other reviews of
The Fall of Chronopolis:

Joseph Nicholas

other reviews of The Grand Wheel:

Richard E. Geis
Phil Stephensen-Payne
Colin Greenland

This review is available here without the permission of the copyright holder.Originally published in "Vector #89", September 1978. Copyright Chris Evans, 1978.

THE FALL OF CHRONOPOLIS by Barrington J. Bayley (Daw Books; New York; June 1974; 95c; ISBN 451-1114-095)
THE GRAND WHEEL by Barrington J. Bayley (Daw Books; New York; August 1977; ISGN 0-87997-318-8)

reviewed by Chris Evans

Science fiction is supposedly an imaginative literature, it's prime function being to explore unfamiliar ideas and situations. But it is a sad fact that of the multitude of sf books published each year, very few contain any real speculative element. Most are stock adventure stories which incorporate the standard props of the genre as mere decorations or gimmicks to provide plot-twists. Sf of this nature has much in common with westerns and romantic fiction: it offers, essentially, variations on a theme, providing the reader with a series of familiar images and scenario which follows a predictable, time-honoured pattern. Avid readers of this kind of fiction generally baulk at extreme manifestations of originality because what they are seeking is a continuous and comfortable reaffirmation of their fantasies. As a consequence, publishers often have a tendency to prefer work which will not strain their readers' imaginations unduly. Barrington Bayley is one of the most inventive and idiosyncratic writers in the genre; his short stories, especially, read like no-one else's. He has been writing sf for two decades, yet it is only comparatively recently that he has found a regular market for his novels. I suspect that the major reason for this is that publishers were afraid to risk their necks on such obviously original work.

Barry Bayley's books are written in the pulp idiom - by which I mean that his plots are fast-paced and action-packed, with the fate of a world or a solar system in the balance - but his subject matter extends far beyond the limited horizons of the pulp format. I met the author recently and he told me that his aim was to provide an entertaining narrative in which to embody his ideas. He is not primarily interested in character; his concerns are philosophical and metaphysical, and each of his books seems to be set in a self-contained universe with its own set of weird and wonderful laws.


"Orthogonal time is but the surface of the bottomless ocean of potential time, or the temporal substratum: the hidden dimension of eternity in which all things co-exist without progression from past to future... Time is composed of a wave structure. The nodes of the waves travel at intervals of approximately one hundred and seventy years and are of crucial importance for the business of time-travel, since they comprise 'rest points' in the tensioning of the Chronotic energy field." (THE FALL OF CHRONOPOLIS, pps 31-32)


"Randomatics rested on certain unexpected discoveries that had been made in the essential mystery of number. It had been discovered that, below a certain very high number, permutating a set of independent elements did not produce a sequence that was strictly random. Preferred sub-structures appeared in any 'chance' run, and these could be predicted. Only when the number of independent elements entered the billions .. did predictability vanish. This was the realm of 'second-order chance', distinguished from 'first-order chance' in that it was chance in the old sense: pure probability unadulterated by calculable runs and groupings." (THE GRAND WHEEL, p. 9)

Bayley has a delightfully fertile imagination, formulating his preposterous concepts with seeming ease, then slotting them into his vigorous narratives and developing them with such thoroughness that any reader with a sense of wonder cannot fail to be carried along by the sheer intellectual stimulus of the ideas. These two books, replete with their visions of absolute power and their glimpses of the underlying structures of the universe seem at times to be far removed from any present reality or probable future. Yet the author's mastery of his material and his insistence on providing rational explanations for the most outrageous events gives each book an internal consistency which makes it impossible to dismiss them as mere whimsy. They fall into that sphere of sf which Brian Aldiss has christened "wide screen baroque" and in so doing they provide us with Bayley's most obvious progenitor: Charles Harness. Much of Bayley's work, like Harness', deals with the interaction of polarities: science vs art (or religion); chance vs predictability; light vs darkness; mutability vs immutability. So the Chronotic Empire battles against the Hegemony and its time-distorters to preserve the integrity of the temporal stream; so the legitimacy struggles with the Grand Wheel to prevent the organisation, with its belief in the rule of chance, from gaining overall power in the solar system. Underlying these conflicts is the principle of entropy, an over-used term in sf criticism, but one which nonetheless seems perfectly applicable to Bayley's oeuvre. All physical systems have a tendency to move towards a state of increasing randomness or disorder, and thus eventually the entire universe must run down like a spent clockwork toy, its energies dissipated and darkness prevailing. Man, himself a product of a freak, anti-entropic process (a series of chance combinations of molecules which eventually became self-replicating) struggles against this tendency towards decay but ultimately can fight only a rearguard action since the conclusions of the second law of thermodynamics are inescapable. Bayley recognises this, but he is still fascinated by the struggles and invents in these fictions ways by which man may cheat his ultimate fate. If the Chronotic Empire can defeat the Hegemony then its people will achieve some form of immortality since when each person dies their souls are immediately transported back to the time of their births and thei begin living their lives again, although without knowledge of their 'previous' existence. This theme of continual rebirth is the same one that Charles Harness explored in THE RING OF RITORNEL, and it is clear that both authors share very similar concerns. In THE GRAND WHEEL there is no obvious evidence of the ultimate decay, but even so Bayley has one of his characters dispersed into "pure randomness" only to reappear in a kind of phantom zone from where he may eventually re-enter the physical universe. In a sense, these books are out-and-out fantasies, but fantasies of the highest calibre; they engage the mind like the abstract puzzles which might have little practical relevance but are nonetheless still fascinating to contemplate. Bayley is a member of that rare breed of true visionaries who are not afraid to look the universe straight in the eye and ask: "What makes you tick?".

One last point. I said earlier that Bayley is not interested in character, but comparing these two novels one can see a development in this area.

CHRONOPOLIS, published in 1974, contains only the most redimentary characterisation, whereas THE GRAND WHEEL, of 1977 vintage, shows that the author is capable of instilling personality into his human creations. This is an advance which I thoroughly welcome; after all, there's no reason why an author shouldn't juggle with the mind-boggling concepts and provide his readers with some character delineation, is there? On this evidence I'd say that Barry Bayley is still growing in strength as a novelist, and all that remains is to add my voice to the belated but growing chorus of acclaim for Bayley's work and to urge everyone to get acquainted with it.

(An irrelevant afternote: There is a story, probably apocryphal, of the time when Bayley, unable to sell his short-stories to Ted Carnell's NEW WRITINGS IN SF, began submitting them under the pseudonym P. F. Woods. They sold. Reverting to his real name, he submitted another story which was rejected by Carnell with an accompanying note to the effect that "You should write stories like that P. F. Woods fellow". Is it any wonder that writers are often prone to curse editors?)

- Chris Evans, 1978

thanks to Mike Cross