Echo X by Ben Barzman (1960)

November 18th, 2009

Ben Barzman was a talented Film Writer who was blacklisted in the 1950s. I’ll always remember him for his strange movie, The Boy with Green Hair, but I’ve seen some of his other movies such as Back to Bataan, Give us this Day, El Cid and The Blue Max. While living in France, he produced a few respectable Science Fiction Novels and Echo X is the most read of these.

The style and tone of Echo X reminds me of Maugham’s The Razor’s edge. It is an intense character study that does not get even a little sciencefictional until nearly half way through the book. It is the story of a Canadian newspaper reporter in Paris. He was a pilot in WWII and bombed the town in France where, when he was 16, he had made love to girl. He thinks that he may have killed her with his bombs. He then rescues a child from a bombed out building in London and over the years maintains a relationship with her. All the relationships in his life have been ruined or tainted by his war experiences, including the death of his best friend on a bombing mission.

He becomes involved with a scientific experiment that has dangerous potential, but it turns out that the first results allow them to communicate with a mirror Earth. The Mirror Earth is much the same as this Earth, except that WWII never happened. On the second Earth, his young girlfriend was never bombed. The girl that he saved from the bomb did not grow up an emotionally troubled orphan, and his best friend did not die.

This situation is a setup so that Barzman can point out by comparison the evils of war, the senselessness of political oppression and the general dirty social environment of our world. The mirror world is rational, clean, and fair.

The novel is redeemed by the protagonist’s growth. By contacting the objects of his own guilt in the mirror world, he realizes that he has never been able to accept that the world changes. He learns to cope with his own expectations and resolve his past conflicts. The plot of the mirror Earth becomes less important than the hero’s ability to deal with his own inner pain.

There is no overt communist propaganda or anything that might cause this book to be banned, yet it is very critical of the status quo. It is an anti war novel and it talks casually about joining protests against war. In 1960 this was downright subversive.

This is a very good book, superbly written. It reads much more of a mainstream book. It has much in common with Gravity’s Rainbow, or Catch 22, than the pulp tradition. It keeps that "sense of wonder" that is the essential requirement for Science Fiction, however.

Echo X is a highly recommended read. It is out of print, however, and I would guess that there is a law against libraries buying it with public money.

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I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
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