The Eighty Minute Hour by Brian Aldiss
Well, where to start with this novel?
Firmly rooted in the New Wave science fiction of the early seventies, The Eighty-Minute Hour is Brian Alsiss’ attempt at a humorous, surreal, literary sf novel. With it’s weird character names, such as Chambers Technical Dictionary, Devlin Carnate, Choggles and May Binh Bong, along with a surreal sub-plot involving Julliann of the Sharkskin and Harry the Hawk, the novel brings to mind in it’s style that other, more well known New Wave series, Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time.
As for the plot, the use of massive nuclear weapons during the Third World War has lead to time turbulences appearing at random on Earth and throughout the Solar System. These areas of space-time move whatever lies within them back in time and possibly also location. Various leaders of the governmental factions set up after the war vie with one another and with Computer Complex, the vast AI which controls all world systems, to discover as much as they can about the anomalies, and exploit them for their own ends.
Meanwhile, mega-industrialist Attica Saigon Smix has gone missing, possibly into a sub-atomic dimension, and Computer Complex wants to know how he did it, as it might be the only escape from the destruction caused by the time tubulences.
There are also sub-plots dealing with a Dr. Mengele-style war criminal living on Mars, and a medieval-type quest, where we meet the Spider King and the Queen of All Questions — a quest which isn’t explained until the concluding chapters.
Oh, and the novel is sub-titled ‘A Space Opera’, which it literally is, as many of the characters burst into song at various points throughout the story for no apparent reason.
If you want to know what the experimental science fiction of the seventies New Wave was all about, then this is a perfect example. In parts too pretentious for it’s own good, at least it is readable New Wave, unlike a lot of work produced at that time under the same label. It’s not an all-action page turner and can be slightly baffling at times, but it’s written in an unusual style, and you won’t have wasted your time if you give it a go.