Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann

I tried sitting around bugging my kids to do something cute and bloggable for a couple of hours today. Didn't work. In fact, they asked to go visit my Dad. I guess I was being kind of annoying. My Mom is away helping my sister out after surgery, and I thought my Dad would probably really appreciate the break from eating whatever he felt like and watching curling twelve hours a day.

Then I thought maybe I should try to post on something of import, something timely and fact-filled, with figures, and footnotes. But then I realized it was dinner time and my kids were gone and my husband was staying to have a drink with my Dad, so I decided to eat my stir-fried broccoli beef and watch the L Word instead.

We're all supposed to be trying to achieve balance, right? I think something deep within me actually hates and resists balance. We did a couple of weeks of the fun party family -- we cooked, we entertained, we were festive and social -- which was great and made me feel like I wanted to die by the end. Following that we had a couple of weeks of the gym-groceries-gymnastics-library-tap-dance routine, where there's lots of time for everything and not so much rushing around, and should the mood strike me to make vegetable stock or apple cookies I can make that happen without undue hardship to the hockey schedule or the sparkliness of my load of whites. And I feel like I've lost the will to live.

Why does it seem like I only get things done in mad, resource-sapping flurries of activity? When I end up with an entire afternoon clear why don't I work on the disaster area in the basement for an hour and clean out a closet, rather than reading through a foot and a half pile of newspapers just in case there was something in there that might make me sound intelligent at the next playgroup? Or I just huddle in my big chair, reading joylessly, reading just to make the pile disappear, as if when this pile is gone I'll be able to stop, and feel some sense of accomplishment.

So I go like some demented double-clutched Thomas the Tank Engine for a bit, and then I get smashed flat for a while.

Crap. Is it possible that that IS the balance? Because that totally blows.

The Man Who Melted
by Jack Dann
I had trouble finding my way into this book, and keeping a hold on it once I was in. The synopsis was interesting, if a bit misleading. The premise is that the Earth has been scoured by a "Great Scream", some sort of telepathic tidal wave of insanity that killed millions and left millions more mindless. Ray Mantle lost his wife and all his memories of their time together in the Great Scream, and is trying to find her. Religions have formed around groups of 'Screamers', who enable people to telepathically link with each other and with the dead. The other half of the story involves Joan, a woman Ray has become involved with while searching for his wife, and Pfeiffer, a man from Ray's past who shows up unannounced and tries to resume their very strange relationship, which seems to consist mostly of Ray and Pfeiffer insulting, condescending to, and one-upping each other.

Dann does a good job of creating a viable future world -- considering the book was written in the early 80s, his worldwide "Net" is quite prescient. The technology is convincing; the highly sophisticated casinos where one can gamble with one's own organs while telepathically linked with one's opponents in order to compete on a mental level as well as in the traditional way is vivid and disturbing. I was less engaged by the ceremony which Ray undergoes in yet another attempt to locate Josiane -- his wife, who, as it happens, is also his sister (yep, we're that far in the future and things are just that hip and crazy. Whatever, I'm not here to judge. But ew). All of the religious characters are sort of half-drawn, to my mind -- they're all solemn and kind and ready to comfort anyone with sex who might need it, but there's no real articulation of their beliefs that I could see.

So there's an aborted attempt at a telepathic linking, interrupted by men with guns, then the eventual reuniting of Joan and Pfeiffer with Mantle, who engage in a strange and sad ménage a trois which continues until they all end up on a re-enactment of the voyage of the Titanic. Again, this episode seems strangely truncated, and the ending sort of rushed.

Maybe it's just me. Apparently this is a science fiction classic, and I really did feel that there was a great story in here. I think it was mentioned that it was a combination of three or four short stories -- maybe that was the problem, that they didn't sit easily together as a whole novel.

Or maybe it's simple. Marry your sister and you're asking for trouble.

2 comments:

Don't Lick The Ferrets! said...

Balance doesn't often find me either, but mostly because I am a HUGE procrastinator and put things off way too long!

Anonymous said...

Robert Heinlein wrote a book that had a mother hooking up with her son - from the future, it was very bizarre and maybe also her father. I never, ever got past the ick factor. You just have to read Oedipus Rex to know that sex with family never turns out well. Z