The idea of humans mastering spaceflight, venturing out into the stars, and encountering alien species is one of the most commonly recurring concepts in science fiction. Often, humankind is presented as a latecomer to galactic affairs, and stories often feature numerous more advanced species. But what if humans were instead the first to explore the galaxy? Might some people become convinced of the innate superiority of the human species, and use violence to keep humankind on top?
This is the premise of The Long Result, a 1965 novel by British author John Brunner. Written between his earlier space operas and his later, more ambitious books, this novel can be thought of as a transitional work for Brunner. While it by no means reaches the heights of his best work, it does deal thoughtfully with some intriguing ideas.
When the book opens, a spacecraft has crashed while making a landing on Earth. The cause is an explosive failure of one of its incredibly complex engines. Next, an attempt is made to destroy a road vehicle specially adapted for transporting alien visitors. Later still, someone sabotages an alien housing facility and almost kills the extraterrestrial dignitaries inside. Clearly, a campaign is being mounted against aliens on Earth and suspicion falls on the human supremacists in The Stars Are For Man League.
This setup could suggest a science fiction adventure story, in which a square-jawed hero works to defeat the League. Deliberately or not, such a story might in fact reinforce the superiority of human beings - by emphasising their honourable but paternalistic desire to protect less sophisticated species. Not surprisingly, Brunner follows a different path in The Long Result.
The protagonist, Roald Vincent, is far from an action-oriented hero. He is not a soldier or a space explorer but instead a civil servant - and a fairly lazy one, at that. He lives in what was once the United States, and works in middle management for the Bureau of Cultural Relations. The Bureau manages the relationship between Earth and the alien species that humans have discovered, a few of whom have come to Earth. Vincent’s job also involves monitoring the culture of two human colonies in other star systems.
Vincent’s job puts him at the centre of two plot threads which inevitably intersect as the story progresses. One is about the attacks by the League against aliens on Earth. The other is about the advancements being made by one of the human colonies, Starhome, and the notion that Earth is being left behind to become “a second class planet”. The plot of the book is not one of its strengths. Vincent has very little agency, and almost all of the characters are merely passive observers of events they cannot control. Despite the violence of the League’s attacks, there is little tension or sense of danger.
Brunner is more successful with the book’s allusions and themes. The fear that Starhome will eclipse the importance of Earth is explicitly compared with the rise of the United States during and after World War II, when it overtook the UK as a preeminent world power. For a British writer working on the novel just 20 years after the war, this issue would have been a live one for Brunner. The book also has a few interesting speculations about what a future society might be like - for example, a reference is made to renewable, contractual relationships which have replaced traditional marriage.
The Long Result is easily one of Brunner’s least-discussed novels and it is easy to see why. Without a compelling plot or a particularly original idea, it was never likely to make an impact or to cast a long shadow over the genre. The author’s speculations about future societies and alien species would become far more sophisticated within just a few years. This particular book, though, will really be of interest only to Brunner completists.
I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.