This adventure story by R Stamp, a retired draughtsman, suffers from two major disadvantages: a nonsensical plot and a narrative style which manages to be at the same time dull and confusing. It is so hard to read it is almost painful, but I have selflessly trudged through this neglected masterpiece in order to be able to bring you it in predigested, palatable form.
(Mr Stamp's first surely unique contribution to the art of the novel is a prefatory list of characters which actually gives away the major twist of his plot. Even with this helpful guide, it is still hard to follow his story, so please forgive me, Stamp fans, if there is any error of interpretation in what follows.)
The narrator, Mr Zado, has been appointed the investigation chief of DSSOG, the Desert Space Ship Observation Group. DSSOG is an amateur organization interested in space, which has two office locations: its headquarters - a large hut in the garden of Mr Zado's house in a London suburb - and an observation post in a North African desert, known rather militarily as DSSOG Des. Pos. (I see Zado as somewhat like Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army, brusque, pompous and rather dense).
Zado's first act in his new role is to go through the personnel files. For an organization of only 25 people DSSOG has an excessively bureaucratic style, and like most bureaucracies it is riven by fierce internal politics. In this case there is a division between those who believe in men from outer space and those who do not, Zado being numbered among the sceptics along with three strange brothers named Neffer.
Those who believe in spacemen include one Serth, who runs DSSOG Des. Pos. and a chap, bizarrely named Fritters, who came up with a scheme - worthy of the great Wile E Coyote - which involves parking a dummy spaceship in the desert and, when curious aliens land, trapping them with a net and some giant magnets. Zado is puzzled to find that Serth's records are missing from the files along with the description of his own 'patent energy extraction motor', but during his search for these items he finds a piece of torn card marked with the enigmatic letters IIIOSO.
At this point Zado sets to musing on matters of Science, of which he has an unusual understanding: within a few paragraphs he draws together a couple of familiar optical illusions (the Delboeuf and Muller-Lyer effects), Einstein's theory of Relativity and some mysterious unspecified hereditary characteristics. As if that were not enough, he also raises a profound question, “Did the religions of the world stand endangered by such 'atheistic' activities - billions of dollars to find out the true gravity at certain points in outer space?” that I have never seen answered - or even asked - in any scientific treatise.
Despite some grumbling from his wife, Zado sets off to visit the desert observation point. His arrival is met with a revelation: while he was in flight, Fritters' trap was sprung and a space man has been captured! Zado gives the supposed alien the once over, notes him as a skinny and unprepossessing chap in a nylon suit, then gets on with the more urgent matters of having his dinner and inspecting Serth's paperwork.
When the DSSOG team get around to a closer examination of the space creature they can get little from him: he refuses to speak, though as one would naturally expect of a space being, he does use deaf-mute sign language. One of the Neffer brothers searches his clothing and discovers four paper pages in code “presumably printed by some outer space printing company”. The decision is made to send him to England, where they can try hypnotism on him.
Back home, Zado sensibly makes sure he has a couple of good meals and a night's sleep before proceeding. TAU I, as Zado has named the alien, has been taken to some shadowy (government? military?) facility, and it is there he is to be hypnotised - with remarkable results. The alien not only speaks - in fluent English, as one expects - but claims that he has turned the tables and hypnotised Zado! What a turn of events!
The alien tells Zado that aeons ago some non-humanoid space creatures came to Earth only to find themselves trapped here for some unexplained reason. These creatures are invisible “because of the differences of light frequencies that affects earth sight and the high gravity conditions existing in such regions as the Nevada plateau” - is that clear? TAU I came to Earth, even though he knew he could never return because - and note this well - outer space “was empty and remote from what I really wanted”.
What TAU I wants is to study “the Relativity of Importance with respect to Space Reality and Earth Reality”. (Obviously they have recreational drug abuse in space). He follows this assertion with more bizarre ramblings about gravity and a supposed 'Space Planet Numbering System' resembling the child's mathematical magic trick which ends with you taking away the number you first thought of - and hey presto!
Zado and the Neffer brothers decide to travel to Nevada to look for the legendary invisible space creatures. They arrive at the oddly named town of Phewna and make for the equally oddly named village of New Pharawa, which is the nearest habitation to the plateau. There they encounter Soughton, an amiable fellow with a ginger moustache who says that the owner of the plateau, a man named Lect, is expecting them and has given his permission for them to camp up there.
They climb to the plateau and make camp. As night falls, Zado goes for a little walk. A shadowy figure passes him, but he cannot make it out. Is it one of the invisible space creatures?
Next day they all troop back down. (Why they did they camp up on the plateau? Who knows?) In town they meet the evasive Lect, who vaguely refers to “extra-terrests”, and also mentions one Tim Blaston, a “scientist gold-hunter” who hangs around the plateau in a suspicious manner. Lect then produces a copy of the same document as TAU I had on him, but with an extra page!
At this point the plot becomes so incomprehensible and turgid that summary is almost impossible. Lect repeatedly contradicts himself, which unsurprisingly makes Zado suspicious. Is Lect part of the mysterious IIIOSO (the Integrated Institutes of Investigation into Outer Space Observation)? Who are they? What do they want? Are they really selling space ships in return for gold? Who cares?
TAU I escapes; there is a showdown at DSSOG Des.Pos. which might almost be exciting except that as Zado isn't there it is told at second hand - not the best way to keep your reader awake; and Zado buys some IIIOSO shares in one of the book's few highlights, a Kafkaesque invocation of long shuffling queues of grey men, winding through the corridors of a phonily lavish office block whose lift does not work.
All is resolved in the end by Ignatius Neffer, who shoulders his way into the plot as a sort of Holmes to Zado's Watson. It turns out, in an interminable denouement of explanation, that IIIOSO are Serth, Soughton, Blaston and some others engaged in some incomprehensible elaborate fraud which has as one of its aims the stealing of the gold on Lect's land. There are no space men! It is all a trick! (And they would of gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for them pesky DSSOGs!). Why they needed to build not one but two fake spaceships in a North African desert, impersonate aliens and actually tell their foes where to find the focus of their evil intentions, I am still struggling to understand. What a pity it is that Mr Stamp's work has not reached the mass audience it deserves, in which there surely must be a few special souls capable of grasping its true meaning.