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Fade-out by Patrick Tilley

Fade-out (edition 1977)

by Patrick Tilley

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139186,313 (3.07)1
Authors:Patrick Tilley
Info:Sphere (1977), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, sf

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Fade-out by Patrick Tilley



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My reactions to reading this novel in 2002.

This is another book I read that allegedly was influenced by Charles Fort. I couldn't see it myself. There is a sort of vague "We're property." flavor about it with talk that man be the result of genetic engineering or visited, a la Erich von Daniken (specifically mentioned), by aliens in the past. However, nothing definite is stated. At novel's end, the purpose of the six alien artifacts (perhaps not even extraterrestrial but always there) is not clear.

Now, there is nothing wrong with an sf story that shows the unknowableness of the alien. But I didn't get the impression that Tilley was seriously trying to do such a story.

This book is a definite creature of the seventies, specifically of the blockbuster thriller variety. The chapters are short, and there is a wealth of characters almost none of them developed to the extent of even the archetypal sort found in sf short stories and certainly not as much as you would expect in a 416 page book. (To be fair, Tilley is capable of some humor now and then.)

The setting is an America concerned about an energy shortage and unemployment and inflation. The President's Cabinet is concerned with the Cold War and, rather stereotypically, the Secretary of Defense is a hawkish sort who seems to irrationally distrust Russia and will brook no trade with China. (To be fair, his suspiciousness of the Russians is partly justified.) Air Force General Mitch Allbright (something of a pun) is apocalyptically fascinated with the nukes under his charge. However, he keeps his apocalyptic desires reined in and heroically is ready to sacrifice himself.

The "scientific concerns" are very much of the seventies. Not only do we have talk of human-dolphin communication and "machine intelligence" and the genetic memory inherent in RNA (discredited as far as I know, at least in humans, but it shows up in seventies sf a fair amount) but also more dubious items like pyramid power, ancient astronauts, and, surprisingly, the medieval notion of the psychological states of women affecting the fetuses they carry. Tilley's ultimate plot is muddled though. It seems that the alien has helped man develop latent psychic powers, put him in touch with a cosmic consciousness which gives him an immortality of sorts (there is a lot here about myths being true) by immersion in it, but it's not explained why the alien has to end technological civilization by eliminating technologically generated electricity. (This reminded me of Frederic Brown's "The Waveries" and the fondly remembered The Day the Machines Stopped by Christopher Anvil, the first sf disaster novel I ever read.)

There is a disturbing notion at novel's end, an end which would be where most sf writers would start the story: that man will be better off having to start over (though it is acknowledged that millions will probably die). Tilley seems to imply that such a reset of civilization will enable us to get things right this time, that we'll play our own music rather than listen to recordings and our scientists won't be so upset by findings that contradict their theories (which is a hackneyed and untrue view of science).

On the other hand, this was in the exploring-the-alien-artifact subgenre that I like, and there are also very few sf novels set in eastern Montana, specifically the fictional locale of Crow Ridge, slightly northwest of Miles City (in which scenes are set). Tilley did a pretty good job briefly describing the area, and it was fun to read a novel set around places I know. But, if it wasn't for those last two items, this novel would have been very disappointing. ( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 11, 2014 |
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For the Headquarters Staff of the Strategic Air Command, it was the tensest situation they'd faced since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
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