Outis, who is a grey character, and describes his reason for surviving as "I wanted to see what would become of us. I wanted nothing for myself other than to see", has other problems apart from the law - he is dependent on translator machines that make him sound like a spoof pirate ("You be Mr Charlie in the lock-hole"), lives in a box, and then his character disappears as the plot gives equal attention to his two rescuers - an android discovering the possibilities of human life, and a rogue space SWAT-woman.
Solis, the city to which the rescuers hope to take Mr Charlie (as the dodgy translator calls him when he is a brain a vat), is in the control of the Maat, superbeings who have terraformed Mars but given up their earthly forms; and there he may be safe, given a new body and recognised as alive again. Munk the androne (why not an android, I'm not sure) gradually discovers the aweful satisfactions of humanity as he is forced to become Outis' protector and advocate (though the Maat could switch him off at any time if he cannot justify himself). Outis does not realise until late in the book that the persuit of him has other reasons, too.
So what does the plot depend on? A sleeper who awakes to discover that the future is not as Utopian as he might have supposed; an artificial being yearning to be human; higher powers who have to be appealed to and give or withhold their protection at a whim; and secret cults plotting to keep their secrets.
However, why are things so bad? Outis discovers that no government had prepared for the discovery of the corpsicles or given thought to the legal situation of the re-vivified, so that they were considered property. Munk the androne has a prepensity for humans because the Maat build random tastes into their artificial intelligences. Mei Nili, the superwoman had her home village destroyed in a landslide, possibly engineered by the eminence gris whom we met in the Prelude. All of these things have to come together for the novel to work, but to require so many soon moves into a world where one begins to respond in mis-quotations - "To lose one life is unfortunate, to lose so many looks like carelessness". Attanasio can plot, and there is one brilliant scene where a double-crossing guide unintentionally but perfectly gets eaten himself when he planned to do it to his party, but the novel as a whole is poorly plotted because it requires so much invention to be explained. The sense of wonder (monstrous tentacled mining robots, shark-like shreeks eating everything they meet in the volcanic deserts) is not really compatible with the need for a detailed plot, so the book reads well for short periods but not overall, and I found that when the wrap-up reveals the reasons why Outis has been hunted I had forgotten that they had been listed in the Prelude.
Attanasio has given the book a number of "literary" touches: the most obvious is that after the Prelude, it is written in the present tense, and secondly, he loves obscure language - even apart from the dodgy translations, the text includes words such as "nycthemeral", "biots", "scabrous", "rhomboidal stupes" and "stoichiometry", along with paragraphs of purple prose, yet there seem to be few reasons why a chase novel (even if it has themes of former men and androids both becoming human) requires that sort of writing, and it actually serves to hide clues vital for unravelling what is going on.
So this is not a great and a new novel, and somewhere in my memory banks it seemed to echo William Hjortsburg's GRAY MATTER, which was also a chase novel about a detached brain, but there must be room be a new brain-in-danger thriller and there is no reason why this should not be it. On the other hand it does not seem to rise much above a thriller - it does not have the size to handle the metaphysical questions of what it is to become human, or as SF allows, what it is to become human again.
ARC OF THE DREAM by A.A. Attanasio (Bantam $3.50 pp 262)
The invasion of ordinary lives by the extra-ordinary is barely imaginable. The invasion of
ab- and subnormal lives is more difficult to imagine but it has been done, just think of classics
like The Hampdenshire Wonder or More Than Human. Then try to imagine the addition of
quantum physics to the super-powers gained by these unfortunate people. Then add a dash of
existentialism and references to Inner Space in a medium of language like liquid. You get this:-
"Inertia smeared through him like the tug of a fast elevator. Sound liquified, and
astonishment gasped to fright as Dirk became aware of the alien's consciousness. It shivered
with the sensation of I. It was inside him, watching him, like the still eye of a falcon hanging
The story concerns a being from a five dimensional universe trapped in this four
dimensional vale of tears who indirectly communicates with a French schizophrenic, curing
her; with a chinese peasant who learns to fly; with a middle-aged American gambler, who
beats the mob at craps; and a punk hoodlum who decides to become a nuclear scientist. A lot
of attention is given to the interface of the different universes and the effect on the feelings of
the four people, and is described in language like the passage quoted, except that it can go on
for pages. It does not convey the effect the author hoped.
Imagine someone given the job of making Quincy respectable by writing posthumously the novelisation of the series (ie Quincy uses pathological skills and his deep insight into human nature to end an LA gang war) and then realise how crass the product would be, and you've got Arc of the Dream. All the books I've read on this subject tend to be pretty aweful (including Theodore Sturgeon), but the best and the one from which Attanasio could learn most is Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone. That at least makes some aspiration towards rationality. If you like Quincy then the science in Attanasio will blind you. If you've got just a CSE in woodwork you'll leave it alone.
Return to Home Page