2 JULY 1994, Page 24

The book starts some time in the future in the

Midwest of America — a place about to be swallowed up by an enormous (and environmentally unsound) cloud. The only place of safety is a long-past-its-sell- by-date space elevator. This last is known as the Serehfa Fastness and independently sheltering here are a King and a Count and a Teller and a Chief Scientist. The King knows that the end is nigh, yet is still bent on wasting time waging brutal war on the clan Engineers. Sound like anywhere you know? Of course it does. Feersum Endjinn, like all the best science fiction, is really about historical fact. The historical fact is us, now. And if you didn't work that out from the parable plotting, then the viruses and Chaos Theory metaphors that the book is stuffed with ought to offer a little help.