|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #131, June
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Without actually seeing the book, The Guardian recently had some fun with Norman Spinrad's 1967 SF novel Agent Of Chaos. According to information received by their Diary column, our flamboyant politico Boris Johnson is not only Tory MP for Henley, former Shadow Arts Minister, and editor of The Spectator, but also the laser-toting revolutionary leader of the book's embattled Democratic League.
Incredibly brave yet deeply inept, this futuristic Boris Johnson is forever organising terror strikes (which always fail, every time) against the all-powerful Solar Hegemonic Council, masters of spin and media control whose policies are strangely reminiscent of New Labour. They force all citizens – known as Wards – to carry identity papers at all times, for their own good, and are planning new electronic surveillance techniques which "would mean the end of just about the last bit of privacy a Ward could know ..."
Naturally I unearthed my battered paperback of Agent Of Chaos to learn more about how Norman Spinrad predicted the career and personality of Boris Johnson, "Hegemonic Enemy Number One". For those who enjoy this MP's buffoonish appearances on Have I Got News For You and his magnificently appalling taste in jogging costume (see all British newspapers), there's an eerie rightness in some of Spinrad's lines:
"In matters such as these, Mr Boris Johnson is no match for Vladimir Khustov." – where VK is the Hegemonic equivalent of Tony Blair.
Analysis by an expert in Chaos theory: "Blind courage is, of course, a Random Factor. So is heroism. So, too, for that matter, is sheer stupidity – and Johnson, paradoxically, is a source of all three."
"If we save Boris Johnson for no rational reason whatever, are we not remaining true to Chaos?
Even those TV quiz appearances are foreshadowed: "Boris Johnson was quite willing to babble on – and did so at every opportunity – but the man was a fool."
As for the inevitable naughty scandals associated with politicians ... "A moment of utter ecstasy seared through the clouded mind of Boris Johnson." Moreover, "Boris Johnson knew that he had caught a glimpse of the true, oceanic, pregnant nature of the universe ..." And, alas: "It was all a trap, Mr Boris Johnson, and you walked right into it."
But fair's fair. Has SF shown the same eerie prescience about any of our man's opposite numbers in New Labour? I thought you'd never ask.
A.E. van Vogt's The World Of Null-A dates from the 1940s and has a plot which is surreal or nonsensical, depending whether you listen to its fans or its critics. The superman hero is Gilbert Gosseyn, subtly pronounced GoSANE (inevitably my own parody starred Filbert Insseyn). A website comparing the 1948 and 1970 editions quotes this key passage:
"Population of Venus as of 2560 A.D. – 119,000,038 males, 120,143,280 females, the book said. When he finally put it down, Gosseyn wondered if the surplus of females might explain why a null-A woman had married John Prescott."
In van Vogt's future, John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister) is a dubiously loyal minion of other extrasolar humans who have adopted Earth's radical philosophy of Null-A. This tones up the brain and applies the whirling Dyno-Rod of rationality to blocked thought processes. Null-A means Null-Aristotelian, rejecting Aristotle's old-fashioned binary logic in favour of multi-valued understanding ... what you might call the Third Way.
Can it be coincidence that the cryptic but strangely potent philosophy of Null-A sounds reminiscent of New Labour? Correct political thought solves all problems: Gosseyn realises that his emotional attachment to a woman requires intensive Nu-Labour – sorry, Null-A – therapy to cure these feelings.
His superpowers include teleportation by "similarisation", mentally causing object A to acquire nineteen-decimal-place similarity to location B, whereupon some hitherto unknown law of physics makes A leap instantly to B. While Gosseyn does this, people who can otherwise predict the future see only a "blur". Was van Vogt predicting that a transhuman leader with dodgy minions, known to many as Tony Blur, would one day use nineteen-decimal-place similarity to teleport Conservative policies into his Null-Labour manifesto? Decide for yourself.
As for America, it was John Sladek who in The Müller-Fokker Effect devised the masterful satirical notion of a President Reagan. When the joke backfired, Sladek complained: "This cagey guy waited until after the novel was published in 1970 and then he came to life. I'll make sure that it never happens again."
David Langford thanks Ian Covell for van Vogtian research input. Another Agent of Chaos moment, clearly just after the election: "Boris Johnson promised himself that at least there would be a next time."
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