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Literature / Portent

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A 1992 novel by James Herbert.

In a near-future plagued by escalating ecological turmoil, climatologist James Rivers, on an aerial investigation of hurricane activity, sees, outside the plane’s window, a small, rainbow-flecked orb, just before narrowly surviving the plane's crash.

At self-sufficient Dorset farm Hazelrod, he learns from geophysicist Hugo Poggs that recent ecological crises, all of which were heralded by such orbs, have been accurately predicted by adopted grandchildren Josh and Eva, who are then shielded by their mother Diane from a window smashed by a prophesied gust of wind. Rivers starts to shelve his scepticism, and learns of the twins' healing abilities and psychic affinity with a significant number of similarly gifted children, all of whose minds gather in vast astral garden presided over by a benevolent figure known only as "the Dream Man".

As natural disaster continues to mount, the twins are frightened by remote impressions of another figure who seems to wish them harm...

This novel provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Diane’s deceased husband, Tony Poggs.
  • Apocalypse Cult: The Temple of the Sacred Earth reverently anticipate humanity's expunging from the earth.
  • Apocalypse How: A vast succession of ecological cataclysms.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Diane floors Mama Pitie with Mack's shotgun.
  • Big Fun:
    • Jovial, genial Hugo.
    • Bibby, his just as nice, but not as big, wife.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Rivers has a somewhat cynical reticence, perhaps stoked by both the death of his girlfriend and plane crash. The rather more cheerful Diane, with a sober optimism honed by a nursing career, lends emotional support.
  • The Cavalry: A congregation of the orbs assemble to distract Mama Pitie from Eva.
  • Creepy Child: Subverted with Josh and Eva, whose knowing serenity somewhat unsettles Rivers, but are perfectly friendly.
  • Disney Villain Death: Mama Pitie is swept away by a cyclone implied to have been guided by the collective consciousness of which the portent orbs are agents.
  • Dreamland: When asleep or in a psychic trance, Josh and Eva often find themselves in a vast, lush garden, surrounded by similarly able children, over whom watches the Dream Man.
  • Dream Walker: Numerous children reach the astral garden, as do the Dream Man and Mama Pitie.
  • Eagleland: Very much averted with Diane.
  • Empathic Environment: On invasion by malign intent, the astral garden is suddenly storm lashed.
  • Ethereal Choir: Heard to emanate from a congregation of orbs.
  • Fantastic Light Source: The radiant orbs are agents of the collective consciousness shared by humanity with the rest of the planet.
  • Fat Bastard/ Fat Idiot: Completely averted with heavily overweight avuncular geophysicist Hugo, and Bibby, his not quite as big but just as nice wife.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Rivers, of the plane crash.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mama Pitie venerates the Earth as a vengeful deity.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: As it turns out, subverted. The ecological cataclysms are induced by a consciousness shared by the earth with humanity, to get us to buck up our ideas.
  • Gentle Giant: Mack, the handyman and farmhand who helps the Poggs family maintain Hazelrod.
  • Global Warming: Even-handed discussion of the concept, but the overall threat stems from a deliberate ecological demonstration, via humanity’s collective consciousness.
  • Green Aesop: In-Universe; the ecological upheaval is roused by humanity’s collective consciousness in corrective protest at environmental damage.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: A sudden London earthquake sees a shard of falling glass slice a man in half.
  • Handicapped Badass: Despite his limp, Rivers makes short work of a would-be carjacker.
  • Happily Adopted: Romanian-born orphans Josh and Eva.
  • In Harmony with Nature: Wistfully invoked by silviculturist Annie Devereux, with a Kwakiutl prayer.
  • Healing Hands:
    • Josh and Eva, much to the astounded relief of Rivers’s leg.
    • A villainous example in Mama Pitie, who successfully straightens the withered arm of a baby, but cares naught for its impained cries.
  • Hermit Guru: In a lochside cottage near Spean Bridge lives the unnamed Dream Man.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Bibby, in defence of an ambushed Poggs, stabs one of Mama Pitie’s heavies, and has her neck snapped by Pitie.
  • Hired Guns: Nelson Shadebank, Mama Pitie’s unscrupulous accountant.
  • Hostile Weather: Lots.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Humanity's lost psychic awareness is anticipated to have re-emerged in such children as the twins.
  • Large and in Charge: Mama Pitie, Priestess of the Temple of the Blessed Earth, is exceptional both in size and brutality.
  • Light Is Good/ Light Is Not Good: The radiant orbs, while part of a force which intends humanity's survival, herald terrible cataclysms.
  • The Lost Lenore: Six years previously, Rivers’s girlfriend Laura died of malaria.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: When the dream garden undergoes a storm, Josh and Eva flee into the woods, wherein a cottage houses a figure who appears to be their birth mother. It’s Mama Pitie.
  • Mentor's New Hope: A new generation of psychic children are understood by such older psychics as the Dream Man to be key to planetary survival.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Mama Pitie.
  • Mother Nature: Worshipped as a vengeful goddess by the Temple of the Blessed Earth.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Mama Pitie.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: The Dream Man.
  • Psychic Powers:
    • Josh and Eva can locate and anticipate distant occurrences.
    • The Dream Man communes with the global consciousness and watches over many astrally assembled psychic children.
    • Mama Pitie interprets similar insights as a call to Gaia's Vengeance.
    • Many worldwide similarly gifted children are anticipated to be of a new generation which will reassert a primordial affinity with nature.
  • Rape as Drama: Habitually, with the aid of drugs, by Mama Pitie.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Poggs and Bibby have a close hand in raising the twins, following the severe alcoholism and subsequent death of their adoptive father.
  • Scary Black Man:
  • Scenery Gorn: Obliteration by natural disaster of human settlement is described in solemn detail.
  • Scenery Porn: Natural splendour is examined in fond detail.
  • Science Hero: Dr James Rivers, physicist and climatologist.
  • Sentient Cosmic Force: The collective consciousness shared by humanity with the rest of the planet.
  • Shown Their Work: Detailed nods to Real Life ecological turmoil, climatology, geography and wildlife.