Book Review: Inside, Dan Morgan (1971)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1974 edition)

3/5 (Average)

Dan Morgan’s output appears to have been mostly forgotten even by the most dedicated fans of the genre.  And unfortunately, no collections of his short stories (he published around 40) were released in his lifetime.  John Clute’s assessment of his work — “Though he was not a powerful writer, and though he never transcended the US action-tale conventions to which he was so clearly indebted, it is all the same surprising that Morgan has been ignored” — rings true in regards to the sole novel of his I have read, Inside (1971).

Inside is a tightly-plotted action tale that plays out layered (almost painfully entropic) levels of delusion.  The neatly packaged premise never goes beyond the strictures of the plot, never delves into the philosophical and more intellectual realms that it could indeed approach, and lacks the surrealistic touches that make Philip K. Dick’s reality questioning SF so poignant and haunting.  This is an action story but even the action is on the pallid side.  What remains is a powerful concept but little more.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

Earth in the future is wrecked by the unchecked hells of overpopulation — the most devious (branded psychotic) individuals who are unable to live in such a restrictive lifestyle are shipped off to an asylum complex on Mars.  The Domed City of Mars is subtropical enclave controlled by a power hungry man named Moule.  The ostensible purpose of the inner complex where the inmates are housed, dubbed Inside by those who operate the external control room (Control), was to play out in the inmates implanted memories of a nuclear apocalypse on Earth.  Via a commonality of experience the inmates (who think they are on Earth) were expected to work together in a war-torn (simulated) environment hence, theoretically, to overcome their psychosis: “It was [Moule’s] initial theory that the provision of a common hinterland of experience would serve as a unifying influence on the people Inside, and also have the added advantage of making them accept the necessity of life within the environment” (95).  Thus, program them for life without violence in a restrictive environment.

Those in Control are to facilitate this treatment of the inmates via individuals who know what is actually happening who play particular roles Inside.  However, many of these Role-Players become too attached to individuals (with programmed memories) and prefer the constructed reality over what they know to be real.

Eventually the situation Inside spirals out of control.  Factions, based on the US vs the Soviet model that resulted in common programmed memory of a non-existent nuclear apocalypse, emerge.  Control attempts to maintain control of the situation by giving one side (the Soviets) strong leadership and insufficient supplies while the other (the West) receives inept leadership and substantially more supplies.  Also, a renegade element of guerilla warriors are introduced to add another leveling element.

Moule is theoretically only answers to the “Socio/Pysche Council back of Earth” (94) and in the breakdown of Inside from its original plan of rehabilitation, he resorts to increasingly draconian methods to keep the powers that be Inside in check.  Of course, the the possibility of the “Insiders breaking out and discovering instead that instead of living under a protective dome on a devastated Earth, they were in fact some sixty million kilometers away on another planet, was a potentially disastrous one” (74).  Those that die in the endless fighting Inside are resurrected and reintroduced into the environment with different memories.

The members of Control who disagree with Moule’s techniques, but secretly as do all the human factions within the novel obsessed with the notion of domination and control, seek to introduce elements on the Inside that will result in peace.  The plan is then to overthrow Moule.  The key element, and one of the central characters of the narrative, is Gerry Clyne.  Clyne is supposedly a brilliant psychotic (who of course acts little differently than Moule or other members of Control) who is programmed to swiftly seize control of one of the factions.  He is motivated in part by memories of a beautiful love interested who died in a horrible while they were cooped-up in a smaller bomb-shelter.  Little does Clyne know that the real Laura, whom his memories of previous love were based on, exists outside and is a key player in the experiment.

Of course, there are more layers, and complex intrigues…

Final Thoughts

The premise is filled with some noteworthy touches — although they are all insufficiently throughout/developed to rise beyond fleeting concepts doled out where the plot demands.  Firstly, the premise that the “psychotics” on the Inside are rather similar to those in Control attempting to control them is standard but brilliant.  One almost wishes that Morgan did not have to repeatedly go out of his way to make this comparison for us.  Clyne in his rise to power an realization that his experience was a programmed action will logically make these observations on his own…

Secondly, the delusion that this type of rehabilitation would actually work is deployed to great effect when the conclusion wraps up all the loose threads.  Everyone is busy looking Inside to realize the powers that play Outside.  And thirdly, the idea that some of the Role-Players become more attached to individuals Inside weakens the notion that there is any division between those who control and those who are controled.

A frequent reader of SF will see the ending from a mile off.  And here Clute’s assessment of Morgan pans out — despite the fantastic paranoid delusion of a premise, Moran is wedded to the “US action-tale conventions.”  Regardless, Inside (1971) is worth picking up for fans of early 70s SF (especially of the paranoid variety) and Richard Powers covers (the 1974 edition).

(Solution’s cover for the 1971 edition)

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: Inside, Dan Morgan (1971)

  1. Even though you were disappointed with the book, your review makes it sound worth reading. The plot and situation appear intricate and inventive. Thanks for the intro to Dan Morgan. I had never heard of him until now!

    • It’s an average one-sitting type SF thriller laden with paranoia and a fun premise which touches but does not engage in any meaningful way with some cool ideas — nothing less, nothing more.

    • How so? There are many disappointing books out there… Theodore Sturgeon’s famous law comes to mind — “Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

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