Monday, May 27, 2013

The Great White Space by Basil Copper (1974)

The Great White Space by Basil Copper (1974): The recently deceased Basil Copper gives us a splendid homage to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, with perhaps a smidgen of Moby Dick, in this tale of an expedition into a mysterious cave system located beneath mountains somewhere in Asia. The exact location is never given because the narrator doesn't want anyone to follow in his expedition's footsteps for reasons that become abundantly clear as the narrative progresses. He only is escaped alone to tell thee.

Narrated decades after the (thankfully fictional) attempt of the 1932 Great Northern Expedition to penetrate the mysteries of that cave system, The Great White Space goes not into the southern polar regions (as Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Jules Verne's The Sphinx of the Ice, and Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym did) but beneath the Earth.

Copper devotes a lot of space and detail early in the text to explaining the technical and logistical preparations for the descent and then the long voyage to 'The Black Mountains', where the entry to the cave system exists. Along the way, two different and somewhat odd Asian tribes are met, and possible taboos about entering the caves encountered. The natives do not go in there, through an artificial cave mouth that stands several hundred feet high.

Once inside the system -- which is, to use a favourite Lovecraftian adjective, cyclopean, as in monstrously huge -- the expedition soon discovers that the entire cave system is artificial, carved or somehow otherwise scooped out of the rock through unknown technological means. Something lurks, of course, though much of the terror of the novel lies in what comes before the Big Reveal.

Unnerving details and an attention to both the squeamish and the Sublime build to the revelation of what waits in the region of The Great White Space, a region paradoxically located miles beneath the Earth. There are things in bottles, a library, and great forms glimpsed in the distance, coming closer. And there comes occasionally from far off the sound of enormous wings.

Some may find this brief novel a tad slow -- the horrors come on-stage fairly late in the game, and explanations are abandoned in favour of mystery and dread. I quite liked the modulation of this novel -- it's quiet and it demands concentration, but it's a page-turner nonetheless. Highly recommended.

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