Brown Robin Review: Age of the Pussyfoot

Age of the Pussyfoot by Frederik Pohl (1966/1969)

Review by Brown Robin: This is an old favorite; I’m happy to report it’s still a favorite.  As usual, there are spoilers herein.

Twentieth-century suburban peasant Charles Forrester is brought back to life in the 26th century, after dying horribly and being stored at liquid helium temperatures. He has an awful lot of learning to do to survive in the brave new world he is reborn into, but he’s a slow learner….

He meets Adne cute at his resurrection party, is murdered by a Martian gang, resurrected by the doctors again, hired by an ET, fired by the ET, goes on the lam with the Forgotten Men who live without technological trappings, hunted by that pesky Aresian, is hypnotized into helping his former ET employer escape house arrest, and saves humanity from the Ned Lud society and the Sirians.

You might be induced to strangle Forrester as he blithely stumbles into trouble after peril after contretemps due to his inability to focus on the basics, but I forgive him because it’s difficult to be confronted with new technology without a real support system.  The future here is no utopia, it is our world, with its pretensions, its perils, its perquisites, its picayune peeves.  In short, it’s Sartre’s hell.

This is Fred Pohl in full Galaxy mode, not a slap-dash effort at satire with a glib denouement and a pivot to the next story.  There’s quite a bit of detail and texture providing much food for thought.  I especially found the passages about the nature of inflation insightful: if a person as primitive as Forrester, as primitive as I was when I was a child, were willing to forego the high tech lifestyle of the truly advanced human ape, they could still survive on very little money, but the modern condition is prohibitively expensive and requires a little hustle, like living in San Francisco or New York or Tokyo takes today.

Adne provides a good foil for Forrester, as well as an introduction for the reader to a future in which the social contracts have been meaningfully and beneficially shifted.  Her children are a hoot, a savvy yet still childish brace of gentle smart-alecks you might encounter at your next family reunion.  I enjoyed all the characters in this novel, and the Hawksish dialogue too.

I thought “crawling,” where citizens abase themselves, and commit slander against one another in a drug-induced fugue state sounded like something someone is already organizing on weekends in New Jersey or LA.

In addition to being a witty, droll story, it is a perspicacious prognostication.  It seems the Earth has been coasting on a crowd sourced machine-run government, years before the word “crowd source” was coined.  It has the feel of our present, the way our excessive casuality, our addictive relationship to play and frivolity, our obsessive need of comfort, convenience, and checking-out from the hard moments have formed a kind of decadent artifice fronting a rotting essence.  With just a hint of chaos theory.

The story presents functional immortality, allowing for a system of murder and resurrection through legal means and great fungible wealth, and the human psyche has not yet adapted to such vistas, even in the 26th century.  The moment real death faces them, nearly every single human runs to the freezers.

Age of the Pussyfoot remains possibly my pick for best twentieth century sf novel.  And funny as ever, if not funnier.

Brown Robin Review: The Year of the Angry Rabbit

The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Brandon

Beware spoilers!

Review by Brown Robin. This is a book which requires some professional-level suspension of disbelief, but I believe it compares favorably to such satires as Dr. Strangelove and Atomic War Bride.

The Prime Minister of Australia is presented with a familiar yet thorny problem, an invasion of rabbits. Scientists are roped into an effort to develop a toxin to put the matter to rest. This effort fails spectacularly, resulting in super rabbits and a toxin remarkably effective against humans. Australia becomes the ruler of the world. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t last.

There are so many touches to like and admire in this silly, silly book.  The practice of staged wars, something like the Aztec version of lacrosse, all to win the tourist and entrepreneurial dollar.  The production of materiel destined for the sea floor in a full-employment scheme.  A character whose previous career consisted of only preternaturally bad choices, who yet has the ear of his Prime Minister, and proceeds to walk the world to its doom with his Big Ideas, which really seemed to work for a while…

Like Strangelove, there’s hardly a female in this story, but I feel that’s part of Braddon’s point.  This is a old boys’ club world, with an outcome one would expect from the patriarchy. I appreciated the [spoiler alert!] fact that in the end, the Australian aborigines inherit the Earth.

I imagine this novel as written over a weekend, as it is chock full of keen insight and cutting humor, and a whole lot of nonsense, but if you can see past the howlers and boners, you’ll find a neat dissection of what passes for grownups in our political realm. Though I have to admit, I found Prime Minister Fitzgerald an appealing enlightened despot. He really did mean well.

Brown Robin Review: Pebble in the Sky

By Brown Robin: I keep reading these lists of “funny sci-fi” and it’s always the same five books.  I aim to review the funny books that don’t make the lists.

So, first up:

This review is a little belated– but still timely!  Under consideration is Asimov’s obscure first novel, Pebble in the Sky.

Here be spoilers!

Asimov opens with n homage to Smith’s beloved Skylark of Space.  The premise is far-fetched and not much removed from Burroughs’ space travel mechanism, but once our hero Schwartz lands in the distant future, Asimov avoids shenanigans, and your suspension of disbelief will go unabused. Well, except for the mind powers….

In the future, Earth is a backwater planet disdained by the galactic comity.  Some despise Terrans.  For some Terrans, the feeling is mutual.  A somewhat disreputable archaeologist arrives, hoping to prove his thesis that Earth is the ancestral home of all humanity.

Meanwhile, the secretive rulers of Earth, who mandate that all humans must be euthanized at 60 years old because most of the Earth’s surface is radioactive and there isn’t room for more people, are planning to drop a tailored virus on the rest of the galactic empire, which will render Earthlings as the supreme masters of all they survey.

And a physicist has developed the synapsifier, which enhances intellect, but often kills the subjects.

While on Earth, the archaeologist meets the physicist’s daughter cute, the Earth authorities jump to some conclusions about who knows what and when they knew it, and Schwartz undergoes the synapsifier.

Our heroes desperately try to save the galaxy in the face of Imperial bureaucracy, a world-wide surveillance state, and the political maneuvers of inept “players;” the bad guys keep making the wrong choices, and evincing incredible lack of self-control; and Schwartz learns how to kill people with his mind.  The empire will never be the same!

I think this is an overlooked gem of a novel.  It has screwball elements, and the derring-do parts are played for laughs.  The final sequence when the tension is torqued to the limit of human endurance features some of the funniest dialogue in the novel, and the emotions pitched to ludicrous speed ratchet up the fun.

There are problems; it is not written for a modern sensibility.  But Asimov manages to pack a lot of post-WWII political analysis and sociological insight on the nature of prejudice and entitlement that I think the novel remains germane, if not topical, all these decades later.  I also think the contagion plot to be particularly on point in the post-Covid era.

This could make a swell motion picture, for those counting the Foundation receipts….