Book Review: The Resurrectionist, Gary K. Wolf (1979)

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(Margo Herr’s cover for the 1979 edition)

2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)

“Corporate authorities referred to him instead as the Resurrectionist, the man who dragged the living back from electrical purgatory” (5)

Gary K. Wolf, best known for Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981), started his writing career with three SF novels for Doubleday—Killerbowl (1975), A Generation Removed (1977), and The Resurrectionist (1979). Doubleday’s art director, Margo Herr, provided The Resurrectionist‘s captivating cover, which suggests the corruption of pattern, the subversion of delicate movement. A few reflective, but altogether too fleeting, moments suggest Wolf might have had similar ideas at the back of his mind. Instead, the novel takes the form of a connect the plot points SF caper involving a matter transmitter and threats to world order. A thriller without the craft to use narrative as a vehicle for anything other than a general critique of an increasingly technological future…

The Resurrectionist–despite its pretensions–is short, fast-paced, and harmless.

I am still open to reading Wolf’s short story “The Bridge Builder” (1974) in Orbit 14 (1974), ed. Damon Knight, a prequel of sorts describing the creation of the technology.

Analysis/Summary

Saul Lucas, due to his “penetrating, hard-nosed, effective approach to problem solving,” works a “million-dollar-a-year retainer” for the Bridge Authority (5).  This powerful entity maintains matter transmitters that transports the world’s travelers place to place via a “complex web of collector stations” (4). And of course, not every transfer goes as planned and Saul Lucas is called in by his ex-wife and president of Bridge Authority Michelle Warren to identify where people disappear and what resources should be organized for their retrieval. Highly paid “maintenance men” (and women) perform the dangerous work of entering the system where they are “they were omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omni-everything” (17).

With the disappearance of the Russian ballerina Galina Rosmanov, Saul jumps into action. With his two side-kicks–a scientist and clairvoyant—Saul quickly discovers “It’s as though this Rosmanov girl fell off the edge of the world” (13). And the mystery roots deep inside the powers that be—much more is at stake than the disappearance of a famous passenger. Saul soon realizes that “somebody with a lot of technological juice is trying to ice Galina Rosmanov” (39). Fighting the physical toll inflicted by matter transmitter travel, Saul must find out what is afoot before his ex-wife gets wind of his suspicions that she too is involved.

Final Thoughts

Flaws and flaws and flaws.

The transformative power the maintenance men experience while journeying through the wires and the mental effects when they can no longer enter the system (with all its dangers and joys) indirectly yields one of the best (fleeting) moments of the novel: the tangential story of the retired maintenance man Gus Wiley who commits suicide despite the fame generated by his occupation (17). However, Wolf never explores what it is like within the transmitter other than a two page interlude. And even then nothing about the experience feels seductive or transformative (the average traveler supposedly feels refreshed after recovering from the experience of “being transmitted”).

The same lack of focus–reflection serves only as momentary tangent–characterizes Saul’s odd outburst concerning the necessity of mystery in the world: “What do you see? Depersonalization. Automation. Everything ticking long according to strict, unchanging, scientifically precise rules” (28). Not only does this outburst feel bizarre coming out of Saul’s mouth as he spends his life searching for the simple answer to everything, but even more damning is the utter lack of any discussion of the supposed “depersonalization” or “automation.” Staff, not robots, guide you into the transmitter, maintenance is done still done by man, all food appears to be served by people, people still attend theaters, etc. These are all activities that could be explored in those terms. At no point do interactions laid out or the surrounding world described feel “depersonalized” or “automated.” The ability to travel almost instantaneously between places does not logically suggest “depersonalization.” I suspect Wolf refers to the state of science as a whole and its ability to explain how the world works…

…..reflection as tangent.

….reflection as page-filler.

In a certain way The Resurrectionist reminds me of a pulpy comic-book/film. Each scene is short and to the point, each piece of action streamlined and simple, all the interchangeable tropes are inserted at whim… With an occasional empty discussion on the effects of technology on society. As empty as Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) discussing Nazis: “I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.” Supposedly Wolf would take comic books references and meta-narrative to greater heights in Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981). The Resurrectionist can only gesture indirectly and hastily in a variety of directions as plot points and twists fly past.

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