Book Review: Croyd, Ian Wallace (1967)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)

2.5/5 (Bad)

The esteemed science fiction critic John Clute claimed quite adamantly that Ian Wallace’s Croyd (1967) and its sequel Dr. Orpheus (1968) “are among the most exhilarating space-opera exercises of the post-World War Two genre” (SF Encyclopedia entry for Ian Wallace).  With this endorsement in mind I picked up a copy with high expectations.  But Clute’s assessment leaves me utterly flummoxed.

Wallace attempts to channel A. E. Van Vogt’s 1940s at a time (the 60s) when a large percentage of the writers were eschewing this form for social science fiction and the literary aspirations of the New Wave.  Van Vogt’s novels were fumbling baroque exercises where heroes with superpowers flail around in an arbitrary world developed with few, if any, guiding principles yet eventually (through no apparent logic) come out on top. As a result an overwhelming cloud of arbitrariness pervades their pages.  The godly heroes can do whatever they wish with whatever incredible powers they have at their disposal.

As with Van Vogt, Wallace revels in arbitrary excess — Croyd (a science-fictional James Bond descended from the Egyptian god Thoth) and the evil alien Lurla (a run-of-the-mill I want to conquer your galaxy because you are all puny/stupid humans) transfer their minds to other bodies at will.   Some bodies they leave in their wake contain nascent minds that attack their intruders, other minds are suppressed and dominated, others develop complicated relationships with their hosts — all these permutations interact with each other, betray each other, and attempt to kill each other at will.  At the most inopportune times Wallace has to interject and remind us what’s at stake because the erratic logic of the plot (and world) emotionally and mentally detaches the reader: “[Croyd] chilled as he remembered Tannen’s intimations of a plot to implode the galaxy” (98).

Fans of “mind-bending” [rending?] 60s space opera concocted by putting A. E. van Vogt and Ian Fleming’s novels together in a food processor, uber manly men downing their alcohol before mind battling evil mind-switching aliens, and time-travel [of course!] might enjoy Croyd and its numerous sequels.

Aside from joy generated from ogling the gorgeous Paul Lehr cover, I found the experience rather akin to what I imagine would be horrors of synchronized swimming in a pool of mollasses.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

Croyd operates in a far future world where the 20th century’s inventions and philosophical positions are considered quaint and plain wrong: “Hence, in Croyd’s era, it was the names of twentieth-century intellectuals that you dropped, if only to refute them” (184).  Using this as an operating principle, Wallace gives himself a carte blanche to develop the most outrageous, to use his words, “science-fantasy” possible.

Croyd, the main character, is cut from the mold of James Bond.  He’s a tool of the central government and his philosophy is never elaborated on.  However, he, unlike most humanoids in this far future, has developed the ability to travel short distances forward and backward in time.  Whether or not this is due to his claimed descent from Thoth, the Egyptian god of time, is not explained.  Croyd operates in a dreamlike world filled with threats — for example, disgruntled students (and the like) who attempt to crash an asteroid into one of the inhabited moons of Neptune.

But the biggest threat are the evil gnurls from the Greater Magellanic cloud — I won’t give away their appearance because Wallace seems to think it is a “surprise.”  These gnurls have a rigid class society based on intelligence and practice from a young age transferring their mind into other bodies.  The most intriguing idea of the novel are the social ramifications of such a practice.  For example, the gnurls transfer minds only with other gnurls of the same gender.

Lurla, a particularly pernicious gnurl princess, is set to Earth’s solar system to enact an evil plot because Earth is perceived as a threat and a potential breeding ground.  The plot involves seducing Croyd via hypnosis and transferring her mind (which has been hanging out in the body of Greta, an Earth woman, whom she had transfer to earlier) to his manly man body.  This transfer is successful and soon Croyd wakes up in the body of Greta.  Greta and him decide to go after Lurla and save the world…

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23 thoughts on “Book Review: Croyd, Ian Wallace (1967)

  1. Well, at least it has a great cover. 🙂 Thanks for the review, really well done.

    “…I found the experience rather akin to what I imagine would be horrors of synchronized swimming in a pool of mollasses.”

    Love the analogy!

  2. While I’m not a big fan of Space Opera, if I do read one I want it to be from the Space Opera era. If a book seems to emulate a different time or style it seems fake to me.

    • I’m not sure I agree. I certainly do not hate all space opera which does harken back to pulp forms (space opera obviously is an earlier form)…

      Wallace is not trying to copy an earlier area — he’s channeling the hero so often found in van Vogt’s novels and then he’s interjecting a James Bond sort of feel to the entire thing.

      Also, many authors play with earlier topes to great effect.

      As for the Space Opera era — not sure when that is. Because a MASSIVE resurgence happened in the 80s as well which rightly could be called a heyday of Space Opera — just think of all the authors from that period — Ian Banks included. Also, novels like Dune were written sort of after the pulp space opera period and harkened in new forms which were more interested in world building.

      • You do bring up a good point, and you’re citing the two authors, Herbert and Banks, who wrote after 1980 that I’ll read. But in general the resurgence of Space Opera is one of the reasons i don’t read much post 1980 Sci-Fi.

        • I couldn’t agree more. I actually dislike the resurgence of Space Opera in the 80s (and the late 70s examples of it as well) — of course, this is a generalization… There are probably a few that I’d read.

          • Depending on how it’s defined, I suppose you could say that some of the work of Harry Harrison, Clifford Simak, and Frederik Pohl would be Space Opera, and I’d read anything by them.

            • I’ve kept my dislike of Pohl to a minimum on this blog 😉 I prefer his collaborations with C. M. Kornbluth. Let’s leave it at that. I’m also increasingly dismayed by Simak — I am strangely seduced by his vision but his works are rather repetitive and dare I say, hypocritical (if you’re curious about this position then I suggest you read my review of Simak’s Choice of Gods — which is perhaps the most glaring example of the flaws in his philosophy).

              I’ve not yet read any of Harrison’s novels. I have The Pastel City and one of his other works on my shelf. I sort of want to read The Committed Men along with some of his short stories before I move to his Viroconium sequence but I need to get my hands on them first.

            • Again, I’ll back pedal a bit ! I’ll sjould say that ill start anything by those authors, hoping for the best, but sometimes being disappointed. Simak is especially varied in quality, a lot of it is just too odd and surreal for me. ‘All Flesh is Grass’ is one of my favorites, and I keep hoping to find another by him as good, but not yet.

              I do prefer the earlier Pohl, though I did like the first Gateway novel.

            • I just checked your index and could not find Iain Banks. Have you read any of the Culture series ? I haven’t, but it might be just my post 1980 phobia.

            • I haven’t read anything post 1980 in years. So no, I have not read Banks…. But, I have read quite a few works published after 1980 but not lately.

            • If you have any interest in reading anything by Banks, I’d suggest ‘The Bridge’, it has a similar style as J.G. Ballard.

  3. Sounds like an interesting (if unoriginal) concept with really poor execution. One of the many reasons I’m grateful for your blog — things like flat characterization or meandering plot aren’t always obvious from the cover or jacket summary.

    Speaking of Bond-esque secret-agent protagonists, I thought Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series was fairly clever and entertaining (though I did read them as a teenager, I admit.)

    • I haven’t read Stainless Steel Rat yet — sort of unimpressed with that I’ve read of Harry Harrison’s… After he died a little while back I tried to pick up one of his famous novels — Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! — but couldn’t get very far in it.

  4. There is is speculative fiction and fantasy that best works when you come to it fresh without much reading experience. That whole age of wonder mind set. I remember Croyd from long ago when I was much younger. Loved the craziness of it all.
    I think it is sometimes difficult to appreciate certain forms of art/literature/music outside of a context or a set of experiences. I would find some students (secondary school) would find the original source literature/mass media uninteresting because they thought it was formula & unoriginal. At best they could come to understand that it was the first/template on which more familiar forms grew.

    • Of course the context of when and where you read something influences what you think about a work… I have a soft spot for bad Star Trek episodes for example. They were the first television shows I really watched as a child (there was too much wilderness for me to explore outside that I would rarely watch the TV — but something about Star Trek was so incredibly seductive).

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Joachim, “The Pastel City” is not “Harry” Harrison it’s M. John Harrison.
        I have it but have not read. It’s supposed to be good. As far as the criticism, I hate it when someone dislikes or gets bored over a certain style because someone already did it first or way back when. I’m also a big fan of the idea that something can be dumb, silly, hypocritical, contradictory, etc. but still be good or a lot of fun. Also, there is so much paradox in philosophical ideas that contradictory scenarios often make for interesting storytelling. Authors also sometimes change their thinking over time. Not that any of this is what your really saying, but it reminds me of those who do say/think similar things.

        Harry Harrison to start with: Make Room! Make Room! (aka Soyent Green), The Stainless Steel Rat (1st one), Deathworld Trilogy, Bill the Galactic Hero

        cool blog!

      • Yeah, I know. I misread what the previous poster wrote — I have read both M. John Harrison before and Harry Harrison — although not that much of either… I find Harry Harrison’s works rather dull/simplistic — I have to admit.

        Thanks for the kind words!

  5. It’s easy to read these works now and criticize them, but most works are of their time period. Croyd is certainly no masterpiece, but I enjoyed it, and other works by Ian Wallace, back in the seventies when I read them. As I did Clifford Simak’s works. My favorites where City, two novels that helped kick start modern urban fantasy, The Werewolf Principle and The Goblin Reservation. Cemetery World with it’s cynicism was a favorite. All four books were multiple reads. Other writers mentioned: Fred Pohl has always, by my other reader friends, been considered a better editor than writer, although I always liked Gateway and Man Plus, with the The Man Who Ate The World a good look at obsessive compulsiveness, something I suffer from. As for Harry Harrison, you can’t deny he’s had an interesting career. A cartoonist for EC Comics, a novelist, and an editor. One of these days I’m gonna read the Deathworlds books and see how good he was. Make Room! Make Room! was good though, although it had little in common with the film.

    • I found Croyd poor, even for its day. I am a professional historian, I do indeed take the historical context into account when I read a novel. For me, the historical context makes the book even more interesting — seeing what they are reacting against, inspired by, etc.

  6. Wallace is great. Philosophical, surreal, funny, and insightful. There’s a pulpiness about his work too– who needs the large strokes of some other space opera writers when you have the weird little observations and references Wallace packs into his stories? I’m not sure we read the same novel! Maybe one needs a taste for the trashy and strange to enjoy him?

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