Some speculative rambling on the first chapter of Past Master.
The chapter is titled "At the Twenty-Fifth Hour."
Do any of you know the origins of the phrase "Twenty-Fifth Hour?" I did a little bit of Internet searching, but the results are clogged up with references to the novel 25th Hour and the Spike Lee film adaptation.
Regardless of its origin or its contemporary use, we have Lafferty's use in this sentence: "The clock stood at the twenty-fifth hour so often that the very survival of man through it all appears as a miracle."
The "clock" in question could be entirely metaphorical, representing time and history. It could also be a reference to the "Doomsday Clock" and its "minutes to midnight." I don't know how present a symbol this was at the time that Lafferty was writing. It does seem obvious that Lafferty is using this phrase "25th hour" as a way of communicating the failures of mankind in preventing the end of the world (keeping in mind that for Lafferty, the world comes to an end often. The only way forward is through death into resurrection.)
So, it means that the day is over and that it's too late. Maybe.
25 is also the first hour of a New Day. It is the very beginning of something New.
25 = 8+8+8+1
New World (failed) + New World (failed) + New World (failing) + Time for a New World
I'm guessing that Lafferty would have been familiar with Biblical symbolism and the way in which the "Early Church Fathers" used this symbolism. The 8th Day was the first day of a new week, a new start, the beginning of a new world.
The Masters discuss the ages of man as breaking down into roughly three successive new worlds, the third of which is currently failing. There is argument as to whether it is proper to revive this failing world. Foreman's life if at stake because he insists that this Third Age must die in order to live.
This stress on 3 is also present in the interlocking threeness of the three masters. Even the way they are introduced is in terms of five attributes (representing their power) presented as three things (two of them coupled as two attributes play against and associate with and strengthen each other.) "The three men gathered in the building were (1) large physically, they were (2) important and powerful, they were (3) intelligent and interesting." They are further described as "an interlocking nexus, taut and resilient, the most intricate on Astrobe."
Probably the most important part of the first chapter:
Fabian Foreman: "And by definition all members of the Circle of Masters are utterly devoted to the Astrobean dream, and are all of one mind. Kingmaker wants to continue the living death of Astrobe at all cost. You, Proctor, do not believe that there is anything very wrong with Astrobe; but I believe there is something very wrong with you. You are both attached in your own way to the present sickness. I want a death and resurrection of the thing, and the mechanical killers do not understand this."
So, I'm fooling around with the number business but the number business isn't all that important. The key is that the world must end once more so that it might live once more. More importantly for readers like me, itching for entertainment, we're given killer robots, political intrigue, last minute escapes, and a hint at time travel. I'm completely sold on Past Master after the first chapter. :)