Final Jam

Michael Irwin

  • The Sykaos Papers by E.P. Thompson
    Bloomsbury, 482 pp, £13.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 7475 0117 3

It isn’t easy to describe this Protean work, but the 18th-century flavour of the title page offers a useful preliminary hint. Essentially the story is an inversion of Gulliver’s Travels. The voyager, Oi Paz, views Sykaos, our own dear planet, with the pained, baffled rationality of a visiting Houyhnhnm. His early adventures among us, however, are picaresque in their variety and indignity. He points contrasts and passes judgments like Quixote or Parson Adams. The punning suggestiveness of ‘Sykaos’ and the related adjective ‘Sykotic’ is, of course, deliberate. As with Swift, names are significant: ‘Oitar’ (Oi Paz’s home planet) should be read backwards as well as forwards.

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