Carrie Naughton Posts

Part of the Worlds Without End Grand Master Reading Challenge

This book is definitely “Gangs of New York”…on Mars.  Gritty hardboiled pulp with lots of violence, frontier politics, unwashed bodies, brothels, a forced wedding, and terse but decent prose.  Beneath the dome of the Mars colony.   A fast enjoyable read, but definitely less science fiction and more like macho noir.  The hero, copper Bruce Gordon, isn’t exactly pure and good…at first.  Or ever.  Nobody’s really a saint in Marsport, apparently, except the starving masses and the pretty girls.  I got a little lost in the endless parade of men with weapons.  Mostly it’s corrupt cops beating up thugs, mob violence, gambling, a blonde dame who starts out as a feisty fighter and ends up a nice little wifey who helps Brucie take off his boots after a hard day and cries when he strip-searches her.  Probably wicked good stuff if you’re a thirteen year old American boy in 1956.  


book reviews

Part of the Worlds Without End Grand Masters Reading Challenge

An afternote:  Whew – this book definitely set my teeth on edge.  I feel more mellow about it years later, but obviously not when I first read it!

Seriously, the stars his destination? My arse his destination.

One should only read this book whilst very very stoned, or at gunpoint. This is the scifi novel Kerouac might have written, if Kerouac had no soul. I can think of no character in this novel that I cared about whatsoever, in a good or bad way. I wanted to jaunte into the center of the sun rather than slog my way through one more page of Gully Foyle’s obnoxious exploits. If you’re going to tell a revenge tale, at least make me care about the revenge. I am glad Vorga passed him by!! Vorga should have laser cannoned Foyle’s ass and saved me the torment of reading about him. “The damnable frustration of revenge.” Uhh, no… the damnable frustration of slogging through this story.

I want to thank the Worlds Without End GMRC for helping me finish this book. Otherwise, noooooooo. I’ll throw out a bone here, and say that at least, given the time period it was written (1956), this novel isn’t the usual pulp fiction with cheap bad prose; it sports some decent vocab and it’s wildly creative in creating new jargon and cool slang. It throws out ideas that are revolutionary and it feels recent. But that’s really it. And it isn’t enough – must have character development! I can see how jaunting might be disruptive and perhaps that’s why navigating the story structure felt like rocketing through a debris field in space. Big wow. Still bored.

I haven’t even mentioned what everybody else who even mildly enjoyed this novel loves to mention: rape! Oh, why mention it, it’s just an afterthought in the book anyway.

And finally, limp ending. I felt nothing for Gully (and I fail to see how any of the female characters would either) or his transformation from brute into… what was he supposed to be? Humanitarian ultra-jaunter?

I’d rather eat the pages of this book than think about their content ever again.

book reviews

Part of the Worlds Without End Grand Masters Reading Challenge.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this a page-turner with vivid characters. I expected it to be dull and dreary, but instead there’s suspense, a noble hero, and lots of sex!

That said, the plot is slightly transparent, and the ending comes a little too quickly, but this near-future dystopian story of an ailing despot, Genghis II Mao IV Khan (oh, just call him the Khan), and his personal physician, Shadrach Mordecai, pulls the reader into an enjoyable, if mild, parable of intrigue, betrayal and quiet heroism. The story hinges on whether or not the Khan will use his cadre of doctor-scientists to transfer his consciousness (or is it his soul?) into the body of Shadrach, and continue living forever while the people of his kingdom, plagued by a disease called organ rot, wait for a cure that is available, but will never be distributed if the Khan continues to reign.

Silverberg’s use of present tense, which can often be jarring and annoying, here works fluidly, turning the narrative into a kind of sly, urgent aside. The prose reveals the dual nature of Shadrach: his responsiveness as a doctor (and a lover), and his calm, aloof personality. Despite the fact that as part of his position as royal doctor, his body has been implanted with a full range of bio-sensors that attune him to every fluctuation of the Khan’s failing systems, Shadrach possesses a yogic calm (maybe a little too calm – and how come those body sensors never cause him to experience sex from the Khan’s physical perspective?) from the first chapter, when we meet him as caregiver for the dictator, to the end, when he becomes caregiver for the human race.

The novel has a richness to it that you don’t find in too many old dystopian novels, and I think it’s partly because of the vivid allusions to religious history (whether cliched or not – Shadrach’s form of meditation happens to be carpentry) and the global settings. Most post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read take place in a battered America, but Shadrach’s tale spans the globe. And it must be pointed out that you don’t come across too many science fiction heroes in the form of young black men.

Shadrach’s bedroom romps with his two paramours (a man like Shadrach – beautiful, strong, intelligent – of course finds himself linked to two different women, both fierce and flawed) deepen what could have been a boring futuristic medical thriller. A good many racy boudoir scenes provide Silverberg with the opportunity to keep the reader turning pages but also to play upon archetypes and stereotypes (sometimes unsuccessfully). It’s the Valkyrie versus Pocahontas. One of these women will disappoint Shadrach, and one will surprise him.

There’s also some hypnosis-induced recreation in the form of “dream-death,” which is a kind of hallucinatory self-discovery vacation for the non-diseased elite. In a different story, this kind of Huxleyed up mind trip might be overblown and contrived. But the character of Shadrach keeps the story grounded.

Overall, not a bad tale, and surprisingly hip.

book reviews