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The Great White Space by Basil Copper
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The Great White Space (1974)

by Basil Copper

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Basil Copper is rather widely published, but has only a few Cthulhu mythos titles in his output. I know of two short stories: "Shaft Number 247" which I saw in Cthulhu 2000 and "Beyond the Reef" in the 1994 F&B anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth. Both are masterfully written, outstanding examples of the genre. James Ambeuhl has mentioned the novel The Great White Space in several posts dating back years and I finally roused myself to check it out, while exploring some of the byways of the mythos. Original copyright was 1974; I got a yellowing copy of the 1978 Manor Book edition, a mass market paperback with 192 pages. Mine cost no more than a few bucks including shipping. The cover art is decent, showing a scene from the end of the book, but the artist is not listed anywhere (also it is a differnt picture than on the 1976 edition).

My contention that there are not many good mythos novels is again substantiated. The story is set in the 1930s and owes a debt to "At the Mountains of Madness." Briefly, Frederick Plowright, a freelance photographer, meets the renowned explorer, Clark Ashton Scarsdale (this name being a clear tip of the hat to CAS). He proposes that Plowright join the Great Northern Expedition. A group of 5 Englishmen set off to the wastelands in an unnamed mountainous region of Asia, an underground city. Professor Scarsdale has made a miraculous discovery there and had barely survivied to return. In an exasperating turn of events, Plowright and most of the other just go merrily along without knowing anything about their destination or what they could find there, or how long they will be gone. As things get weirder they still refrain from questioning Scarsdale, instead trusting in his charisma. Seems pretty implausible. The locals are caricatures, not people (and what sort of name is Zalor? Hyborian?). In another exasperating turn of narrative, it takes over half the book just to ramp up to the point where they start exploring the caverns. By then the novel had lost me. The tepid prose and slow paced exploration did little to win me back. Ultimately they discover an advanced civilizaton had been there many centuries ago, and that it was planning to return through a star gate of some sort, and the creatures were immense, inhuman and unfathomable. It had a Lovecraftian atmposphere and plot devices, although it did not borrow directly from HPL's library or beastiary. The action at the end wasn't bad, and the final image pretty Lovecraftian, but UPPER CASE LETTERS were used to emphasize the horror, maybe because the publisher could not afford to type set italics. There was essentially no character development,not really necessary in a book so plot driven I suppose, and similarly the dialogue was mostly absent. If I had read The Great White Space in the 1970s when it was new, I was a teen and I was new to the mythos, I may have liked it better, and would now harbor an affection for it that I cannot muster today. Today, however, I don't want to slog through >160 pages of derivative tedium for a few pages of pretty good action and imagery. This was another book it took me ages to finish. On the plus side it was better than The Iron Maiden or The Dark Destroyer. Also used copies are so ubiquitous and inexpensive that you risk nothing by perusing it yourself. ( )
  carpentermt | Sep 26, 2010 |
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