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Thursday, March 27, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet part 3

Unca Joe Campbell used to talk about the Call to Adventure as an integral part of the Hero’s Journey and how in cases where the Hero rejects the call, Adventure winds up chasing him down anyway.

Ransom is on an Adventure whether he likes it or not; a former old school chum named Devine and an unscrupulous physicist named Weston have abducted him and taken him to a planet called Malacandra for yet undisclosed reasons. But he has been strenuously trying to avoid another type of call. Weston and Devine were to hand him over to the enigmatic sorns, natives of the planet, but Ransom ran off and took refuge with the friendly hrossi, another species of Malacanrian.

He has spent the past few weeks among the hrossi, leanring their language and culture; but this idyllic period cannot last. The Call re-asserts itself in the form of an eldil, an invisible creature seemingly without a body which summons him to appear before Oyarsa, the entity which rules over the hrossi and the séroni. And as if to punctuate the message, Weston and Devine show up about this time and shoot one of Ransom’s friends.

Overwhelmed by guilt at having brought misfortune to the gentle hrossi, Ransom has no choice but to obey Oyarsa’s summons.

The journey to Oyarsa is a long one, which takes him out of the warm valleys of the hross up into the cold, high plateau regions where the enigmatic sorns dwell. He has spent several weeks now in terror of the sorns and trying to avoid them; but up on the high harandra, or plateau, he is nearly overcome by the cold and thinness of the air and is glad for the shelter of a sorn’s dwelling.

The sorn turns out to be every bit as hospitable as the hrossi, although much more grave in temperament and less gregarious. Ransom initially found their towering, elongated forms and their solemn, almost-human faces intimidating; but the sorn welcomes Ransom and offers him food and rest, and offers to carry him the rest of the journey.

We later learn that the sorns had originally been sent to greet the earthmen because, of all the people of Malacandra, they were the most similar to humans in appearance. This proved to be a mistake: their superficial humanoid shape to Ransom made their otherworldly features all the more disturbing; an “uncanny valley” effect.

The sorns are highly intelligent, and their culture values knowledge and understanding. This had initially led Ransom to the erroneous conclusion that the sorns were some kind of ruling class of intellectuals. In fact, none of the three species of hnau, the sapient races of Malacandra, rules over the other; all are subject to Oyarsa, who himself is subject to a cosmic entity known as Maleldil.

In this, once again, we see Lewis the medievalist. A Medievalist writing science fiction is bound to come up with something eccentric. Here he adopts the medieval idea of a feudal hierarchy extending downward to the animals below and upward to the angels above and God above the angels; and presents a similar hierarchy on Malacandra, with the hnau superior to the beasts and the eldil superior to the hnau and Maleldil over them all. Except that Lewis leaves out the middle part: contrary to what Ransom expects, the hnau of Malacandra are not themselves organized into ranks.

Ransom spends one evening on his journey the guest of an older sorn and his students, who question him about his world. He had been guarded in discussing Earth with the hrossi, partially because he was embarrassed by our history of destruction and bloodshed compared to the peaceful hrossi, and partially because he remembered the scene in H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon in which Cavor’s descriptions of humanity prompt the Selenites to kill him. Now, however, Ransom hides nothing; and the sorns are shocked by his descriptions of war, slavery and prostitution.

“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” one says. “It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” another suggests.

The sorns find it highly significant that humans are the only type of hnau, intelligent life-forms, on the Earth.
“Your thought must be at the mercy of your blood,” said the old sorn. “For you cannot compare it with thought that floats on a different blood.”
Ransom’s sorn guide eventually brings him to another lowland region, lush and verdant, where there is an island in the middle of a large lake. There are many eldil here, and with practice, Ransom can almost manage to see them. Here there are also many visitors, and Ransom has the opportunity to speak with a pfifltrigg, a representative of the third type of hnau on Malacandra. If the hrossi are the poets of Malacandra, and the sorns the thinkers, then the pfifltriggi are the artisans, delighting in making intricate objects. The one Ransom meets is carving his likeness to be added to a huge frieze depicting the history of the planet.

Finally, Ransom is brought before Oyarsa himself, Ransom cannot see him – like the other eldila does not exactly have a physical body like that Ransom is familiar with – but he can hear Oyarsa’s voice; a voice “with no blood in it,” as a hross comments to Ransom. “Light is instead of blood for them.”

From Oyarsa, Ransom learns a bit more about Cosmic history. Thulcandra, “the Silent Planet,” as the Malacandrans call Earth, was not always isolated from the rest of the Cosmos.
Once we knew the Oyarsa of your world – he was brighter and greater than I – and then we did not call it Thulcandra. It is the longest of all stories and the bitterest. He became bent. That was before any life came on your world. Those were the Bent Years of which we still speak in the heavens, when he was not yet bound to Thulcnadra but free like us. It was in his mind to spoil other worlds besides his own. He smote your moon with his left hand and with his right he brought the cold death on my harandra before its time.”
And if this sounds like the Fall of Lucifer, then yes, you have been paying attention. . A running theme throughout the entire trilogy is the notion that Medieval and Classical mythology contains something almost like a racial memory of the Cosmic Order which exists beyond Earth’s sphere. And Lewis, the dedicated Christian, would not have disagreed with the designation of myth either. He had at one time argued with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien that myths were lies “although breathed through silver”, but had eventually come around to Tolkien’s assertion that a story can be mythic and yet also true.

When Weston and Devine first arrived in their spaceship, Oyarsa wished to speak to them, and sent sorns to teach them the Malacandran language. They would not come. Since the sorns reported that the earthmen were gathering pieces of “sun’s blood” – gold; explaining Devine’s interest in the planet – Oyarsa sent the message that they would not be permitted to collect any more until they had come to see him. Instead, to Oyarsa’s perplexity, the two packed up in their spaceship and left. Ransom recalls Devine’s comments about “human sacrifice” and realizes how the two misinterpreted Oyarsa’s request.

About this time Devine and Weston are brought forward, having been captured by the hrossi and physically brought to Oyarsa’s home. Weston, not seeing Oyarsa’s corporeal form, assumes that one of the other creatures present must be a shaman practicing ventriloquism. In a farcical scene, Weston attempts to impress and intimidate the Malacandrans by shouting at the elderly hross he mistakes for the shaman. It takes a while for Weston to grasp that there really is an invisible entity seated before him to whom he must give account.

Here follows the dialogue to which the whole novel has been leading. Weston attempts to give a speech defending humanity, and in particular, his vision of space colonization to preserve and extend the human race. Unfortunately, his grasp of the language is rudimentary and he is forced to rely on Ransom to translate for him. Ransom is somewhat more fluent, but still he can only do this by stripping Weston’s high-sounding rhetoric and colonialist assumptions down to what he really means.

I have to admit a little discomfort at this scene, because Weston’s dream of humanity spreading out through the stars is deeply-ingrained in the heart of science fiction; and Lewis does turn Weston into a straw-man in order to mock him. When Oyarsa replies that just as each person has a finite life span, so does each planet and each species living on that planet, Weston becomes angry.
‘Trash! Defeatist trash!’ he shouted at Oyarsa in English; then, drawing himself up to his full height, he added in Malacandrian, ‘You say your Maleldil let all go dead. Other one, Bent One [the Oyarsa of Earth, or Lucifer], he fight, jump, live – not all talkee-talkee. Me no care Maleldil. Like Bent One better; me on his side.’
Oyarsa has heard enough to render a judgment. Devine is not just bent – the Malacandrans have no word, remember, for bad – he is broken. He lives for nothing except greed and is little more than a talking animal. Weston, however, does have some sense of ethics, be they twisted. He really does have the welfare of Humanity at heart, even if he has little or no regard for individual humans. Oyarsa would destroy Devine as one might a dangerous beast and try to cure Weston, if he had the authority; but as the Earthmen come from a different planet they lie outside his jurisdiction. Instead he orders the two to return to their spaceship the next day and leave Malacandra forever.

Oyarsa invites Ransom to remain on Malacandra, and he is sorely tempted. In the end, he decides he will risk the flight back to Earth with Weston and Devine. ‘Love of our own kind … is not the greatest of laws, but you Oyarsa, have said it is a law. If I cannot live in Thulcandra, it is better for me not to live at all.’

The trip back will take ninety days; since the planets have moved out of opposition in the past several weeks. Oyarsa commands the sorns and the pfifltriggi to outfit the ship with an additional oxygen supply to last the longer voyage. In addition, he commands his eldila to escort the ship and watch over its passengers to ensure that Devine and Weston don’t decide to extend their air supply by killing Ransom.

As they leave the planet, Ransom looks back at the valley they left.
Seen from the height which the spaceship had now attained, in all their unmistakable geometry, they put to shame his original impression that they were natural valleys. They were gigantic feats of engineering, about which he had learned nothing; feats accomplished, if all were true, before human history began … before animal history began. Or was that only mythology? He knew it would seem like mythology when he got back to Earth (if he ever got back), but the presence of Oyarsa was still too fresh a memory to allow him any real doubts. It even occurred to him that the distinction between history and mythology might be itself meaningless outside the Earth.
After a long and dangerous voyage through space, the ship returns home. The spacecraft is destroyed, a precaution of Oyarsa’s to prevent Weston from coming back. Ransom is ill for some time and is not entirely sure the whole experience wasn't a dream, until a colleague of his named Lewis writes to him about a 12th  Century Platonist manuscript which describes a voyage through the heavens and mentions a kind of planetary intelligence called an Oyarses. Many adventure stories of that era begin with a frame to tell how the writer of the book came to learn the story he relates; in this case, the frame comes at the end.

Before Ransom left Malacandra, Oyarsa predicted that important things would be happening during the next celestial cycle and that the long siege of Thulcandra might be coming to an end. We see some of this in the next book, Perelandra.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet part 2

Despite having been drugged and forcibly abducted by a slimy school chum and a Nietzchean physicist, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist on vacation, is actually starting to enjoy his involuntary journey through the heavens. At least he was until he overheard his one-time pal Devine discussing with his colleague Weston the sorns.

The spaceship lands on the planet Malacandra, which is the name given to it by its inhabitants. Weston never does tell Ransom which planet of the Solar System it is; his policy is to keep Ransom in the dark as much as possible. They land in what appears to be a broad canyon several miles wide near a structure that Weston and Devine built as a base camp on their previous expedition. Ransom helps Weston and Devine unload the spacecraft and then he sees a strange creature approaching.

For days now, Ransom has been having nightmares about the mysterious sorns that Devine hinted about. His ideas of alien life have been shaped by the tentacled Martians and the insectoid Selenites of H.G. Wells, but this looks nothing like what he expected. The creature is tall and elongated, looking from the distance like an ambulatory stick-man.

Devine had boasted that Ransom would be too terrified by his first sight of a sorn to flee his companions; but Ransom knows that the two intend to hand him over to these creatures and so he’s not about to trust any of them. He’s too terrified not to flee. He bolts and runs off into the alien forest.

After wandering through the forest alone for some time, he comes across another strange creature: a tall, otter-like thing which Ransom at first takes for a beast until he realizes that it is trying to communicate with him. Instantly his instincts as a philologist take over.
A new world he had already seen – but a new, an extra-terrestrial, a non-human language was a different matter. Somehow he had not thought of this in connection with the sorns; now, it flashed upon him like a revelation. The love of knowledge is a kind of madness. In the fraction of a second which it took Ransom to decide that the creature was really talking, and while he still knew that he might be facing death, his imagination had leaped over every fear and hope and probability of his situation to follow the dazzling prospect of making a Malacandrian grammar.
Ransom learns that the creature is a hross, and accompanies him to his village. The hrossi are an open, friendly people who welcome the strange visitor from another planet and teach him their language.

I think it's significant that when Ransom first meets the hross, he starts out by trying to learn the creature's language instead of trying to teach him his. I had it in my head that Lewis made a point that in doing so Ransom managed to avoid the mistake many colonialists and missionaries make of inflicting his own culture on a new one instead of trying to understand it.

Except that in re-reading the passage, I couldn't find Lewis saying that. And thinking about it more, I realized that I was thinking of a passage from a different science fiction novel, (I'm thinking it was Anne McCaffrey's Decision at Doona).

Be that as it may, the fact remains that on the whole, Ransom doesn't try to impose his own culture on the hrossi; and by living with them, learns much more about Malacandra than Weston and Devine do.

Early on in the novel, Weston speaks rather sneeringly about Ransom's area of expertise, not considering philology to be a "real" science -- reflecting what C.P. Snow called "The Two Cultures" as well as the later distinction drawn by fans between "Hard SF" and the more wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. But this is really unfair of him. When Ransom meets the hross, it is his scientific curiosity which overcomes his initial fear. All through the book we see Ransom trying to analyze the things he encounters; trying to extrapolate the rules of Malacandrian grammar, constructing hypotheses about Malacandrian life and society and revising those hypotheses as he acquires new evidence -- just as a character in an H.G. Wells story would.

They seem to have a simple, stone age culture with the most basic of tools, their economy is based largely on agriculture, and they enjoy composing and reciting epic poetry. Despite their primitive culture, they do understand the idea of other planets and that Ransom has come from one. They guess that it must be the one they call Thulcandra, or the Silent Planet.

There are three intelligent races, or hnau, on Malacandra: the hrossi, the pfifltriggi and the séroni (which Ransom realizes must be the plural of sorn). The three species are ruled by someone called Oyarsa.
Like a character in a Wells novel, as Ransom bit by bit learns about the world in which he’s been thrust, he develops theories to explain what he’s found – which he frequently winds up tossing or at least revising as he learns more.

The hrossi bear some resemblance to the the Navi from the movie Avatar. I suppose this is mostly because both races are furry and extremely tall, and both have a primitive but idealized society. (And both races serve a more powerful intelligence of which the human visitors are unaware).

In one passage, Lewis describes the hrossi in a way to which I think furry fans could relate:
...the rationality of the hross tempted you to think of it as a man. Then it became abominable -- a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat. But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have -- glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth -- and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason. Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other. It all depended on the point of view.
There is no strife or warfare among the hrossi. They do not seem to have a word for “bad”; the nearest word Ransom can find to describe something wicked is “bent”.

Which is not to say that there is no death in this world. A large predator creature called a hnarka is spotted in the lake by the village and the hrossi plan a hunting party to kill it. Ransom is eager to join the party; he wants to feel like he’s a contributing member of the community; but the hunt is interrupted by the appearance of an eldil, another type of being on Malacandra which does not seem to have a physical body. Ransom cannot see the eldil, although the hrossi can. The eldil delivers a message that Ransom is to go to Oyarsa.

Ransom isn’t sure he likes this idea. He reckons that this Oyarsa is some kind of arch-sorn and he still fears them. But when one of his hrossi friends is shot by Weston and Devine who have finally caught up with him, Ransom blames himself and realizes that he can linger among the gentle hrossi no longer.

NEXT:  Brought before Oyarsa, and Weston’s Case for Humanity

Thursday, March 13, 2014

C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet part 1

A couple of Oxford professors were once lamenting that no one seemed to be publishing the kind of books they enjoyed, stories of wonder and of imagination. They came to the conclusion that if they wanted that kind of stories, they’d have to write the books themselves. And so the two men made an agreement: one would write a story about travel to other times, and the other would write one about travel to other worlds.

J.R.R. Tolkien never completed his Time Travel story, in which a father and son take a psychic journey to the fall of Atlantis, which the natives called Numenor, although his unfinished draft was eventually incorporated into Christopher Tolkien’s massive History of Middle-Earth. His friend, C.S. Lewis stuck with the project and his tale of Interplanetary Travel became his novel Out of the Silent Planet and the beginning of his Space Trilogy.

The series does not have a good overall title. Sometimes it’s called the Space Trilogy, sometimes the Ransom Trilogy. It’s not even a trilogy in the post-Tolkien sense of a sprawling epic told over three volumes. Although each book builds off the previous one and although the main protagonist Ransom is the central character through the series, each book is a separate, individual story and each one a different kind of story.

Lewis was a fan of science fiction. As a matter of personal taste he didn't care much for stories which emphasized the technical Hard Science stuff -- he called them “Engineer’s Stories” -- but he enjoyed tales of wonder and other worlds.. He cited David Lindsey’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus for showing him how journeys to alien worlds can be used as settings to explore philosophical and spiritual themes. He was greatly impressed by Olaf Stapelton’s Last and First Men, and although he disagreed with Stapelton’s philosophy, he greatly admired Stapelton’s invention. In one of Lewis’s fantasy novels, The Great Divorce, he admitted lifting a plot device from a short story he had read in an American “Scientifiction” magazine years before.

Out of the Silent Planet drew its influence from the stories of H.G. Wells, in particular The First Men in the Moon. In a brief preface, Lewis apologizes for “certain slighting references” to these stories which he says were made “purely for dramatic purposes” and adds, “The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H.G. Wells’s fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.”

Dr. Elwin Ransom is a professor of philology who is hiking around the English countryside on his vacation. Lewis modeled Ransom on Tolkien, who was also a philologist.(Tolkien, it is said, modeled the character of Gandalf on Lewis; at least, Tolkien said, Gandalf shared Lewis’s sharp temper and his bushy eyebrows.). He comes across an old school chum named Devine who is working with a scientist named Weston on some sort of secret project which strikes Ransom as vaguely suspicious.

Devine is the sort of oily, shallow, chummy type that Terry-Thomas used to play in the movies. He had a cynical worldliness in school that Ransom admired when he was young but which Ransom soon outgrew. Devine has changed very little since then, and it isn't until after Ransom has accepted his old chum’s hospitality that it occurs to him that he really didn't like him all that much.

Weston is a physicist. “Has Einstein on toast and drinks a pint of Schrödinger’s blood for breakfast,” Devine explains. Weston is essentially modeled after the Late Victorian Materialist Scientist. He is much like Professor Challenger from The Lost World, only without the homicidal rages and the endearing frailties. Much later, in a draft of a response Lewis started to an critical review of the trilogy by J.B.S. Haldane, Lewis confessed that Weston was a caricature who seemed more interested in Social Darwinism than Physics and that Lewis felt he was one of his least believable characters. Still, Weston is not without some scruples and expresses some regrets about involving Ransom in their plans. “He is, after all, human. The boy was really almost a – a preparation. Still, he’s only an individual, and probably a quite useless one.”

Ransom suspects that the two are up to something shady, and if this were a horror movie the audience would be shouting at him not to accept the gin and tonic Devine fixes for him in the other room. But the Old School Tie overrides his premonition of danger and Ransom finds himself drugged and carried off into the strange round structure in the back of Devine’s house.

He awakens to find himself on board a spacecraft. In a passage which post-Apollo readers probably find difficult to visualize – at least I do – it takes a while for Ransom to comprehend that the huge orb he sees through the craft’s window is not the Moon, swollen to enormous proportions, but the planet Earth..
When Ransom demands some answers, Weston’s answer is both arrogant and evasive:
“As to how we do it – I suppose you mean how the space-ship works – there’s not good your asking that. Unless you were one of the four or five real physicists now living you couldn't understand; and if there were any chance of your understanding you certainly wouldn't be told. If it makes you happy to repeat words that don’t mean anything – which is, in fact, what unscientific people want when they ask for an explanation—you may say we work by exploiting the less observed properties of solar radiation.”
Many years later, Lewis participated in a round-table discussion on science fiction with writers Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss for the British magazine SF Horizons. One of them brought up the fact that scientists had actually devised a theoretical type of space travel which would utilize a “solar sail” to catch radiation from the sun. Lewis admitted with some embarrassment that Weston’s explanation was pure technobabble, that he simply wrote something he hoped sounded impressive. He noted that in his first space book he had his hero taken to another planet in a spaceship, but in his second, where he felt a little more confident, he had his hero carried by angels. It says much about Lewis that he never really believed in Weston’s space-ship, but he did believe in angels.

Weston tells Ransom that they are en route to the planet Malacandra. “There isn't a planet called Malacandra,” Ransom protests. “I am giving it its real name, not the name given it by terrestrial astronomers.” The planet is in fact Mars, but Lewis does not explicitly confirm this until the very end. As to why they have kidnapped Ransom, Weston will only say that “small claims must give way to the great” and that abducting him was “no idea of ours. We are only obeying orders.” That is all Weston will say on the subject.

Lewis gives scant description to the space-craft. Unlike Nemo in the Nautilus or Seaton in the Skylark, Weston does not give Ransom a tour of his craft – it does not even seem to have a name and one gets the impression that Weston is too prosaic to give it one. Some details of space travel Lewis gets wrong, as where he gives Ransom a kind of metal girdle hung with enormous weights to mitigate “the unmanageable lightness of his body”.

One point he gets unexpectedly right. Ransom is surprised by the brightness of outer space. “I always thought space was dark and cold,” he says. “Forgotten the sun?” Weston replies. Without the earth’s atmosphere to block them, the rays of the sun, and even of the stars, are so much more intense.
He had read of ‘Space’: at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now – now that the very name ‘Space’ seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. … No: Space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens…
Lying in bed, looking up at the stars as thick as daisies, he imagines the ‘sweet influence’ of the stars piercing his body as if he were “a second Danaë”, recalling the Greek myth of the maiden ravished by Zeus in a shower of golden light.

It’s not until a couple weeks into the voyage that Ransom overhears part of a conversation between Weston and Devine discussing why they need Ransom. Devine makes an ominous reference to something called a sorn.
Again Ransom heard the indistinct noise of Weston’s voice. 
‘How should I know?’ said Devine. ‘It may be some sort of chief; much more likely a mumbo-jumbo.’ 
This time came a very short utterance form the control-room: apparently a question. Devine answered at once. 
‘It would explain why he was wanted.’ 
Weston asked him something more. 
‘Human sacrifice, I suppose. At least it wouldn't be human from their point of view; you know what I mean.”
NEXT:  Arrival on Malacandra; Meeting the Hrossa; and the Sorns

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ANGEL FALLING : a review

 From Big City Comics Studio and Zenescope


Written by: Jeffrey Kaufman
Pencils by: Kevin West
Inks by: Mark McKenna, Bob Wiacek, Jack Purcell and Kevin Yates
Cover by: Jeff Kaufman, Stan Johnson

104 pages, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-939683-22-9

A woman is half nude and awakens in a dumpster, without memories or who she is, or where she has been.   The world is a scary place and in the process of taking her first look at it and setting foot upon the street, she encounters a number of enemies, and promptly beats the hell out of them.  Enter a young man who then kicks the crap out of the second group of thugs troubling the woman we call will call Angel.  (She has two tattooed wings upon her back.)  The heroic young man gives his shirt so she can stop covering herself with her hands, and gives her strange answers to her questions, and she and he learn they must go to a place where the autistic young man comes from to find her answers to who she is and why she is such an asskicker.   What follows is a bloody maze of questions and answers, blood spilled and bones broken, and the end to the quest.

It took me a long time to read and reread this work, not because it was bad, but rather, because in component form it is all rather good.   The writing creates a setting, solid characters, a problem and solution.  The art is able to express facial emotions and actions, and the color is well done.   But I didn't really enjoy this work.   I think the reason isn't the story, which wasn't bad, but rather, I felt a sense of deja vu, and familiarity with the concept, and whether it was original or borrowed in pieces, I felt the direction of the story was also familiar.   Not exactly a cliché but close enough.   As such I guessed future path of the actors in the play, and there was less drama as there was seeing if my assumptions proved accurate.

This is not to say the work is bad, because I don't think it is.   As far as hitting me in the taste box, it was slightly wide.  As far as impressing me, I thought the production of it was quite good.   So, there is nothing here that should scare off people who like tough women, mysteries, and odd alliances.  Perhaps I am becoming grumpier as I read comics, and I recognize that this work has value, I guess it was probably not aimed at me, or, if it is a recurring theme, I've recurred that theme too many times.

I'd give this book a B- on an A-F scale, so I do think it might be worth your time.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Demolished Man part 6: Demolition

Ben Reich is on top of the worlds. He has eliminated his biggest business rival, Craye D'Courtney, and is in a position to absorb D'Courtney's company; he has waged an intricate chess game against the telepathic detective investigating the crime; and he has just learned that he has won:  the police have closed the case against him.

Oh yes, he still has a few problems: he still has nightmares about a menacing Man With No Face And there's the small issue of somebody trying to kill him. But all that pales before the realization that he is finally in the clear.

Ben Reich has gotten away with murder.

Lincoln Powell, 1st Class Esper and Prefect of the Police Psychotic Division has persuaded the Esper Guild Council to hold an emergency meeting. Although he does not have enough Objective (that is, non-psionic) Evidence to build a court case, he knows that Reich is guilty of murder. What's more, he has come to the realization that Reich not just a murderer, but a threat to the Esper community, and to humanity as a whole.

We have already seen that Reich has been simultaneously supporting a smear campaign to stir up anti-Esper feelings in the non-Esper populations as well as financially backing the League of Esper Patriots, a self-interested splinter group opposed to some of the Esper Guild's policies. Either of these by themselves could severely damage the Guild as a political entity and the Esper community as a whole. But the danger Reich poses goes beyond that.

Reich is about to become a Galactic focal point ... A crucial link between the positive past and the potential future. Powell argues. Reich has the money, power and force of personality to shape the pattern of human culture. And he is a sociopath.
Look at Reich's position in time and space. Will not his beliefs become the world's belief? Will not his reality become the world's reality? Is he not, in his critical position of power, energy, and intellect, a sure road to utter destruction?
To stop Reich, Powell proposes a measure called Mass Cathexis, a dangerous technique which has never been successfully accomplished. Guild President T'sung is reluctant to authorize the attempt. "You're too valuable to be destroyed, Powell." But Powell is willing to take the risk. The fate of humanity may hang in the balance. He insists on a vote, and the Guild grants his request.

Powell returns home and tells Mary Noyes what he's resolved to do. "There's a chance it won't kill me. Oh ... One reminder. Lab wants a brain autopsy soon as I'm dead ... if I die." But before he goes, he needs to see Barbara one last time.

Barbara D'Courtney has almost completed the regression therapy the doctors instituted to heal the psychic trauma of witnessing her father's murder. As her subconscious has been slowly recovering, Her conscious mind was regressed to that of an infant and allowed to develop back to maturity. Her mind is currently that of an adolescent and is trying to come to grips with her feelings about Powell. "Do you feel like a father to me? Because I don't feel like a daughter to you."

Complicating the matter further, Powell is in love with her. He's been trying to avoid having to deal with this situation; that was a big reason why he recruited his friend Mary to help babysit. Now there's no more avoiding it.

Mary telepathically urges him to admit the truth. "She's a woman and she's in love with you. You're in love with her. Please, Linc, give yourself a chance." Powell reminds her that the Guild won't allow him to marry a normal; the best he can offer Barbara -- provided he survives -- is an extramarital affair. "She'll settle for that. She'll be grateful to settle for that. Ask me. I know." Mary also loves Powell and would have liked to marry him; but as much as he likes her, Powell would not consent to a loveless marriage. Now Mary pleads with him to consider a marriageless love, for Barbara's sake.

Except that Powell expects to die very shortly. Despite his bravado, he knows his chances of surviving the Mass Cathexis are very slim. He doesn't want to leave Barbara with "Nothing but a half a memory of half a love."

Next to his telepathic talent, Powell's greatest asset is his ability to lie with the utmost sincerity; the part of his personality he calls "Dishonest Abe". And so he does. "Baby! Baby! Baby! What makes you think I'm in love with you that way? I'm not. I've never been."

"No!" Barbara bursts into tears. "Your face is lying. It's ... It's hateful! ... Oh go away. Why don't you go away?"

Mary takes Barbara off in a cab to the Hospital. As he watches them leave, he senses the Mass Cathaxis beginning. As he requested, every esper in the city is feeding their latent psychic energy into his brain.
The energy came in torrents now. From each Esper in the city, a trickle of latent power that merged into a stream, a river, a swirling sea of Mass Cathexis directed toward Powell, tuned to Powell. He opened all blocks and absorbed it all. His nervous system superheterodyned and screamed and a turbine in his mind wirled faster and faster with a mounting intolerable whine. 
...So Powell fought to absorb that fearful torrent, to Capitalize that latent energy, to Cathectize and direct it toward the Demolition of Reich before it was too late, too late, too late, too late, too late...
Reich wakes up from another dream. Not a nightmare this time, a strange dream full of mathematical symbols and commands; a dream so compelling that in waking up he feels like he has fallen asleep again; that the dream was the reality.

Duffy Wyg& is with him, the blonde flirt who wrote the deathless "Tenser, Said the Tensor" jingle. She found him lying unconscious in front of the police station and brought him home. "How could I pass up the opportunity? It's the only way I can get you into my bed."

Reich is starting to get a handle on his thoughts again. Where was he? Yes, he was on top of the world. "Drunk? Sure, I'm drunk... Why shouldn't I be drunk? I've licked D'Courtney. I've licked Powell. I'm forty years old. I've got sixty years of owning the whole world ahead of me. Yes, Duffy ... the whole damned world!" He goes into a joyous, intoxicated rant. "How'd you like to start a dynasty with me, Duffy?" He's going to take over D'Courtney's company; then he'll take over all the other smaller corporations. He'll devour them all. He throws open the window and shouts at the city skyline.
"You out there!" Reich roared. "Can you hear me? All of you... sleeping and dreaming. You'll dream my dreams from now on! You'll --"
Then he notices. There are no stars in the sky.

"Where are the stars?" he demands. "Where are the what?" Duffy replies. She doesn't know what he's talking about.

He runs into the street and looks up in the sky. He can see the moon, a brilliant point of light which must be Mars, and another one which must be Jupiter. But when he asks people on passing by where the stars went, they act like he's crazy. The sky's always looked like that.

A friendly cabbie suggests that maybe he just imagined that there used to be stars in the sky, and recommends visiting the Kingston Hospital. Reich tries to get a grip on himself. He has been under a lot of stress... "Maybe... Maybe you're right." He regains his confidence. "What the hell do I care about the stars! ... I've got the world!"

He goes to his office and calls a meeting. He announces that he intends to commence the acquisition of D'Courtney Cartel's holdings on Mars. His staff look at him like he has two heads. They've never heard of the cartel, or of Mars.

He goes to the company's records. The files contain no reference to any other planets. He goes to Wikipedia; (okay, not Wikipedia, but a computerized library database) and asks about the universe. The computer tells him that the Universe consists of the Earth and the Sun. But what about the planets? "There is the earth," the computer answers. And the moon? "There is no moon."
"Reich took a deep trembling breath. "We'll try it again. Go back to the sun." 
The sun appeared again in the crystal. "The sun is the largest collection of matter known to astronomers," the canned voice began. Suddenly it stopped. Click-pause-click. The picture of the sun began to fade slowly. The voice spoke. "There is no sun."
Now Reich is growing frantic. Bit by bit, his world is disappearing. He tries to buy tickets to Paris. There is no Paris. He goes to the police, but they've never heard of D'Courtney or Powell or anything. He goes to Maria Beaumont's home, the place where he committed the murder, but he sees nothing but barren desolation where the mansion once stood. Piece by piece, reality slips away from him until there is only Reich...

...and the Man With No Face.

And at last, he looks deeply into that face which he has been fleeing from for so long and sees... his own.

And D'Courtney's.

Both faces, merged together, blending into one.

It is his father.

The man tells Reich that it has all been a test. The entire universe of his experience has been an illusion, a puzzle for him to solve, a Cosmic Game. Which he lost.
"I conquered it. I owned it."
"And you failed to solve it. We'll never know that the solution is, but it's not theft, terror, hatred, lust, murder, rapine. You failed , and it's all been abolished, disbanded..."
For him it ends, and there is nothing.


Reich and Powell are found the next morning; Reich curled up in a fetal position and Powell gripping on to him, barely alive. He survived the Mass Cathexis. As the Guild's best esper doctors take care of Powell, Reich is taken to Kingston Hospital.

A week later, Powell is feeling well enough to visit his boss, the Police Commissioner. Reich has been tried, found guilty and scheduled for Demolition. Old Man Mose, the Prosecuting Computer, was right all along. Reich's motive in killing D'Courtney never was profit. D'Courtney was secretly Reich's father. That's why D'Courtney had terrible feelings of unresolved guilt; not about his daughter, but about his unacknowledged son. That's why D'Courtney truly did want to reconcile with Reich. Subconsciously, Reich knew this and hated his father for it. That was why he wanted to kill D'Courtney. And yet, a part of his self-conscious rebelled against his murderous impulses. That was who the Man With No Name really was; Reich's own conscience. And when Reich succeeded in killing his father, his subconscious tried to punish himself by planting the bombs while Reich was asleep. Reich's true motivations were so deeply buried, that he could not even admit them to himself.   That was why he misinterpreted D'Courtney's coded message.

The only way Powell could get to that truth was to create an intensely realistic illusion in Reich's mind and strip it down, layer by layer, until there was nothing left but Reich and his guilt; The Man With No Face.

The Commissioner is impressed. "You've done a phenomenal job, Powell. Really phenomenal. ... It must be a wonderful thing to be an Esper."
Powell paused at the door and looked at Crabbe. "Would you be happy to live your life in a hospital, Commissioner?" 
"A hospital?" 
"That's where we live ... All of us. In the psychiatric ward. Without escape ... without refuge. Be grateful you're not a peeper, sir. Be grateful that you only see the outward man. Be grateful that you never see the passions, the hatreds, the jealousies, the malice, the sickness ... Be grateful you rarely see the frightening truth in people. The world will be a wonderful place when everyone's a peeper and everyone's adjusted ... But until then, be grateful you're blind."
He goes to visit Barbara at the hospital. She's an adult now; her treatment is complete and her inner and outer minds are once again in synch. She still loves him. She's aware that he can never marry her, but she doesn't care. She's willing to settle for being his mistress. My, how they tiptoe around this! But she's willing.

Powell laughs, and tells her she won't have to settle for anything. He reminds her of the night of the murder, when she came to her father because she heard him calling out to her. Except her father was incapable of calling! He was sick and had advanced throat cancer; he could barely whisper. Barbara must have sensed his desperate thoughts telepathically. She is a latent peeper, and therefore Powell is free to marry her. Okay, this seems like an awfully convenient happy ending; but Bester did plant the clues ahead of time: her actions on the night of the murder; the intensity of the shock she experienced; her ability to recognize when Powell was lying to her.

While he is at the hospital, Powell runs into Reich one last time; a screaming, twitching mockery of a human. He is undergoing Demolition. His brain is slowly being chemically erased, much as Powell did with the illusion of the stars, until it is a blank slate. The process is a long one; the doctor supervising him says he will be ready for rebirth in a year. This is the punishment the State metes against its worst offenders; horrifying an ghastly. And yet...
"Three or four hundred years ago, cops used to catch people like Reich just to kill them. Capital punishment, they called it." 
"You're kidding." 
"Scout's honor." 
"But it doesn't make sense. If a man's got the talent and the guts to buck society, he's obviously above average. You want to hold on to him. You straighten him out and turn him into a plus value. Why throw him away? Do that enough and all you've got left are the sheep." 
"I don't know. Maybe in those days they wanted sheep."
I still find Reich's rehabilitation to be disturbing. Is it really better than the alternative? I'm just not comfortable with the State having the power to erase a man's mind like that. But maybe, if Powell's dream came true and everybody was a peeper, it would bring a level of transparency to government that would actually make it trustworthy.

If I had written the novel, I think I'd be tempted to end it with Reich in a straitjacket, sitting in a padded cell and humming "Tenser, said the tensor..." But despite the Demolition, despite the terrifying identity-loss Reich must endure, Bester's view of this world is on the whole optimistic.

The line Powell fed the Commissioner earlier about peepers being trapped in the psycho ward, was another of Dishonest Abe's lies, calculated to gain the Commissioners sympathy and ease some of the tension between the two men. Now as he gives Reich a small gift and receives in return a confused glimpse of thanks in Reich's chaotic mind, Powell reacts with joy.

"Listen," he cried in exaltation. "Listen, normals! You must learn what it is. You must learn how it is. You must tear the barriers down. You must tear the veils away. We see the truth you cannot see ... That there is noting in man but love and faith, courage and kindness, generosity and sacrifice. All else is only the barrier of your blindness. One day we'll all be mind to mind and heart to heart..."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


That is, after Jack Kirby.

I have read in recent obituaries of recently dead talented comic persons that that creative talent in the world of comics had a great deal of influence upon the industry.   I know people want to be recognized for their work, and many from the Golden age of comics were not recognized, but, I thought, I wonder who really has had the most influence upon the comic book industry today.  So I asked a number of my creative friends what they thought.

Not all of those I asked answered, and after answering some asked not to be quoted.  So here is what I asked and let me explain my question before revealing the answers of those who allowed me to use their answers.

“After Jack Kirby, who would you say is the greatest comic book talent regarding influence upon the industry?“

The question was constructed that way because most people familiar with comics, whether they believe it is true or not, will say Jack Kirby.   I have no doubts he is the most influential but I’ve heard people say his name, and then denigrate his work or suggest their taste towards him is not enormous.   I am not interested in that debate, I hardly see it being needed.  But I wanted to see what the creative people thought, without having to say the name of Jack Kirby, and what many would say.  Thank you all who participated and also to those who did as well but didn’t give permission to me to quote you.

Erik Larsen: Michael Golden.

Art Adams springs from that well, Jason Pearson, Chris Bachalo, most Image guys--his effects are pervasive. And few people even know his stuff, the general public I mean.   I was thinking artists but as far as writers-- Alan Moore.

Chris Weston:  Alan Moore.

Jimmy Palmiotti:  Two men, Will Eisner and Joe Kubert. For me, Joe all the way since he did so much and all his own creator owned personal work.

Mike Grell:  Stan Lee. No question.

#2 is WILL EISNER, who was the greatest storyteller in the history of the medium.   He was greater by far than Kirby (by himself) or Lee (without Kirby).

Chuck Dixon:  Wally Wood. Then Harvey Kurtzman. Then Carl Barks.  Then Joe Kubert.  But then the Image boys reversed it all.

Jim Keefe:  I'm waffling between Joe Kubert and Will Eisner - Leaning towards Kubert because of his school/teaching. The school was founded in 1976, which means over 35 years worth of students entering the field - many becoming professionals in the industry.

Norm Breyfogle:  I sincerely don't know.

For me personally, I'd name Neal Adams.

Matt Feazell: That would be Neal Adams!


Talent-wise I was rather amazed no one mentioned Frank Miller, or Neil Gaiman, and stretching the definition of comic talent, even maybe Jenette Kahn for her opening the market to new kind of works.   As various people answer they define the questions themselves so I honestly expected someone to mention the originator of the direct market for comics, or some of the pioneers who changed the look of comics through digital means, or even, some of the larger retailers like Chuck Rozanski and Mile High Comics.

I recommend that everyone reading here now go and look up all the names mentioned, and consider who would fall in the next question, if these names were all removed.  I am very grateful for the answers and I thank everyone for being a part of the brief interview.


Sorry I didn't get the message til now, Frank Miller.