Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Turning the Book Over
Space Chantey was published as an Ace Double. One half the book being Space Chantey by R. A. Lafferty, the other half being Pity About Earth by Ernest Hill. Having read, re-read, and greatly enjoyed Space Chantey, I finally got around to flipping the book over and reading Pity About Earth.
I was actually surprised by the book. It is written in an over-the-top style of prose with the few human characters being amoral and unlikable. The best description of the writing style would be The Man Who Never Missed meets Caligula. However, the book is based on an intelligent idea, and there is reason for the portrayal in such broad, clichéd, yet unpleasant prose.
The main character, Shale, fights, kills, debauches, and loafs his way through every situation with no thought for anyone but himself. There starts to be a sub-plot where he begins to care for a half-simian hybrid girl, but in the end his personal inertia is too great to overcome a lifetime of uncaring amorality. And that's the point. The book reveals itself to be about how humanity has allowed mechanization to take over every aspect of life, making human beings superfluous. The machines, as a means of self-preservation, have created a stagnant culture, where people have nothing really to do, yet believe they are still important. The amoral, devil-take-the-hindmost attitude of society keeps the humans busy so the system can trundle on unimpeded. The prose of the first half of the slim novel, far from being unnecessary hack-work, is actually necessary hack-work, illustrating the kind of society and characters that can exist in that mechanically maintained world.
Space Chantey is the superior of the two novels in this Ace Double without question. I imagine they picked Pity About Earth to pair with Space Chantey because of the over-the-top silliness in the prose of both. However, while the overblown SF clichés of the Ernest Hill novel illustrate a point, it is also mildly unpleasant and forgettable. Lafferty, on the other hand (literally on the other hand, depending on how you're holding the book), uses his even sillier outrageous prose somehow to give the tale greater depth and universality.