A book titled Apocalypse: An Epic Poem isn’t something you run into every day, but neither is its author, Frederick Turner, who, among other things, writes science fiction epics in the form of long poems.
Frederick’s biography reads like a character from a book. An Oxford educated man who grew up in Africa. He met J.R.R. Tolkien. Alongside Carl Sagan, he advised NASA on issues like terraforming. As a poet, he has been nominated for the Nobel prize numerous times. He teaches karate. The number of works attributed him is a dizzying list that would make even established scholars feel inadequate.
I recall meeting him at a party, where our conversation turned to the theory of evolution; we shared an uplifting discussion of the way that Darwinism, in our opinion, fits in quite well with religion, like a hand to a glove.
His fiction is absolutely fascinating. Apocalypse: An Epic Poem is 10,000 lines of perfect iambic pentameter, telling a captivating story about the end of the world, along with illuminating insights about philosophy and humanity. The story is often the sort of “hard” sci-fi that leans on Turner’s scientific knowledge (he’s probably the first poet to use the name Chandrasekhar in iambic verse). But for every step he takes in the rugged real world, another foot is firmly planted in the ideal, the thoughtful lyricism of contemplation and beauty. One line may reminisce on a finer point of ethnobiology while the next may invoke a song lyric, or a religious text, all with flawless, enchanting delivery.
Frederick Turner’s style is notable for its faithful adherence to the rules of poetry. This is not the free-formed, arhythmic verse that has become so fashionable, with passages on existential angst floating alone on nearly empty pages. No, Turner’s work follows simple, straightforward patterns, and in doing so he demonstrates how following the form frees the words, and frees the imagination, rather than holding anything back. The lines of his epic poem flow effortlessly, and the passages are captivating for their wordplay as much as for their content.
Read more about it from Turner himself, in a post titled Apocalypse Is Here, And It May Be More Fun Than You’d Think.
And check out Apocalypse on Amazon.