The Patterns of Chaos by Colin Kapp

Anthony G Williams

Apr 18, 2007
I bought my copy of The Patterns of Chaos in the early 1970s, shortly after the book was first published. It has managed to survive my occasional culls ever since so I must have been impressed, but since I couldn't recall anything about it (and it's handily short at just under 200 pages) I thought I'd try it again. There are some minor initial spoilers in this review, so if you don't want these read no further – I'll just say that it's an interesting, fast-moving and mind-stretching adventure typical of 1960s and 70s SF.

The time is the far future in which humanity has spread through a large part of the galaxy but is divided into two rival empires – Terra and the Destroyers; the latter don't just strip planets they raid, they blow them up afterwards (no partiality there, then!). Bron is a senior officer in the Terran Commando Central Intelligence Bureau who has been sent undercover to a world in the path of the Destroyer advance, in the hope that he will be picked up by them and can then find the location of their home world. This works, but he suffers from concussion and memory loss in the attack. However, he is in constant communication (and frequent conflict) with a relay of three very different handlers via an FTL communicator link in his head, so they keep advising him on what to do next.

Bron is posing as a specialist in the Patterns of Chaos, a new field of study. This works by analysing the consequences of significant events and how they interact with each other. The analogy given is with the ripples that spread out from any disturbance in a pond. In principle, the pattern of ripples can be analysed and tracked back to identify the precise location, size and time of every event that created them – and projected forwards to determine how they will look in the future. So far so good, but the Patterns of Chaos also spread across time in that they are affected by events which have not yet happened. This enables Chaos analysts to predict future events, although the exact nature of such events may not be clear. As the plot develops it gradually becomes obvious that nothing is quite as it seems, and that Bron has a special part to play in affecting the Patterns of Chaos to suit his own ends.

This is an engaging tale, well worth reading, and I couldn't help thinking that with modern CGI it could make a decent movie. I hadn't known anything about Kapp before now, but on looking him up on Wiki I see that he was a British author (1928-2007) who wrote a dozen novels and many short stories, all published between 1959 and 1986. I also discovered that he wrote another book featuring the same basic concept, The Chaos Weapon, so I'll have to get a copy of that to add to my ever-growing reading pile.

(An extract from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy)

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