Book Review: Living Way Out (variant title: Beyond Bedlam), Wyman Guin (1967)

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(Jim Burns’ cover for the 1973 edition)

3.75/5 (collated rating: Good)

Wyman Guin produced eight short stories and one novel between 1950 and 1973 [see his entry on SF encyclopedia].  A pharmacologist/advertising executive by profession, his SF output demonstrates a mature satirical bent touching on topics of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry.  Best known for the often anthologized “Beyond Bedlam” (1951), the collection is worth tracking down for   “A Man of the Renaissance” (1964), “Volpla” (1956), “The Delegate from Guapanga” (1964), and “Trigger Tide” (1950) as well.  It is a shame that he did not write more.

Highly recommended for fans of social and satirical SF.

Publication note: The 1973 edition of the collection was published under the name Beyond Bedlam in the UK.  It contains Wyman Guin’s ONLY other published SF short story “The Evidence for Whooping Cranes” (1973) which did not appear in any other published form.  I am reviewing the 1967 edition Living Way Out (image below).

If anyone happens to have the Sphere edition and would be willing to send me the story “The Evidence for Whooping Cranes” I would be very grateful.

EDIT: I received a copy of “The Evidence for Whooping Cranes” — thank you!

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

 “A Man of the Renaissance” (1964) novelette, 4.5/5 (Very Good) is one of the best stories in the collection.   A Leonardo Da Vinci-esque individual dreams of roping together his poor floating home island of pumicine and two neighboring ones to create one powerful state.  Trained in the seven arts, the narrator plies his trade by inventing weapons, building edifices, deposing kings, moving island to island….  His goal seems distant as there are powerful forces at play, the tethered islands, and the Ice Islanders who raid the seaways.  There are beautifully simple moments throughout that illustrate the culture of the isolated isles.  Guin balances action with interesting culture creation.

In novel form this would have been a superior version of Jack Vance’s The Blue World (1966) on a more interesting planet of occasional islands.

“My Darling Hecate” (1953), novelette, 2.5/5 (Bad):  The poorest story in the collection follows the narrator who falls for a woman who seems to have almost magical powers: “for example, she never kept me waiting for a date” (53), she seems to clean at parties in record speed, and for a while the narrator “never caught on” (53) even after their marriage.  Eventually more disturbing events occur, a town disappears, and new individuals appear who seem to be manifestations of her psyche.  At moments Guin appears to be satirizing male expectations of the behavior of women, at another, this manifestation of Hecate appears to be possessed by her turbulent psyche…

“The Delegate from Guapanga” (1964), novelette, 4.5/5 (Very Good):  One of the more explicit satires of the collection… Society has split into two groups: the Matterists who build cities and worship Mr. Executive vs. the Mentalists, extreme conservatives who subjugate women and refuse to use technology and worship the Old Man.  The recent Old Man, a Mentalist candidate, has died and a new election and its strange rituals—telepathic voting (by the elites) combined with war waged by the non-telepathic who try to knock out the other party’s voters—must transpire.  The narrator, a key elite among the Mentalists, suffers great ignominy after he is gored by a boar, must figure out how to maintain the power of the Mentalists.  Hyperbolic to the extreme!

“The Root and the Ring” (1954), novelette, 2.5/5 (Bad):  Very similar to “My Darling Hecate,” a man marries a very demanding woman who edges him to greater and greater success.  He seems to have incredible luck and soon his wife provides him with a mysterious wedding ring…

“Trigger Tide” (1950), shortstory, 3.5/5 (Good): Guin’s first published short story shows promise…  On a fantastic planet with complex tides where “the only land […] is the countless archipelagoes of quartzcar [i.e. quarts particles that are suspended in the ocean water]” (120), an agent from The Central is tasked with averting war by assassination.  However his contact on the planet and its strange moving plants, seems to have bought into the ways of the world—and how the tides even dictate human movement and activity.  The story, despite its fantastic setting and speculation on the ways in which one can become “rooted” to a place, does not move past its basic plot of political assassination to avoid war.

“Volpla” (1956), novelette, 4/5 (Good):  A sinister story about a man who develops winged mutants on his rural ranch…  He dreams about teaching them fabricated origin legends (138) and how they would create colonies “up and down the Coast before anyone suspected” (139).  He would position himself as the authority and pontificate grandiosely, “I am convinced that they have a language and speak it intelligently” (139).  Simultaneously with his scientific experiments, his domestic life swirls around him, everything at first glance seems loving, but there are undercurrents of dysfunction everywhere (he drinks, does not look after his children, and is jealous of Guy and his rocket, etc).

“Beyond Bedlam” (1951), novella, 5/5 (Masterpiece): Guin is best known for this story, and for good reason.  After “the Great Emancipation of the 1990s,”  “schizophrenic people had trouble only when they criminally didn’t take their drugs” (156).  Instead, the two egos of the “schizophrenic person—the hyperalter, or prime ego, and the hypoalter, the alternate ego” are allowed to possess the body (after “ego-shift”) for five days (157).  However, people have more than two egos but the Medicorps force them to take drugs to prevent them from surfacing.  This “Great Emancipation” results in an entire restructuring of society and stringent laws requiring drugs and prohibiting certain relationships.  The story follows Conrad Manz and Bill Walden, the two egos in the same body.  However, Bill Walden has committed the ultimate sin and pursued a relationship with the wife of Conrad Manz, Clara.  Clara is the other ego of  Bill’s wife Helen–i.e. both Clara and Helen inhabit the same body.  Clara and Bill modify their drug usage to heighten their emotions and delay ego-shifts.

“Beyond Bedlam” is a delightful, and very early, exploration of future treatments for mental illness and how society might tackle its manifestations.  Should be on every mental illness in SF reading list.  Fantastic.

For more book reviews consult the INDEX


(Ronald Walosky’s terrible cover for the 1967 edition)

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Living Way Out (variant title: Beyond Bedlam), Wyman Guin (1967)

  1. I like the Ronald Walosky cover, but then, I always liked his art. I suspect it was bought separately and then pasted on this collection randomly.

  2. I have not been able to track down the final story. It is supposed to be no more than maybe 2 pages long. Any chance you could send me a copy?

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