(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)
2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)
Recently I procured a handful of Daniel F. Galouye’s novels (here) for a few dollars on ebay because I enjoyed his first novel Dark Universe (1961), which is an underread/underrated classic of the early 60s. In an effort to rekindle public interest in Galouye’s small ouvre (he died at 54 due to war injuries and was unable to write much in the last ten years of his life), he received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award in 2007. Unfortunately, Galouye’s fast-paced sci-fi thriller A Scourge of Screamers (variant title: The Lost Perception) does not measure up to the claustrophobic and well-plotted social rumination (with a good dose of action) that is Dark Universe.
The most redeeming feature is Paul Lehr’s harrowing depiction of mental anguish on the cover of the 1968 Bantam edition…
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (some spoilers)
In a post-apocalyptic world partially wrecked by nuclear weapons the population is subjected to further horrors — namely, the Screamie Epidemic in which overwhelming waves of brain-searing pain sends the individual into convulsions. Everyone is required to wear a hypodermic needle kit to immediately inject one’s afflicted body with a powerful painkiller. Using the needle also triggers a siren that summons a squad that sends you off to a ward. Of course, a city filled with the constant siren wails does little for moral. The disease appears to strike randomly and people rarely survive more than three or four attacks. 99% of the afflicted die. Figuring out the true nature of the “disease” is the main plot strand of the first half of the novel.
In this nightmarish world the Security Bureau (formally the United Nations Security Council) has gained substantial power — they promise to return the power to local governments when the threat of the Screamie epidemic has been eliminated.
Arthur Gregson, an engineer who works for the SecBu, is attacked while flying a plane with his friend to Rome. On the flight he has a Screamie attack. When they arrive in Rome, Weldon Radcliff — the head of SecBu — briefs them on the discovery of the body of an alien (a Valorian). This proves even more startling to Gregson due to the fact that his twin brother was lost on a space mission — perhaps the ship was attacked by the same aliens. Gregson has a hokey mental link with his twin: “it was not the first time Arthur Gregson had experienced an ephemeral flash of empathy with his twin. There had been the Nina’s trial run to Pluto before her cosmic transmitter was installed. The ionic accelerators had slipped out of phase. In that moment of impending disaster, he had somehow known of Manuel’s peril” (25).
The Valorians are perceived as a threat due to their attacks on SecBu officials. Eventually Gregson finds out that his fiance, Helen, is a member of a cell assisting the Valorians. It is at this point that Gregson has a massive Screamie attack characterized by hallucinations and only brief moments of rest between bouts of pain. However, Gregson is one of the few that survives.
After he is released from the ward he discovers that most of the powerful members of the SecBu are survivors of the epidemic. Also, in the time in which he was incapacitated, the true nature (which Gregson suspected all along) is discovered — the Screamies are simply the side-effects of an ultra-powerful new form of perception, called zylphing. Zylphing is possible due to the Earth’s movement into a rault field — i.e. fancy radiation emerging from Chandeen, a “sun” at the galactic core. Previously the planet had been blocked from the rault radiation by a dense Stygum Field. The Valorians had been sent to assist humankind acclimate to this new way of perception. But there’s a plot afoot!
Vaguely recommended for fans of 60s sci-fi thrillers. However, A Scourge of Screamers is unsatisfying read that pulls very few surprising or affective (and thus, effective) punches. The inclusion of an unseen (and utterly predictable) force that wants to take over the world, crazy palmreaders, and Moonraker-esque space arrays produces a silly/ramshackle/cliché ridden novel despite an intriguing post-apocalyptical setting and transcendental and mystical themes. Hopefully Simulacron-3 (1964) and Lords of the Pyschon (1963) are superior. I do want to find his two short story collection — but because they were only published in the UK are rather expensive.
A Scourge of Screamers is best returned to the black depths of your local Stygum Field (i.e. the closet or the dusty shelves of the local used book store) — it doesn’t take any transcendental zylphing to ascertain its “merit.” My doodlebugging rod easily divined that…. …and that there’s a secret well under my desk.
(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition)
(Tim Newling’s childlike scrawl of a cover for the 1966 edition)
For more book reviews consult the INDEX