Each summit shows a furthernslope of stones,nSquat black holm-oak, rosemarynand thorns.nThis simply can’t be said in prose. Thenmusic of poetry, here, is as deeplynwedded to the story being told as are thencharacters and the settings.nAnd those characters are fiercely real.nThis is not a medieval saint’s tale, innwhich the central figure glows in thendark and can do no wrong. Everybodynin this epic can and does do wrong: thatnis one unmistakable mark of their humanness.nWhen Chance, the old hero,nis accompanied on a supposed vacationntrip by an implacable warrior, Tripitaka,nhe quickly realizes that the youngernman is his destined assassin. He doesnnot war with the inevitable (thoughnwhen the moment comes, he fights fornhis life as hard as he can). Nor does thenmurderer-to-be, who does not want tonkill this man of all others. “By the lastnlight Chance shares the food he’snbrought/ With his quiet young executioner.”nTurner draws out the scenenbeautifully. “The two men wake together,nlook/ At each other shyly as theynstretch,/ Like bride and groom on thatnfirst changed morning/ Of the honeymoon.”nThe actual death scene seemsnto me perfect:nChance is a strong man. Henattacks at once.nGets in one blow. ButnTripitaka spins;nHis left heel smashes Chance’snknee, his elbownCrushes the ribcage, andnChance coughs up blood.nHorribly clumsy work. Thenrising sunnStrikes on the altar. Chancenstruggles up, smiles.nFor after all he is there innthe worldnAs happy as he always was;nattacks again.nThen Tripitaka breaks his necknand throwsnHis body down the dewy chasmnof night.nThese characters are not simply true tonlife; they successfully embody veritiesnthat the whole of Genesis seeks to bothnportray and activate. Chance is neithernsentimental nor stupid; neither is hisnkiller. But both live by those ancientn24/CHRONICLESnverities, and each expects.to die bynthem. When it is Tripitaka’s turn tondie, like Chance he makes no fuss:nHe feels too the ancientnvigor flownFrom the cold navel into thighnand armpit.nAnd if his tree should not havenfruited, nornThe saintly promise of his birthnbe kept.nAnd if his mother’s sacrificenbe vain,nAnd if his first command be butna feintnTo draw the enemy fromngreater prizes;nYet like those breeds of peonynor peach.nOr flowering cherry or thenbitter plum.nThose beauties hybridized byncruel artsnTo be infertile while they feednthe soul.nHe will now blossom intondeathly spring,nThe barren glory of anpointless end.nThis is part of a battle scene—andnnovels have no battle scenes like it, fornprose simply cannot handle what Turnernis up to.nTurner has written (and published)nprose fiction. He knows how thatnform works, and knows that it is notncapable of lifting the half-mythological,nhalf-science fiction banner he wants tonfloat. His earlier attempts at verse epicndo not entirely wrench free of prosenmolds: there are prosaic moments in hisn1985 The New World. But there arenmagnificent moments, too, anticipatingnGenesis:nThis has become a tale of ‘nsicknesses.nConsider, though, that in thenact of increasenAll creatures are most nakednto decay;nCorruption riots in the spawnnand milknAnd branched tubules ofnfertility.nAll of these lesions of thencommonplace,nAll the torn folk that die intonthese lines,nnnAre necessary to thenimmortal spasmnBy which the new world willncome into being.nThe ideas and even the words of sciencenare raised to new heights in thisnpoem. They take on a literary glow thatnno contemporary poet has evernachieved: in this respect too Turner’snachievement is unique.nFor Genesis is an ecological poem, anscience fiction epic built on a solidnscientific foundation. James Lovelock,nthe biologist who wrote Gaia: A NewnLook at Life on Earth, has coauthorednThe Greening of Mars, a sober,nfactfilled analysis, cited in Turner’snprefatory remarks, of how the red planetnmight be brought to life. Turnerntakes these and other equally informednspeculations and transforms them intonan epic of risk-taking and adventure, ofnfaith and betrayal, of noble visions andnignoble deeds. It has often been notednthat true narrative purity, in our time,nseems far easier to find in the pages ofnperfectly ordinary science fictionnnovels than in the contemporary worksnof literature that critics praise and studentsnare obliged to read. The reason,nplainly, is that science fiction is in factnconcerned with exactly such timelessnbasics. Contemporary “meta-fiction”nhas put aside these concerns for what itnthinks more important ones. But it isnFrederick Turner who is right:nIf I could read the pattern’snmeaning, readnThe light-swift scribble of Yournfractal linenWhose denser filling of YourninexhaustiblenInterstices constitutes beingnin time,nI’d be among those heroesnthat I sing.nA century ago, Anton Rubensteinnmocked Joseph Haydn, saying that henshould now be called Grandpa rathernthan Papa Haydn. But mere modernitynis empty: Haydn strove for “truth,” andnlived humbly no matter how grandnothers may have thought him. His musicnremains equally timeless, whilenRubenstein’s has been deservedly forgotten.nPeople will be reading, andnenjoying, and profiting from Genesisnlong after the last meta-fictionist hasnperished from the earth. <^n