There’s nothing more disheartening for a writer than to read something published by a major house and think, “I can write better than this!” That’s especially true for a writer whose collection of rejection notices exceeds his collection of pay checks for work sold. (Isn’t that most of us, though?)
Oh, yeah, there is something more disheartening… having that work be authored by someone that one of your literary idols thought was a real talent.
I picked up a couple of books by Dan Galouye because he’s mentioned, in Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, as a writer whose work the Grandmaster really admired.
RAH must have read something by Galouye other than The Infinite Man.
The premise of this short novel is accurately summed up on its jacket:
The God Within
IT lived in Milton Bradford
IT could make planets vanish, alter mathematical constants, erase the laws of chance.
IT had the power to change the entire Universe…
Or destroy it utterly.
IT chooses to destroy the universe utterly. But, by the time IT does, the reader isn’t left to feel that much has been lost.
Here’s the highlights:
A not-so-wide-eyed beatnik named Bradford, who drops a lot of acid, is told that he’s the heir to a billionaire’s fortune. Financially, he’s the most powerful man on Earth. He’s also the primary subject of interest for a group of cynical, interchangeable scientists who call themselves Project Genesis. They know that Bradford is the human host to the Creative Force. They’ve managed to access that force directly a couple of times by plumbing the depths of Bradford’s subconscious, and suggesting that the Force destroy both Pluto and Promixa Centauri. The suggestion is taken. Pluto vanishes immediately, and Proxmia Centauri’s nova flare is seen in the sky four and some years later.
(Are there habitable planets around Proxima Centauri? Are the Project Genesis team, in suggesting its destruction, murdering entire civilizations? They don’t ask. They don’t care. They have no morals and no feelings at Project Genesis, in addition to having no personalities.)
Having blowed stuff up good, the team are satisfied that their pawn, Bradford, is the embodiment of the Creative Force. Better, they know some sort of trigger phrase that, if all goes wrong, will awaken Bradford to the knowledge of his true self and also, apparently, allow them to make him do whatever they want him to with his phenomenal cosmic power.
Meanwhile, Bradford falls under the thrall of a bunch of hippified, acid-dropping cultists, who recognize that he is the Primary One, the Infinite Man, and who cleverly say the names of everyone they speak to backwards. Yeah. Lemme tell you dlo steg reven taht.
Bradford learns that the billionaire who allegedly father him actually lost his testicles during World War II, thirteen years before Bradford was born.
Um, and no one cares, not even Bradford. That piece of information is never used in any way. Also, late in the book, it’s posited that the billionaire isn’t even dead, that he faked his own suicide. Again, that piece of information has no impact on the story. Ultimately, the Primary Creative Force, which is really the Primary Destructive Force, begins to communicate directly with a faceless drone named Powers. Powers plots to steal Bradford’s, um… powers.
But, in the end, Powers just manages to murder all of the principle characters and shoot Bradford in the balls (making him the true heir to his non-father. Isn’t that clever?) Then the PCF/PDF laughs in Powers’s face and admits Powers was only a pawn. Then IT destroys the universe. With a BANG. And then God creates a new universe with square planets. We know they’re square, ’cause they’re… drawn… in spaces in the printed text. Along with some random sketches of cylinders. I think those were supposed to be stars.
Here’s the deal. This is not a story. This is not successful fiction. This is some pseudo-scientiphilosophical rambling about the nature of creation and destruction with some named straw-people stuck in for illustration. The ideas are kinda clever. But (and this is something science fiction writers, and especially science fiction fans just don’t seem to get)… CLEVER DOESN’T MAKE A STORY.
A good story, one that entertains, enlightens, shocks, delights, horrifies, mystifies, and is in other ways enjoyable to read, places interesting characters in challenging situations which they must overcome, thus producing an emotional reaction in the reader. The story may make the reader think, may give him a puzzle to solve, may educate him, may motivate him to action; but, above all, it must entertain him.
Oliver Twist is an entertaining story. It is not clever. Indeed, its use of coincidence and melodramatic plot twist is anything but subtle. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an entertaining story. Nothing clever about Tom’s antics: flirting with girls, conning his friends, running away from home, witnessing murders or getting his backside tanned. These things happened to most boys of the 19th century, except perhaps the witnessing murders piece.
But Mark Twain’s observations on human nature are clever, and they’re worked all through the narrative. Charles Dickens’s ability to lampoon the stuffed shirts and give an affectionate portrait of ne’er-do-wells is also clever. But, above all, these two authors, and all good storytellers, made the focus of their stories the charm and likeability of their characters. This is what Robert Heinlein did as well, in his science fiction.
The Infinite Man has no charming or likable characters. Indeed, it has no characters. It has some men with different names and a couple of girls who exist to be sex objects and little else. It has ideas, but they’re not stitched into a story. No one in the book has a particular goal, except to not die, or to gain ultimate power. They all fail. And they learn nothing. They don’t grow. They just die.
Galouye is not a bad writer, when he’s not obsessing over spelling things backwards. I will try another of his books. But I cannot recommend this one in any way. Its publication suggests to me that, even in 1973, editors were just being lazy and accepting manuscripts from authors they knew could meet a deadline and whose names might sell books.
My goodness, that sounds painful. I don’t think I could have soldiered on through.