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January 1999
 
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Murder in Millennium VI by Curme Gray

I first read Damon Knight's In Search of Wonder (1956) as a teenager in the late sixties. In the chapter titled "New Stars," Knight spent a few thousand elegantly witty words dealing with a book that even Knight, master critic, found baffling. As described by Knight, Murder in Millennium VI, by Curme Gray (1910-1980), was that rarest of SF creations: a book set in the far future amidst a very bizarre culture, narrated by an inhabitant of that period in terms easy for only a fellow native to understand. In other words, utter futuristic strangeness unleavened by infodumps.

Knight's stimulating essay still offers the best synopsis and analysis of Murder's convoluted plot, which involves the death of the governing global Matriarch, and the machinations among the four members of the Mitchel family (narrator Victor, his sister Hilda, and their parents Wilmot and Alec) to replace her and find her killer before their society crashes. But Victor Mitchel had more luck solving his mystery than I did finding a copy of this book. The author was faceless. The single edition of this 1951 novel was issued by Shasta Press (1948-1957) in a minuscule run. Fascinated, I searched diligently for this rarity for three decades, finding a copy only this year. Would the novel's legendary brilliance stand, in the light of forty subsequent years of advanced SF experimentation?

Happily, perused even in the bright light of postmodern SF,Murder remains unique. As Knight put it, "For sheer audacity and stubbornness, Curme Gray's performance is breathtaking." Wonderful aspects Knight omitted to mention include Gray's keen Orwellian riffs, the pathos of the love story, and insights into a cybernetic society.

Although such a lost book, mostly unread, can hardly be called an influence, it's tempting to try to place Murder in a line of development. Had Gray learned from Cordwainer's Smith "Scanners Live in Vain" (1950) or from A. Merritt? Did David Bunch or Felix Gotschalk or the Brian Aldiss of Report on Probability A (1968) ever sympathetically channel Gray? Such Borgesian speculations only begin to assign this highly reprintable book its true esthetic weight.

—Paul Di Filippo

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