J O Morgan, The Martian’s Regress – review

The Martian’s Regress by J. O. Morgan imagines Earth’s utter devastation by human greed. Within the book’s loosely framing fiction, humans abandon earth to settle on Mars. They’ve undergone profound physical adaptations before they send an expedition back to their old dead planet. The frame gives broad imaginative continuity, but its looseness and the freedom with which Morgan uses different tropes of science fiction allow him to extrapolate and satirize human characteristics and behaviours in radically different ways. This gives imaginative variety, and means that individual poems happily stand alone. Parodies of such different genres as cautionary tale, myth and bawdy farce make for an entertaining read, despite the sometimes extreme blackness of the ideas and the sense of real anger at the destructiveness of our species.

Parody demands skill, and Morgan is a clever, inventive writer of narrative verse. He maintains momentum with the fluency of his free verse rhythms, the suppleness and strength of his syntax and the sharpness with which he makes us visualise actions. He’s a talented mimic, and one of the pleasures of the book is the deftness with which he adapts his linguistic register to different situations and targets of satire. Compare ‘Two martian children a boy and a girl / Lay side by side on a high white grassy plain’ with ‘Due to overcrowding at desirable locations / Where all manner of modern conveniences abounded’ and ‘This cot was mine, its painted bars I gripped.’ Each quotation illustrates how both the fun of the book and its serious bite benefit from abrupt clashing intrusions of the mundane furniture of contemporary life into what is supposed to be the vastly altered life of our Martian descendants. The mythopoeic pieces show how well he’s learned syntactical lessons from Ted Hughes’ Crow, using similar techniques with a sprightlier, less portentous touch. His skill in individually framing each of a series of actions to drive a story makes me think he’s also learned from strip cartoons.

Blind brutal greed and destructive exploitation take many forms in the book. One thread concerns male misogyny. There are interesting twists here. The Martian who returns to Earth is given a robot companion, the shape of women of our time, unlike the Martians: ‘A womanly shell with the woman removed / Refilled with simple logic gates / Bloodless thoughtless yet obedient’ and of course sexually compliant. At first he just uses her but gradually he comes to treat her more as a person. At the end, when he decides to rebel and stay on Earth, she takes an initiative in defiance of her supposed emptiness and joins him. I see them as the Adam and Eve of a possible new beginning for our wasted planet and species. However that may be, this is very much a book to read and reread for its constantly changing ripples of suggestion.

The Martian’s Regress by J. O. Morgan. Jonathan Cape. 88pp.; £10.00

I would like to thank Patricia Oxley for permission to post this review, which appeared in Acumen 97.

One Response to “J O Morgan, The Martian’s Regress – review”

  1. Edmund Prestwich» Blog Archive » Shanta Acharya, What Survives Is the Singing – review said:

    Oct 11, 20 at 2:20 pm

    […] suggests a central difference between it and the other two books (Wing, by Matthew Francis, and The Martian’s Regress by J O Morgan). In them, general ideas arise by implication from particulars. In it, general ideas […]

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