(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition)
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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