Paleozoic Era.
The human consciousness had now widened so alarmingly, was so busy
transforming everything on Earth into its own peculiar tones, that no art
could exist that did not take proper cognizance of the fact. Something
entirely new had to be forged; even the bio-electro-kinetic sculpture
of the previous decade was old hat.
He had the seeds of that new art in his life, which, as he had long ago
recognized, followed the scheme of a vortex, his emotions pouring down
into a warped center of being, always on the move, pressing forward like a
storm, but always coming back to the same point. The painter who stirred
him most was old Joseph Mallord William Turner; his life, set in another
period when technology was altering ideas of time, had also moved in
vortices; just as his later canvases had been dominated by that pattern.
The vortex: symbol of the way every phenomenon in the universe swirled
round into the human eye, like water out of a basin.
So he had thought a thousand times. The thought also whirled round and
round, getting nowhere.
Grunting to himself, Bush sat up to look for the motor bikes.
They were about half a mile away, stationary on the dull beach; he could
see them clearly; objects in his own dimension showed much darker than they
would have done if they existed in the world outside, the entropy barrier
cutting down about 10 per cent of the light. The ten riders showed up
rather like cut-outs against the exotic Devonian backdrop, all forces
conspiring to admit that they did not and never would belong here.
The bikes were the light models their riders could carry back in mind-travel
with them. They spun round in intricate movements, throwing up no sand
where one might expect parabolas of it, splashing no wave when they
appeared to drive through the waves. That which they had never affected,
they had no power to affect now. As miraculously, they managed to avoid
each other, finally coming to rest in a neat straight line, some facing
one way, some the other, their horizontal discs hovering just above
the sand.

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