Where to begin? The unique, bizarre, satirical novel, The Dancers at the End of Time is an experience that is hard to categorise or even explain.
Set millions of years in the future, the book opens with the protagonist, Jherek Carnelian, and his mother, The Iron Orchid, discussing the word “virtuous” on a beach of bleached bones on the shore of a crimson sea after just having had sex. So it is immediately established that the world has changed a fair amount. The characters inhabiting the End of Time are a decadent and dissolute bunch who are immortal and possess almost unlimited power. They amuse themselves by holding ever more elaborate parties in incredible settings. At one such party an alien lands and warns them all that the Earth is about to end along with the entire universe. This is pretty tedious news to the denizens of the distant future as the ‘End of it All’ has been prophesied for so long that it, along with space travel generally, is seen as passé and dull. The alien is consequently ignored.
Into this bizarre immoral society comes Mrs Amelia Underwood – a highly moralistic housewife from the 19th century Brockley. Jherek is fascinated by her and decides to fall in love with and limit himself to just having sex with one person. This is a novel and exciting idea to those from the future and, as it turns out, is quite a challenge.
The Dancers at the End of Time has aliens, time travel, robots, godlike beings, parallel universes and more. It is a tale of the last lovers in the universe and an insane discussion on morality. It is also a bit bonkers in a charming and erudite way with a host of characters and situations that seem almost normal when you are reading it, but sound insane when you are trying explain it to others.
It is actually an omnibus of three novels – An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. Consequently, it is a tad long. In my humble opinion, however, that is a good thing. The Dancers at the End of Time is essentially a satirical look at the contrast of Victorian morality clashing with the utterly decadent world at the end of time. It is both funny and inventive. Humanity can now do anything, has done everything, and is just struggling to stay entertained. This results in a stagnant amoral species, that is strangely naive and pointless. By the end of the book you no longer see the opening scene as shocking, it is just the way things are.
I really enjoyed The Dancers at the End of Time but it probably isn’t for everyone. Which is a shame. It’s inventive and fun with some great characters. Recommended.