(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.
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(Randy Weidner’s cover for the 1978 edition)