iUniverse, 2003, £15.99, 295pp
ISBN 0-595-27921-x

You never really know what you’re going to get with a book from iUniverse, a ‘vanity’ publishing house (which is to say, people pay to have their book published by iUniverse). It sounds like a potential recipe for disaster, but to date the three books I’ve reviewed from such publishers (You’re My Favorite Reader, A Martian Poet In Siberia and Witch Ember) have, on average, been very good indeed. So when The One And The Golden Circle was sent to me and I read the cover I was cautiously optimistic about reading it.
(NOTE: in actual fact, Witch Ember is published by a print-on-demand publisher, not a 'vanity' publisher - sorry for any confusion caused!)

The back cover asks: ‘Do we have ancestral and evolutionary memory locked in our genetic make up? Do we have the ability to consciously recall the events that led to modern man?’ Which is intriguing but did set alarm bells ringing in the back of my head: The One And The Golden Circle at this point lay in a ‘Schrodinger’s cat’ review state, being simultaneously a mind-expanding Stapledonian journey into our past, a fascinating and entertaining VALIS-style examination of our possible place in the universe, and…not. That, for me, is one of the great joys of beginning a book: the uncertainty and the expectation, especially when dealing with such an unknown quantity as the self-published novel.

Our hero, Blane MacBain, becomes part of a project run by his old buddy Bob Macintosh, who is investigating a radical form of regression therapy. Bob has discovered that a tiny section of our DNA holds the complete and detailed sensory and emotional memories of all our ancestors. All of them – from your dad (the line traced is paternal) back through the cavemen, the small furry mammals, the amphibians, the primitive fish, and all the way to the original amoeba at the dawn of time. Bob has decided that his friend is ideally suited to make this incredible journey back through the ages and that he is one of the few men alive who could cope with the trauma of such extreme regression. So, after the discovery is announced to the world, Bob begins the momentous task of rewinding Blane’s memory back four billion years, taking us along with him.

The plot and philosophical similarities to Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men and The Star Maker, both of which traverse the evolutionary process, should be fairly obvious here, but the similarities with old Olaf unfortunately end there, as it’s this aspect of the book that works the best (in the sense that it’s coherent and interesting and not utterly unbelievable). Most of the problems with The One And The Golden Circle begin when the similarities to VALIS become apparent, because this isn’t a science fiction novel in anything more than the most superficial sense. To be fair, nowhere does it claim to be, but from the very beginning I had thought that the only way this book could work for me was either for it to be that crazy Stapledonian ride down our genetic family tree or, again, a tripped-out VALIS-style conspiracy theory.

Sadly, it became clear very early on that this wasn’t to be, for two reasons. The first is that The One And The Golden Circle might generously be labelled as a kind of New Age techno-thriller, but that would be a generous description. I’m more inclined to describe it as a bunch of half-baked pseudo-mystical nonsense half-heartedly dressed up in scientific theory. The author, Don Allen Beene, although ‘..some call [him] a mystic, a seer. He knows himself simply as, “The Seeker”’ (back cover) might conceivably consider me to be the anti-Christ since I’m a resolute sceptic about most of the New Age practices he himself apparently accepts as fact. So for that very reason I may not be the ideal person to read The One And The Golden Circle and be reviewing it now.

Statements by the main characters such as, ‘..we’ve progressed little from the superstitious past when it comes to the unknown, the occult. Science shies away from things that are difficult to prove with hard facts.’ (p.44) annoyed me no end because they’re just plain untrue. Science hasn’t ‘shied away’; science is about testing hypotheses, through experiment, to ascertain the aforementioned hard facts. If things are ‘difficult to prove with facts’ then that’s most likely because they’re false and therefore of little or no relevance to the scientific project – not because science is fearfully avoiding them.

Also, I happen to think that the rational and scientifically-minded amongst us have progressed a very long way from the superstitious past when it comes to the occult. However, when Blane coolly tells Bob (supposedly a respected scientist and Nobel prize winner) that astral projection works through ‘the same mechanism by which group prayer works’ (p.70) Bob bats an eyelid only in wonderment at Blane’s stupendous wisdom, not his bald claim about group prayer.

I’m picking holes in just a couple of tiny sections but it seemed to me that these sum up the book’s whole philosophy in a nutshell. The One And The Golden Circle frequently includes sections dealing with astral projection as a given, everyday fact (and not directly connected to the regression therapy), and if you’re happy to go along with that then you’ll almost certainly enjoy the book more than I did.

Or perhaps you would if not for the second reason that the book fails, which is that Beene is not a very good writer. Now, I’ve never written a novel myself; I take my hat off to anyone who has the energy, drive and ambition to do it, whether the finished product is published or not. However, if you are going to expend all that time and effort then I’ve always thought you should try to do it well. Sadly The One And The Golden Circle suffers from some truly awful writing and plotting. For example, one section that stands out is page 23, of which fully two-thirds is given over to a piece of expository dialogue that would make E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith blush with shame. Beene has no ear for dialogue whatsoever, and the exchanges between Blane and Bob, supposedly old friends, are simply brute force exercises in point-making and background filling.

Blane and Bob (both of whom are, ahem, past their peak physical years) meet their soul-mates (two young Native American lovelies who are far from being past theirs) and engage in sex written like cheap porn – ‘Oh, Blane, you’re so big!’ (p.124) exclaims Leta, Blane’s soul mate following the convenient death of Blane’s wife.

Well, it made me laugh.

I could go on but I really don’t want to. It genuinely saddens me to say it, because time and effort has gone into writing (and reading!) this book, but The One And The Golden Circle is a waste of time.

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