Chosen for July 2009 PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE COLLECTION for Fiction
More an allegory than a novel, Visitors describes the impact of beings from a distant planet on the political, economic and spiritual life of Britain and the world
A year into office and the Prime Minister’s only bonus was frustration. The swelling demands of welfare and security were like juggernauts, demolishing his reforms and forcing him to spend his time on damage limitation. The economy was overheating, it was said, and interest rates had to the rise. The PM knew the signs and they made him shudder.
Then the Visitors arrived. At first they were treated as illegal immigrants and arrested – the Prime Minister thought the story was a hoax – but when he met these beings from another world, who were very similar in appearance to human beings, he was impressed. They had a presence about them and clearly their civilisation had high technical skills to be able to navigate through space and land on earth. But where was their spaceship, he asked. Orbiting the earth invisibly, was the reply.
Meeting the Visitors and asking them questions about how their society was organised, the Prime Minister began to realise here might be some answers to the questions which were currently troubling him and other governments. Britain played host to Presidents and Prime Ministers from around the world, all clamouring to meet them and trying to discover the secrets of their advanced technology.
John Alexander Stewart, the son of a farmer, was born in the early 1930s at Killinchy, Co Down, Northern Ireland. He moved to London in the late fifties. Being a trained singer his leisure time was well employed. Even so, there was always time for writing – historical pamphlets, essays, and plays. His first full length historical novel, The Centurion, was published in 1995 and has since been translated into German, Italian and Spanish. His second novel, The Last Romans, placed in the time of Justinian and Boethius, appeared in 2000.
His first biography, Standing for Justice, on the life of Andrew MacLaren MP, was published in 2001 and his second, A Promise Kept, on the work of the trade unionist Tom Chapman, came out in 2003. His third novel, Marsilio, centred on the early life of the Florentine philosopher-priest Marsilio Ficino, was published in 2005.
‘John Stewart’s book represents a new approach to economic analysis: it’s a science-fiction adventure where extra-terrestrials have all the answers. Visitors is a remarkably easy read for a book of such wisdom, and refreshingly relevant in a literary world in which so few novelists are any longer prepared to take on the big social issues of the day. As Einstein observed, “The world cannot get out of its current state of crisis with the same thinking that got it there in the first place”. John Stewart, his alien visitors and the people whose lives they touch, know this all too well. Rarely can such a profound message have been delivered in so stimulating and entertaining a fashion.’
Guardian.co.uk, April 2008