Beyond the Sealed World, Rena Vale (1965*)
Review by Joachim Boaz
Before Rena Vale became a science fiction author she was a secretary for the California State Assembly Committee on Un-American activities. In an affidavit she detailed her own experiences as a member of the Communist party and implicated famous individuals she worked with including Lucille Belle (of I Love Lucy fame), novelist John Steinbeck, actress Gale Sodergaard, and various others.
I’m not going to lie but this piqued my interest. Was her science fiction simply an extension of her anti-Communist works published in the 1950s? A quick Google Books search reveals a fascinating selection, an anti-Communist novel, The Red Court, “last seat of national government of the United States: the story of the revolution to come through Communism” (1952) and a pamphlet, ‘Against the Red Tide’ (1953), etc.
With the 50s character of the world in mind, parts of Beyond the Sealed World still come off as overly propagandistic, hokey, muddled, and extraordinarily sexist (surprising considering the female author). A world where good rural pseudo-Christian folk are manipulated by an evil “Chinman” and some barbarians who use destructive means to force the opening of the repressive/sterile sealed world of “Science”, which eschews individualism, plans marriages, and follows autocratic party leaders.
Part I of the work is by far the most readable. Daly 1444, a flavor engineer, is selected by Calinda, the sex-symbol daughter of the Sealed World’s leader, to be her mate. Her father doesn’t endorse their match and uses his authority to remove the office of flavor engineer. He’s sentenced to exile beyond the walls of the city. Daly 1444 is taken in by a renegade group of guards who have experienced the joys of the outer-world while on patrol duty on the roof of the Sealed World. Daly’s declared “L’ouverture”, after the Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture who led a brutal rebellion against the island’s French masters, and is cast out. He keeps a mirror so that he can to signal those on the roof. This section explains the workings of the repressive Sealed World of science and is on the whole a fun exercise in world-building. Daly 1444 is a suitably love-struck, indecisive, and confused young man thrown by external into a world-changing role.
The central portion of the world rambles in every which direction. Daly 1444 is taken in by some superstitious but good pseudo-Christian folk who tell him about the wonders of God — he slowly converts over the course of the novel. He also learns about a “Chinman” who tried to introduce technology to the pleasant rural folk and was kicked out. He smokes opium all day, enslaves the local populace, and plans how to extract the technology from inside the Sealed World (protected by a death ray, etc). Daly 1444 “accidentally” gets married to the first woman who comes his way (a completely empty character who sleeps with everyone she can get her hands on). Daly is also pursued by young various barbarian girls who demand he sleep with them!
Daly has no real plan to fulfill his destiny and constantly blathers on about how he misses Calinda. As a result, the “Chinman” and a barbarian leader take over the operation with terrible ramifications.
Is the reader supposed to empathize with those who facilitated the deaths of countless sheltered/brainwashed innocents who died in the Sealed World? Or root for the pseudo-Christians who were unfortunately co-opted into “opening” the world by evil forces? This paradox is Vale’s point — a point weakened by endless parades of nubile female characters demanding that Daly impregnate them, spank them, and grab their breasts (I’m not kidding!). Daly, despite his newfound Christian faith doesn’t mature over the course of the work — his entire world view is oriented by his selfish desire to get his hands on Calinda even if that results in piles of dead.
With those points in mind the work is more complicated than a piece of simplistic anti-Communist propaganda but on the whole less “fun” to read. At least the first edition cover is wonderful!
(*Concerning the publication date: Rena Vale’s Beyond the Sealed World was written in the 1950s and sold to Shasta press. However, the press went bankrupt and the novel remained unpublished until 1965.)
This review first appeared on Scientific Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.