Book Review: Triax, ed. Robert Silverberg (1977)

(Justin Todd’s cover for the 1979 edition)

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Triax (1977) contains three original novellas written specifically for the volume.  I concur with Robert Silverberg’s defense of the novella form in the introduction, “it allows the leisurely development of an idea, the careful and elaborate exploration of the consequences of the fictional situation, while at the same time not requiring the intricate plot-and-counterplot scaffolding of a true novel” (vii).  Keith Roberts’ “Molly Zero” and James Gunn’s “If I Forget Thee” have not appeared in subsequent English-language collections. Unsurprisingly, the Jack Vance novella, “Freitzke’s Turn,” appeared in Galactic Effectuator (1980) among others.

Lest anyone be dissuaded by the collated rating, keep in mind that two of the three novellas are worth the price of the volume.   Neither are available in other collections.  Jack Vance’s novella, although nowhere near the quality of the other two, will still appeal to his legion of fans. I found it a poor effort by one of the genre’s consummate masters.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (*some spoilers*)

“Molly Zero” novella by Keith Roberts, 4.25/5 (Good) is an evocative and well-written vision of a totalitarian future where the army has taken over the UK.  The plot is nothing new but the delivery elevates the experience.  Molly Zero, a resilient and intelligent young woman, is an immensely appealing character—subjected along with her crèche mates to systematic brainwashing—whose small pleasures as she grows up and terrible pains truly moved me.  Roberts paints childhood in convincing strokes—only a child in a totalitarian future where movement is controlled, knowledge regulated, would be desperate to know “if there are Scandinavians” (18).

Molly Zero and her crèche are groomed for an unknown reason.  Machines watch constantly: “She’s asleep.  Something hears you though; a little machine that stores the whisper, magically, a silly little wheel.  The wheel spins, trembles, settles down again to its steady, unseen rhythm” (21).  She falls in love with a fellow young woman named LIz.  But they are being guided from a distance: “I’ve told you before.  You must try not to identify.  After all they’re not people yet” (35).  Sadness and despair abound.  And perhaps the brainwashing succeeded.

In 1980 Keith Roberts published a novelization of this novella under the same name.  I am intrigued but knowing the outcome of the open-ended conclusion might diminish the power of the work.

“If I Forget Thee” novella by James Gunn, 4/5 (Good):  James Gunn has long been one of my favorite 50s/60s SF authors—notably his fix-ups The Immortals (1962) and The Joy Makers (1961).   Although I did not find “If I Forget Thee” to reach the heights of the various short SF incorporated in the two fix-ups above, it was a rather visceral and engaging read.  Gunn has the tendency to veer into the needlessly grandiose and this novella occasionally feels like it might but refrains from doing so.

Jeri, a onetime surgeon is caught up in a cycle of vengeance where a machine allows him to experience various pasts where women seek horrible revenge  (110).  The cause of his retreat, and why he relives countless re-imaginings of  women cheating on their husbands is not revealed until the end.  Sara, a woman with a similarly shrouded past, decides to pull him out of his self-induced state and reintegrate him into the real world.  As Jeri’s story is revealed each one of the historical memories he chose to relive gain added meaning.  The twist ending rescues the novella from dangerous territory.

Gunn often conjures poignant imagines: those with terminal illnesses are suspended in “seagreen water like a giant aquarium.  In the water floated bodies of men and women like dead fish caught in the arms of an octopus” (125).  Detracting descriptions of the evolution of life interspersed in the narrative aside, “If I Forget Thee” tells an appealingly baroque tale of a decadent future where one might escape from the guilt and pain of worldly existence by creating delusions where you are guiltless.


“Freitzke’s Turn” novella by Jack Vance, 2.75/5 (Vaguely Average):  Although I have not read any of Vance’s work in a few years, I have praised his baroque and vivid space opera—notably Wyst: Alastor, 1716 (1978) and the straight-forward adventure The Blue World (1966).   Bluntly put “Fritzke’s Turn,” which would be included with another novella in the sequence in Galactic Effectuator (1980), is subpar Vance.  Tidbits of intriguing worlds tinge the pages but the basic mystery plot makes the experience routine.

Miro Hetzel is an Effectuator—think expensive private investigator.  He takes on a case involving the disappearance of one of his ex-classmates, Faurence Dacre, from his childhood days at a private academy.  Miro and Faurence had completely different world views: Miro was humble, hardworking, intelligent; Faurence was sure of his own genius, egotistical.  Fragments of their past interaction backdrop the main narrative.  Miro’s client is a seemingly spotless gentleman on the planet of Thesse by the name Conwit Clent. Conwit and Faurence had both fallen in love with the same woman.  And because Conwit won her hand his rival decides to take revenge by disturbing surgery involving Conwit’s genitalia….  And this propels the newly augmented man to pay the Effectuator handsomely to track down the perpetrator.

For diehard fans of Vance only.  Explore his other worlds before this one.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX

(Randy Weidner’s cover for the 1978 edition)

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Triax, ed. Robert Silverberg (1977)

    • Yes, I point that out in my review. Not sure I want to read a novel version though — the novella ends on a very open-ended note. And, a novel version obviously would provide an answer.

      • Many authors do better at shorter length.Some are better at novels,such as Philip K.Dick,whose books nearly always succeeded over his shorter stuff I think.One great exception is “Faith of Our Fathers”,which I suppose could have been an excellent novel,but did well as a compact and powerful novelette.It’s difficult to know how an expanded version with all it’s political,moral and metaphysical intrigue, might have done better,but think in this case,something would have been lost.

        Don’t think I’m underrating his shorter work,much of it is very fine,and pieces such as “Upon the Dull Earth”,”If There were no Benny Cemoli”, and “Precious Artifact”,are strong examples that come to mind,but I think he found greater freedom to express his genius at longer length.FOOF,written for “Dangerous Visions”,did not have the restrictions placed on those he submitted to magazines,either.

        By the way,I don’t know nothing about the Keith Roberts novella,but his novel,”Pavane”,is really very good.

        • Well, it depends. Many authors — James E. Gunn for example who has a novella in this volume — didn’t really write novels. His novels are almost all fix-ups (The Joy Makers, The Listeners, The Immortals, The Burning, etC). And, often he doesn’t change earlier versions that much etc. So, you’re talking about expanding short SF into a novel when many “novelizations” are nothing of the sort. I’d have to take a peek at the novel version of Molly Zero to see what he’s doing. Pavane, as you know, is also one of these “novelizations” of previously published material but more in fix-up/thematically-linked form.

          • Yes,it was the same with other authors,such as Ray Bradbury,who was of course particularly noted for his shorter stuff,and whose excellent novel,”The Martian Chronicles”,was cobbled together from interrelated short stories.It worked though,that’s the point,because of a single narrative sequence that is the concept of the novel.

            • I enjoy fix-ups — not sure why. I especially like then they are very thematically linked but shift viewpoints or something. I think of them more as linked short stories — and, in a way some novels do that as well — move constantly between characters etc.

  1. I own the edition of Triax with the Weidner cover and read “Molly Zero” and “Freitzke’s Turn” a few years ago. I remember liking the setting and beginning of “Molly Zero,” but being disappointed in the ending, which I thought was gimmicky.

    I remember enjoying the Vance, thinking it was challenging because the mystery was a little confusing (of course, I often find mysteries confusing) and the whole thing was sort of grotesque and disturbing. The Justin Todd cover actually suits the feeling of “Freitzke’s Turn,” I think, both compelling and upsetting.

    • I too was disappointed by the ending. BUT, the implication is the system wins! Which is slightly odd for this type of fiction… I thought it was gorgeously written. That’s really what gave it the 4.25/5! It elevated the material.

      • I liked that the system won, like in 1984, but instead of the system winning in a way that made sense and was disturbing (like the rat business and betraying Julia in 1984) in “Molly Zero,” the way I remember it, there was a whole Rube Goldberg thing with allowing people to escape and get guns that had blanks and then herding them to a particular spot in the woods, etc.

  2. What would you choose?
    Well, having loved the novella in Triax when it came out and eagerly read the novel a few years later, I can safely say that I should have chosen not to read the expansion of Molly Zero!

    I’ve read the collection 2 or 3 times over the years and I never remember what the Gunn is about until I start it again. Not very memorable, in my view.
    As for Freitzke’s Turn, the other Miro Hetzel story (The Dogtown Tourist Agency) is better but doesn’t have the warped humour of the ending here!

  3. Looking at my previous comment, I’m thinking that the final line was in fact ‘What would you do?’ not what would you choose…
    The continuation does indeed become more pedestrian as it reveals the rest of the country away from the setting of the novella. But now it occurs to me that it bears some slight resemblance to America in Howard Berk’s The Sun Grows Cold, which you recently got, I think…

  4. Agreed with the sub-par description of the Vance novella. Not his best work. Guess I gotta read Gunn. I always thought he was one of the space opera clones – ahem, writers – of the Silver Age. Guess I was wrong.

  5. I am, I suppose, a diehard Vance fan. And I have to admit, “Frietzke’s Turn” is a pretty minor outing for him. But I confess I’ve always loved the story for one very trivial reason — the final line (which is the source of the title of course.) It has nothing much to do with the story itself, to be sure! I just thought it perfect at the time.

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