We are quickly introduced to SimRarg, a “traveler” of as-yet indeterminate origin, who finds himself in a “body . . . that was not half bad, male, medium height, around twenty-five, handsome enough, fit enough; he would do”, sent by ‘the Engineers’ to Texas, he is tasked with a mission that even he does not understand, one that will change the world forever. November 22 1963, Dallas, 12.32pm. Ring any bells?
Anyway, he has to get the eponymous Pa Weathery onside first, and his slutty siren of a daughter, and, well, his chickens too . . . “You can sleep in the barn but if you so much as lay a finger on my daughter or my chickens, it’s your neck I’ll wring.” And there’s just one more little problem, SimRarg is black. Truly, a stranger in a strange land.
It took me a while to determine exactly what cultural buttons Morris’ yarn pushed, then I realized, while I have always been very interested in JFK conspiracy theories, it is (unwittingly?) the old ATV sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel, starring Joanna Lumley and David McCallum, that Pa Weathery’s seems to take its cue from most, with its titular ‘time detectives’ from another dimension, who are not quite alien but very much more than human, sent to safeguard the structure of time.
SimRarg never seems to be sure exactly what he may or may not be safeguarding, but one thing’s for sure, orders are orders.
This is riveting stuff, Stephen King will be publishing his take on the Kennedy assassination later this year, 22.11.63, but Morris got there first and, as far as bone-dry, believable dialogue, fascinating characterizations and a rattling good yarn is concerned, King is going to have to go some to top this.
Perhaps Morris’s finest achievement with this, his first novel, is the ease with which he seamlessly blends startling sci-fi with unflinching social commentary, as he casts a cold eye over the racism and corruption of early 1960s America. And, as for the novel’s take on the “conspiracy” itself goes, ask yourself , how much more incredible is what happens here than what the US public of the time were asked to believe happened? “Mr. President, you can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you . . .”
Besides, sources close to this reviewer reveal that sequels are afoot and, really, it couldn’t be any other way, just wait until you find out where our man is heading next, and who his next target is. And why? Well, that would be telling.
There is perhaps the occasional sense that Morris has grown too fond of wrapping the reader up in riddles, and his love of metaphor runs maybe a little too deep, but this is nevertheless a startling debut from an author we can expect a great deal more from. Bring it on, say I.