Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, February 3, 2012

1972: The Wandering Variables (Trimble, Louis)

Angering grad students and natives when on vacation (3/5)

Louis Trimble has authored nearly a dozen western and mystery books in his early career but turned to science fiction in the late 1960s. He has two Ace doubles with Anthropol and The Noblest Experiment in the Galaxy before publishing three books for DAW: The City Machine (1972: Daw #24), this novel (1972: DAW #34), and the The Bodelan Way (1974: DAW #86). I've only read Trimble's The City Machine (4/5 stars) and considered it a thought provoking, socially intuitive novel. He also wrote a quirky time travel short story entitled Probability (1954, which can be found on Project Gutenberg) which ends with " can I be sure what to do if he won't let me read about what I did." Fun stuff.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Dr. Tandy Venner was an irreplaceable asset to the Charter Worlds Union... so when she decided to take a mind-bending vacation with a Euphor team, Jano Kegan was sent along to keep an eye on her. But to qualify for the safari across that mad planet, he too had to submit to the Trekkers' mental conditioning. What was not on the tour program was the unwritten sidetrack their guide had planned for Tandy. What was not on the guide's secret detour was the planet's own out-of-bounds programming. And what was not on any of them was the eccentricity of the two brilliant vacationers breaking all the rules to find out what Euphor was really all about."

Jano works for the Cultural Rehab unit for the Chartered World Union, where it's his duty to contact both regressed human civilizations on colonized planets and technologically advanced human races across the galaxy. Because his survival skills are needed when dealing with backwater primitive human tribes, Jano is selected to protect the important Dr. Tandy from the menacing hands of the arch rival corporation of Argo and its henchmen Mingo and Pars.

Prior to arrival in the holiday planet of Euphor, Tandy and others receive conditioning which allows them to act uninhibitedly yet it also confines them to the narrow tract of land, bordered by two parallel rivers, for an 11 day joyful hike to the rendezvous. Jano soon uses his lessened programming to allow Tandy and himself to escape into the prohibited zone. There, the programming wears off and ill effects start to surface. Jano and Tandy both show they have outdoorsmanship when innovating utensils and gadgets from the flora surrounding them.

When the duo stumble upon an isolated tribe of primitive humans, it soon becomes known that the tribe is actually part of a graduate student's thesis. Pheeno, the graduate student, is unseen but praised as a god by his study tribe. Dismayed by the inclusion of the two "variables" in his thesis's equation, Pheeno still assists them in finding an alternative route to the rendezvous. However, this route takes them through another graduate student's anthropological thesis, where two variables are very much unwelcome.

Trimble wastes no time in diving straight into this hare-brained adventure. We dive into Jano's job description, jump out onto the planet smack-dab in the middle of Tandy' uninhibited behavior, right through into the wilderness of the planet Euphor. No time for tea, no smoke break, do not pass go. The rest of the 154-page novel does little to characterize them, so we're left with two descriptions of each: Tandy is tall and jade-skinned while Jano is short and jade-skinned. No reason is given for the oddly skinned characters (there's even one with blue and pink striped skin). Two duo are dynamic yet combative at times, never really convincing the reader than they grow to care for one another through their 11-day trek.

I mention above that the adventure is hare-brained. I'm not entirely sure if this novel was supposed to be a thought-focused attempt at balderdash or a lackadaisical failure of artistry... it lays in the murky chasm of the two. I'm going to stand my ground after some thought now and say that this was, indeed, a stab at silliness which was shot from the hip. I like the imagery of two escapees/adventurers getting mixed up in the god-like graduate affairs of two university students, once accidentally inserting their own variable nature into the graduate's anthropological equation, and once again on purpose. As a current graduate student myself, my favorite quote by far is, "...they had no way of gauging the reaction of an angered graduate student should they interfere in his experiment." (67)

The Wandering Variables reminds me of another rather unique DAW book, Guy Syder's Testament XXI, which was also a bit silly. I ended up thinking that Testament XXI was simply a one-off idiosyncratic novel... but Wandering Variables strikes me much the same way - perhaps the rest of the Trimble library isn't quite this odd, but by the looks of The Bodelan Way cover, he might just have another odd-ball novel lurking out there.

1 comment:

  1. Louis Trimble was a good friend of mine. After he was well-established as a writer, he went back to graduate school for an advanced degree in linguistics. "The Wandering Variables" is his way of skewering some of the self-absorbed self-importance graduate departments drive their students into. Louis certainly didn't take this novel seriously, so I think you're headed in the right direction with your observations.