Notes for Harrison’s ‘Captive Universe’

Harrison, H. (1969). Captive Universe. USA: GP Putnam’s Sons.


Five hundred years of Isolation


Then, in one day and one night, Omeyocan had shaken the hills until they fell and sealed this valley off from the rest of the world for five times a hundred years at which time, if the people had served the temple well, the exit would be opened once again. The priests never said how much time had passed, and it did not matter. The penance would not end in their lifetimes. (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 3, p19)


The hero’s encounter with the crew – the great meeting between Barbarian and officer


Her face was human and, when he examined her black coverings more closely, her body seemed to be human under their guise. But their strangeness baffled him. A hood of shining black material completely covered her head except for her face, which was thin, very pale and bloodless with dark, widened eyes and thin black eyebrows that met over her nose. She was more than a head shorter than him and had to lean back to look up into his face. The rest of her body was draped tightly in some soft woven material, not unlike that of a priest’s gown, that changed to shiny, hard-looking coverings that reached from her knees to the ground. And all about her body were gleaming lengths of metal fastened to the outside of her arms and legs, girdling her body, supporting her head, bending at her joints. Around her waist was a shining belt from which hung unknown dark objects. (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 3, p64)


The lies of their long GS existence


“Lies,” he told her. “My people have been lied to about everything. It is a lie that we are in a valley on a planet called Earth, that goes around the sun-which is a burning ball of gas. We believed it, all this nonsense, floating planets, burning gas in the air. That flash of fire Popoca saw and that I saw, when the sun set, was a reflection from the tracks, that is all. Our valley is the world, there is nothing else. We live inside a giant cave hollowed out of the rock, secretly watched by your people. Who are you – servants or masters? (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 3, p98)


The Great Creator Designer believed even by the GS officers link to Space Born and Seven Eves (?)


“There are none of your gods-but there is one god, the God, the Great Designer. He was the one who made all this, who designed and built it, then breathed life into it so that it began. The sun rose from its tunnel for the first time, took fire and rolled on its first voyage across the sky. The water sprang out from the fall and filled the pool and dampened the waiting riverbed. He planted the trees and made the animals and then, when He was ready, He peopled the valley with the Aztecs and placed the Watchers to guard over them. He was strong and sure, and we are strong and sure in His image, and we honor Him and fulfill His trust. We are His children and you are His infants and we watch over you as He has ordained.” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 3, pps98-99)



Time of the GS journey so far always a shock link to Non-Stop and Space Born and suspended animation texts


“186,175 days since the world began,” Chimal-said, looking at the numbers displayed. “And you have kept track all that time yourself?” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 3, p99)


The reason for the GS


“It is not without reason we sing His praises. For look you, at what He has done. He has seen the other worlds that circle about the sun, and the tiny ships that men built to span those distances. Though these ships are fast, faster than we can possibly dream, they take weeks and months to go from planet to planet. Yet these distances are small compared to the distance between suns. The fastest of these ships would take a thousand years to travel to the nearest star. Men knew this and abandoned hope of traveling to other suns, to see the wonders of new worlds spinning about these distant flames.


“What weak-man could not do, the Great Designer did. He did build this world and send it traveling to the stars…”


“What are you saying?” Chimal asked, a sudden spurt of fear-or was it joy?-striking within him.


“That we are voyagers in a world of stone that is hurtling through emptiness, from star to star.” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 1, p115)


The ship computer AI reveals all link to Star Lost Pandorum and many more


Chimal sat in the comfortable chair and looked for a switch to start the machine, but this was not necessary. His weight in the chair must have actuated the device because the screen lit up and a voice filled the room.


“Welcome,” the voice said. “You have come to Proxima Centauri.”

EROS, one of the many asteroids in the asteroid belt, an area of planetary debris between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, though there are violations to this rule. Eros is the most exceptional, with its orbit almost reaching that of Earth’s at one point. Eros, cigar shaped, twenty miles long, solid rock. Then the plan. The greatest plan executed by mankind in a history of great plans, originated by the man first called the Great Ruler now, truly, the Great Designer. Who else but He could have conceived of a project that would take sixty years to prepare-and five hundred years to complete?” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 2, p125)


Why the Aztec passengers? Explaining the need for the Barbarians and savages on all GS ships link to Space Born and Voyage of the Darians


THE AZTECS, chosen after due consideration of all the primitive tribes of Earth. Simple people, self-sufficient people, rich in gods, poor in wealth. Still, to this day, there are lost villages in the mountains, accessible only by footpath, where they live as they did when the Spaniards first arrived hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. One crop, corn, consuming most of their time and supplying most of their food. Vegetarians for the most part, with a little meat and fish when it is available.

Brewing a hallucinatory drink from the maguey, seeing a god or a spirit in everything. Water, trees, rocks, all have souls. A pantheon of gods and goddesses without equal; Tezcatlipoca lord of Heaven and Earth, Mixtec lord of death, Mictla-tecuhtli lord of the dead. Hard work, warm sun, all-pervading religion, the perfect and obedient culture. Taken, unchanged, and set down in this valley in a mountain in space. Unchanged in all details, for who can guarantee what gives a culture adhesion-or what, if taken away, will bring it down? Taken whole and planted here, for it must continue unchanged for five hundred years. Some small truths added, minor alterations, it is hoped, will not destroy it. Writing. Basic cosmology. These are needed when the Aztecs finally emerge from the valley and their children take up their destiny. (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 2, p126)

Scientific crew limited by their function and just as dim-witted link to Universe and link through sexism in treatment of female officer

He must have been very stupid not to have figured it out, he continued, to himself. Do not speak ill of the dead, but it was a fact. The poor man had panicked and killed himself when the problem had proven insoluble. This was proof of what he had suspected for a long time now.

In their own way the Watchers were just as slow-witted as the Aztecs. They had been fitted to a certain function just as the people in the valley had. (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 2, p135)


They are off course and the lead executive knows this link to Starlost


The Master Observer gave a hoarse cry as Chimal reached out to seize his deus and, with a quick snap, broke the chain that supported it. He looked at the numbers in the openings in the front.


“186,293 … do you know what that means?”


“This is-close to blasphemy. Return that, at once.”


“I was told that this numbered the days of the voyage, days in old Earth time. As I remember it there are about 365 days in an Earth year.”


He threw the deus onto the table and the old man snatched it up at once, in both hands. Chimal took a writing tablet and a stylus from his belt. “Divide … this shouldn’t be hard … the answer is …” He scrawled a line under the figure and waved it under the Master Observer’s nose. “It’s been over 510 years since the voyage began. The estimate in all the books was five hundred years or less, and the Aztecs believe they will be freed in 500 years. This is just added evidence. With my own eyes I saw that we are no longer going toward Proxima Centauri, but are aimed instead almost at the constellation Leo.” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 4, p142)


Founder of the GS project seeking vainglory

“He is God,” the Master Observer said, and Watchman Steel nodded agreement and touched her deus.

“Not God, or even a black god of evil, though he deserves that name. Just a man. A frightful man. The books talk of the wonders of the Aztecs he created to carry out his mission, their artificially induced weakness of mind and docility. This is no wonder-but a crime. Children were born, from the finest people in the land, and they were stunted before birth. They were taught superstitious nonsense and bundled off into this prison of rock to die without hope. And, even worse, to raise their children in their own imbecilic image for generation after generation of blunted, wasted lives. You know that, don’t you?”

“It was His will,” the old man answered, untroubled.

“Yes it was, and it doesn’t bother you at all because you are the leader of the jailers who imprison this race, and you wish to continue the imprisonment forever. Poor fool. Did you ever think where you and your people came from? Is it chance that you are all so faithful to your trust and so willing to serve? Don’t you realize that you were made in the same way the Aztecs were made? That after finding the ancient Aztecs as a model society for the valley dwellers, this monster looked for a group to do the necessary housekeeping for the centuries-long voyage. He found it in the mysticism and monasticism that has always been a nasty side path taken by the human race. Hermits wallowing in filth in caves, others staring into the sun for a lifetime of holy blindness, orders that withdrew from the world and sealed themselves away for lives of sacred misery. Faith replacing thinking and ritual replacing intelligence. This man examined all the cults and took the worst he could find to build the life you lead. You worship pain, and hate love and natural motherhood. You are smug with the years of your long lives and look down upon the short-lived Aztecs as lower animals. Don’t you realize the ritualized waste of your empty lives? Don’t you understand that your intelligence has also been dimmed and diminished so that none of you will question the things you have to do? Can you not see that you are just as much condemned prisoners as the people in the valley?” (Harrison, 1969. Chapter 4, p142)