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Mirrorman
Trevor Hoyle
Virgin Worlds, 470 pages

Mirrorman
Trevor Hoyle
In the mid-1980s Trevor Hoyle wrote a pair of near-future SF novels (The Last Gasp and Vail), and K.I.D.S. a thriller about a disease that turns children into killers. Hoyle also novelized three episodes of the British SF series Blake's 7 (Project Avalon, Scorpio Attack, and Their First Adventure). His writing shifted away from SF to writing for TV and radio, further TV and film script novelizations, and mainstream novels. His last book was Blind Needle.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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A powerful cult, the Messengers, offers Frank Kersh, an amoral death-row inmate about to be executed, escape from death and the fulfillment of all his desires. In return, while ensconced in a penthouse paradise in a parallel universe, he must defuse or destroy any threats to the cult's plans of world domination. One such threat comes from Cawdor, a civil engineer, whose forefather escaped the religious persecution in England in the 1770s, and interfered with a previous incarnation of the cult. Unfortunately for Cawdor (both past and present), between the different timelines reaching out to him through the shards of a mirror, getting stuck in a Groundhog Day-like time loop in an alternate reality created by Kersh, and his wife and son/daughter being tortured and/or killed, he only has a limited amount of time to catch on to what's happening, and act to destroy Kersh.

A significant proportion of British science fiction was at one time criticized for being "behind the times" in still holding fast to the plot devices and characters of the first Golden Age (20s and 30s) well into the 60s. Even at the eve of the millennium, Mirrorman still has a very 30s feel. Meet, for example, Gil Gribble, brilliant astronomer (1775 timeline), and theoretical physicist (1999 timeline) who creates a self-driven virtual reality helmet that allows Cawdor entry to Kersh's alternate universe. He's the epitome (even the name is perfect) of the clueless-with-women, goofy but brilliant scientist-sidekick found in endless early pulp novels, from Ray Cummings and Edmond Hamilton, to E.E. "Doc" Smith. Novels, like The Blind Spot (1921) by Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall, with one or more alternate/parallel universes and the technology to get there, were also a dime-a-dozen in the Golden Age. Similarly the dark and nefarious Messengers cult is really no different than FuManchu's Si-Fan or the people surrounding the Satan figure in A. Merritt's Seven Footprints to Satan (1928) or any number of other such titles. Hoyle's Mirrorman uses these and many other standard -- not to say clichéd -- SF elements to build a fairly entertaining novel. But does Mirrorman, besides the updating of the settings, really add anything to the great stories of the 30s?

Well, yes, Hoyle does add something, but I don't know if it's really an improvement. The element he adds is graphic rape/torture, virgin sacrifices in the Black Mass tradition and various other forced or mind-control driven sex acts. Certainly it is a book for adults. Fine, so it gets the point across that the villains are evil obnoxious bastards who deserve no better than to be destroyed, but shock value and one-dimensional evil villains don't make a novel. It certainly isn't because I'm any sort of prude that I would suggest that kinky sex doesn't add anything to Mirrorman. To me, Octave Mirbeau's late 19th century horror novel Le Jardin des Supplices (The Torture Garden), chock-full of truly twisted torture and eroticism, is an exquisitely depicted piece, defining an aesthetic of depravity and decadence that has seldom been duplicated. Mirrorman, while perhaps shocking to some, really doesn't lift itself out of the mold of hundreds of other SF novels from the 30s to today.

The new Virgin Worlds imprint promises to bring us the best of new British SF and Fantasy, particularly the work of new or little known writers. One might excuse such a formulaic plot from a new writer, but Hoyle has several years of experience in the field. Mirrorman certainly can't be accused of being boring or without some elements of suspense, but don't expect anything too terribly original and you won't be disappointed.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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