Author: Anthony Burgess
First published: 1982
Locale: New York City and elsewhere in America, Vienna, Western Europe, and Australia
Plot: Science fiction
Time: The 1890's through 1938, 1917, and 1999–2000
Lynx, a rogue planet from another solar system. It is the same size as Earth but ten times the density. The snuffling intonations of its radio signals and its predatory dance of approach and retreat from Earth make its name chillingly appropriate. The increasingly horrific natural upheavals caused on Earth by Lynx's strengthening gravitational pull before the two planets'final collision provide a terrifyingly violent and alien setting for the novel's events.
Dr. Valentine Brodie, the husband of Dr. Vanessa Frame Brodie. He is thirty-eight years old, handsome, and bearded, with the beginnings of a beer belly. A poet as a youth, Val is now a respected science-fiction writer and a university lecturer in literature. A romantic (as his name coyly implies), Val has turned increasingly to Manhattan's seedy lowlife to find vitality and occasional sexual solace as an antidote to the shortcomings of his marriage and to his perception of the scientific world's sterility. With the approach of Earth's annihilation, Val mourns the passing of the vibrancy and even the dirt of human life but finally chooses survival aboard the spaceship America with the physically and scientifically elite group assembled to perpetuate humankind. Vanessa, a group leader, insists that Val be included because she loves him; at first, he dreads the prospect, but when he misses the group's departure for the ship, he draws on unplumbed depths of courage and loyalty and on a newly aroused visionary strength to find his way to Vanessa and his new life as recorder of both Earth's last days and this new phase of human existence.
Dr. Vanessa Frame Brodie, a beautiful woman in her early thirties with ice-blue eyes and a perfect body. An eminent scientist and a natural leader for the America group, she possesses such a coldly brilliant intellect that her emotions are eclipsed; her clinical approach to sex with her husband, Val, obscures her actual deep love for him. When Val finds the spaceship, it is a less remote, more vulnerable, and more receptive Vanessa that welcomes him aboard.
Robert Courtland van Caulaert Willett, a fiftyish unemployed actor. His natural habitat is the seedy Manhattan bars that Val frequents, and the two become fast friends there. Willett revitalizes Val with his Falstaffian physical proportions and gargantuan appetite for drink, his passion for the richness of the English tongue, and his roaring, exuberant love of life. Willett is also sensitive, however, and, like Val, mourns the imminent passing of the hurly-burly of life on Earth. Unlike Val, he chooses to perish with Earth, rejecting a chance to join the group aboard America after he and Val undergo their remarkable odyssey to find the ship. Recognizing that his place is with the past, Willett leaves the spaceship and waddles off to embrace annihilation.
Edwina Duffy-Goya, a woman in her twenties, a lecturer in devotional poetry who is interested in the connection between religion and sex. A devotee of charismatic evangelical preacher Calvin Gropius, Edwina sets out to attach herself to him when Earth's rapidly approaching end finds her a pregnant widow. As a fiercely determined woman, she is disappointed in the weak man behind the Gropius image but meets his kind, decent son Dashiel and in him finds the husband and father for her child who suits her vision of the future. Having fought their way aboard America, Dashiel, Edwina, and her newborn son join the progenitors of the new breed of humans.
Paul Maxwell Bartlett, the head of the enterprise aboard America. A brilliant scientist and writer in his forties, handsome, physically splendid, and possessing no apparent vices, he sees himself as destined to lead the group into the new life. Once in command at the spaceship compound, however, Bartlett's desire to lead becomes a wish to subjugate all to his increasingly mad vision. He is finally shot by one of the rebellious group members.
Dr. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. He is portrayed over the course of almost fifty years as he develops his theory of the unconscious mind, finding fame, notoriety, disciples, and betrayers. Although his brilliance is clear, so are his less admirable qualities: his inability to contemplate dis-loyalty among his followers; his refusal, ironically, to address the sexual problems in his own marriage; his imposition of his other neuroses on his long-suffering family; his tendency to let his loyal supporters deal with the problems of entrenched Viennese anti-Semitism that dogged his career; and even his inability to stop smoking the cigars that caused his hideous, agonizing, and finally fatal mouth cancer. A pain-wracked, regretful Freud embarks on a train to London on the eve of World War II.
Lev Davidovich Bronstein, also known as Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary. Trotsky's 1917 visit to New York, during his American sojourn as editor of the radical journal Novy mir, is treated in Broadway musical form. The austere intellectual and hero of the Russian Revolution is portrayed as an anxious, lovesick visionary.