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The Currents of Space



Harper Voyager p/b £9.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

Florina is the only planet in the Galaxy where kyrt can be grown. Kyrt is a very high-quality natural fibre that can be spun and woven to produce luxury garments for the human elite, which has colonised the Galaxy. Many attempts had been made to cultivate kyrt on other planets, but all had failed, and nobody knew why. Whoever controls Florina owns the kyrt trade, and currently, the five Squires of Sark, a neighbouring planet, own Florina and its subservient population who work the kyrt fields. Asimov has the cotton plantations of North America in mind when describing conditions in Florina but has cunningly reversed the complexions of master and servant. On Florina, lighter-skinned people do the work, and darker folk enjoy the wealth which is produced.

The Currents of Space was first published in 1952 and includes many perspectives on the future which appear in other Asimov tales. The qualities of the story were absorbing then and persist to this day. The only irritating element is that the narrative broadens as the novel develops, allowing the writer to imply events have taken place which just previously were yet to happen. This does have the benefit of moving the tale forward without a congested plot line, an advantage many modern writers might like to consider in lightening the load being endured by the bookshelves of the world.

A Spatio-analyst reporting to the Interstellar Spatio-Analytic Bureau has disappeared. At about the same time, Crazy Rik was found abandoned among the kyrt fields and put to work in the local kyrt-mill under the kind supervision of Valona, a young woman without a family. The story starts when Rik begins to remember things from his past that had been erased from his memory by the brutal use of a psychic probe. The local Townman, the official who oversees the kyrt production of the community, who has taken a paternalistic role in helping Valona manage Rik, suggests a visit to the library in the Upper City to verify what Rik is talking about.

The Upper City is the mechanism by which society on Florina is segregated. Whilst it is operated by the Civil Service comprised of Florinans, its management is strictly controlled by lesser Squires from Sark. In trying to access library references to Spatio-Analysis the Townman exposes the three of them to the attentions of the Patrollers, who are a mercenary police force deployed to ensure that every Florinan knows their place. They flee to the Lower City to find shelter from a baker who just happens to be an agent for a foreign power.

In the meantime, a Dr Junz, attached to the Interstellar Spatio-Analytic Bureau, has been trying to discover what had happened to the missing Spatio-Analyst. He expected some sort of skullduggery as the politics of the moment suggested developments in the ownership and control of kyrt production. Trantor, the Great Power of the Galaxy, is interested in obtaining control, and the Squires of Sark were concerned with reinforcing their existing ownership. This is the point at which the entire tale blossoms into power politics, demonstrating very clearly how little people can be hauled out from obscurity to become pawns in some interstellar great game.

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