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Saturday 14 October 2023

THE NIGHT OF KADAR - Book review


Garry Kilworth’s second novel The Night of Kadar was published in 1978.

It’s a fascinating novel based on the generation starship concept. It begins in the vast spaceship that had been travelling for a thousand years and is finally nearing its inhabitable planetary destination. Embryos are activated in their tanks and grown rapidly, while being educated. Unfortunately, the ship’s designers did not plan for a subtle minute alien incursion that sabotages the intelligence units irreparably; ‘One of their manipulative interests was ecology – a natural area of study for a static race’ (p177).

The ship lands on an island in a sea of quicksand. The enigma of their purpose remains a mystery, doubtless lost in the wiped tapes. ‘We, the ship’s people. Born of a machine; an engine. But what is a planet, the planet Earth, if not an engine, a large beautiful engine that turns in space, and manufactures life?’ (p93).

The main character is Othman, who was born at the age of thirty Earthyears. Others emerge from the ship, including a pre-programmed wife Silandi. It seems that about half of the complement of settlers were born mentally impaired, referred to as morons; this was due to the malfunction in the circuitry. Inevitably, conflict between individuals arises, causing tension and even rebellion…

The ship automatically constructs tools and machines from its own huge carcass.

The senders, the people who launched the ship were of the Islamic faith; however, no Koran is supplied and their knowledge is bereft of any religion. As time goes by, they recall a childhood they never lived but was imprinted: these ‘false memory’ interludes are detailed in Arabic settings, coloured by the author’s time living and working in the Middle East. ‘She knew these questions could only remain questions. Earth could only be the somewhere of her simulated childhood – a place she had never physically touched’ (p86).

Othman becomes their natural leader and is determined to search for their destiny, their reason for being on this planet. To that end, he enforces the construction of a bridge across the expanse of quicksand to the mainland beyond. This is not always a popular decision, as the number of the island’s trees is depleted: ‘Man is an artist at destruction, even though his intentions may seem pure. Ten, a hundred, a thousand years to grow a tree, and ten minutes to bring it to the ground’ (p41).

The book’s title is from the Koran: ‘Better is the Night of Kadar (Glory) than a thousand months…’ ‘On the night of Kadar, the night he died, he would like to go to those stars, perhaps become one of them’ (p159).

Kilworth’s prose is always good and often eloquent: ‘the crisp salt of their bodies mingling as the wetness flows from their skin, the iron in their blood forming tight wires to jerking muscles, the smell of oxygen burning, circuit fusing in their veins as they reach out to touch the innumerable corners of the universe’ (p99).

Some later scenes are quite horrific. For this planet is no Garden of Eden. And yet they are survivors and they grow as the generations move on. Quite an imaginative feat, this book.

Editorial comment:

When writing, Kilworth could not have imagined that mentioning computer tapes (p3) would be obsolete so quickly.

One of my pet annoyances: ‘Othman first thought privately to himself…’ (p124) ‘thought privately to himself’ is obsolete.

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