(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1967 edition)
Leonard Daventry’s A Man of Double Deed (1965) is an dark and grungy tale of polyamory, telepathy, and apocalyptical violence. Swinging between philosophical and emotional introspection and awkwardly explained action sequences based on the flimsiest of plots, Daventry’s novel succeeds as a noirish character study but fails as a compelling unity of parts.
Brief Analysis/Plot Summary
The year is 2090, Earth has only partially recovered from a 1990 nuclear apocalypse. Claus Coman, ex-Interplanetary Force crewmen and ex-geologist “trained in paleontology and mineralogy,” discovers his telepathic powers and joins the Keymen, a group of telepaths who serve as the custodians of humanity (5). This is a world beset with a severe internal crisis, “young people of eighteen and nineteen killing and maiming each other, their parents and even complete strangers, for no apparent reason” (18).
The Keymen assign Coman, after his return from a mission on Venus, to influence an important politician to support the creation of a “war section,” which would gather together the dangerous youth of society. The precise goals of the project are murky at best. The government appears to have previously implemented draconian policies, including child rearing controlled by the state, to curb youth violence. The general populace believes exterior crises loom: possible alien signals and interstellar weapons from “anti-human elements outside the solar system” which destroyed three spaceships (9). Daventry indicates that many of the exterior forces are really interior symptoms of society’s chaotic decay (48). Coman himself notices the “general atmosphere of hysteria and fear which sat like a malignant miasma” over all (33).
At various points Coman ruminates, as he is prone to do, on grandiose narratives explaining the ills of society: he tells of the failure of the radical youth of the past who through science and expansion attempted to liberate our minds before falling victim to familiar human vices… (15). Their children, a generation that detested and abhorred all illusions turns destructive (15)–are delusions of uncovering humanity’s “truths” and conquering all challenges necessary for us to survive? This is close to an explanation as we receive…. In Daventry’s world both the esteemed elders (who created the Atomic Disaster of 1990) and the youth have failed. Other than perhaps the Keymen, who, like the elders of the past, might be chasing unattainable dreams of world peace.
Coman, a character straight from a noir, “drank in moderation, smoked heavily, said little at any time, laughed hardly at all, and was capable of falling asleep anywhere” (5) He’s also something of a throwback to a previous era: he smokes (illegal in 2090) and lives in a house from the pre-Atomic disaster period filled with music and objects of the past (10). His relationships also contain an “antiquated” element: not so much his ménages à trois with two women (Jonl and Sein) but their collective “near-religious belief in ‘love'” (32). Some reviewers have pointed out the problematic sexual politics of the novel (here), criticism I tend to agree with. Daventry does indicate this is a world where fluid male sexuality is also acceptable (Jonl’s father has a male lover) but it’s hard to escape the fact that Coman’s partnership is primarily for his own benefit (assuaging the hellish emotional onslaught he’s subjected to as a telepath) and pleasure…. The novel’s a product of the 1960s which attempts to present a progressive view of sexuality yet can’t escape stereotypes of the era.
A Man of Double Deed (1965) is a character piece–the focus is Coman and his struggles with telepathy in a violent and unsettled world. While Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside (1972) painted telepathy with realistic strokes in a believable world, Leonard Daventry blends together a dizzying array of SF themes and ideas, often as bewildering as the emotions bashing against Coman’s mind.
If you’re a 70s SF completist obsessed with the obscure, this one might be for you. Oddly compelling yet deeply unsatisfying….
Ian Sales argued that the novel is an “Obscure British SF Masterwork.”
The author behind the blog Solar Bridge had a more tempered view.
(Al Nagy’s cover for the 1965 edition)
(Jos van Amsterdam’s cover for the 1970 Dutch edition)
(Karel Thole’s cover for the 1972 German edition)
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