The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock
#8 The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock. As civilization plunges toward destruction, a few people escape in a starship bearing mankind’s last hope. The rest in suspend animation, one man remains awake to pilot the ship. Moorcock has never been better.
– Karl Edward Wagner, 13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels (Twilight Zone magazine 1983)
A strange and short little book, Black Corridor is one of the best examples I can find of New Wave science fiction. Although the late writer Thomas Disch dismissed a lot of the New Wave as the triumph of style over substance, this particular school of SF literature did blow the cobwebs out of the older forms, obsessed with aliens and blasters. And the New Wave writers actually talked about sex, something difficult to find in much SF before 1964.
Written with his wife Hilary Bailer, Moorcock’s novel concerns the trials of Ryan, a British businessman who has managed to place his family and himself on the sole starship to leave Earth. Ryan is the only person awake for the journey to a planet in another solar system which may be habitable. The other crew members, mostly his family and relatives, are in suspended animation for the duration of the trip. But Ryan is starting to have problems with the isolation and loneliness. He’s beginning to hallucinate. He’s also having nightmares about the Earth they left behind.
And the Earth left behind is not a pretty place. Ryan had been a successful toy manufacturer there, but shortly before the events in the novel, Earth began going insane. Mass paranoia began breaking out everywhere, infecting the population at large. Large rallies take place in the streets by a group called The Patriots, who want all aliens forced out of the country. By aliens, the Patriots mean the non-English kind, but some of them believe nonhuman aliens are in our midst. Eventually the world breaks down into a variety of mini-states, with different parts of England bombing each other.
Considering when the book was published, the terrestrial portions of The Black Corridor seem to reflect the current racial tensions which raged through parts of England at the time. Immigrants from the Caribbean were appearing n substantial numbers. Racial riots broke out in several major cities. Politician Enoch Powell had already made his infamous “Rivers Of Blood” speech. I can’t help but wonder if these parts were penned in reaction.
Much of the book is also written in a stream-of-consciousness format. Ryan isn’t sure if he’s back on Earth or if he’s having another nightmare. Many of the pages are written in typographical art, which can be a little bit confusing if you’re used to everything being created with a word processor.
An interesting little book from the list.