The Last Cold War Novel

The Last Cold War Novel

THE SYKAOS PAPERS by E. P. Thompson. Pantheon Books, 1988. 490 pp. $19.95.

An alien, Oi Paz, from the ultrarational, computer-directed society of the planet Oitar, crash-lands on Earth. Here he becomes a pawn in a cold war power struggle, typical of an irrational race whose belief in “free will” permits such pointless conflicts. (The Oitarian word for Earth is “Sykaos,” and the meanings of this coinage are not difficult to decode.) But the Oitarians are coming to rescue Oi Paz. Will the threat from without bring humanity together and usher in a new era of planetary harmony?

This crude plot summary of The Sykaos Papers— the first novel by Edward Thompson, social historian and eloquent voice for nuclear disarmament—is not very promising, either as parable or as science fiction, and on these grounds it has been dismissed by some critics on this side of the Atlantic. But the book can be read differently. Among other things, it is a serious exploration of the deep structures in human culture and a critique of the