Monday, 17 March 2014

Down The Shaft

Poul Anderson, The Corridors Of Time (London, 1968).

In some futuristic sf scenarios, like Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series, lifts or elevators are replaced by anti-gravity shafts where an invisible field gently wafts people up or down within very high buildings. The continental megalopolis of Niyorek has shafts without fields for those privileged or authorized to wear anti-gravity belts bestowing superhero-like flight.

Lockridge enters Niyorek " the bottom of human habitation." (p. 143) After walking among the unemployable who press themselves away from his guardsmaster's uniform, he ascends an upward shaft by gravity belt and enters the wide, clean hallways of the technician class. From there, he flies above roofs towards Director Brann's steel stronghold, surmounted by its ball of blue flame, guns on every flange, circled by warcraft, surrounded by swarming Patrolmen, with clean cold air and city sounds subdued but still only other towers visible further inland.

Before seeing the Director, who already knows that he must be an impostor, Lockridge is strip-searched and deprived of weapons and gravity belt. His task is to feed Brann information, then escape through the time corridor in the foundations of this tower before being psychoprobed. But how is he to reach the corridor quickly without a gravity belt? Easily - for an Anderson hero with Marine and karate training, in a milieu where prisoners never give any trouble. As two guards with energy guns drawn but not pointed at him escort him past a shaft, he chops one guard in the throat, grabs the other and falls down the shaft with him. The tower is so high that Lockridge, clinging to the guard, has just enough time to pound him unconscious, then reach down and switch on his gravity belt.

OK, I lost my lunch on the way down but that might just work...

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