“Idyll” James Derry

James Derry is a superb writer. I gave “Line of Descent” five stars, and “Idyll” is another classic from him. This is one for particularly resilient fans of well-written dystopian novels: because for 74% of the book, horror is piled on “horror in a series of relentlessly awful days”. The protagonists are on a planet 13 light years from Earth, where the intrepid human settlers face insuperable obstacles in a heartaching struggle for survival. The detail is exquisite, the descriptions evocative and the characterisation complex. While reading it I kept hearing the final bars of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War”: the strings scurrying frantically to find somewhere safe to hide, only to be obliterated by the ruthless hammer blows of the exterminating brass before the drawn out final chord signifies the total extinction of the human race.

All is not what it seems, however, though it is for you to decide whether the new “reality” stumbled upon in the final quarter of the book is better or worse than the one that went before. “What a piece of work is a man”: technological marvels may be accomplished in ensuing centuries, but the creature accomplishing them remains dedicated to the preservation of privilege by an elite minority. The tragedy resides in the fact that the majority’s struggle for survival entails backbreaking effort, the loss of innocence and the terrible waste of good.

The best science fiction is not so much a prediction as a warning. Don’t expect too many moments of light relief, but confidently expect a well written depiction of a recurring human nightmare.

James Derry IDYLL