Throw-back from the 70s best kept there (2/5)
From July 29, 2009
In prior conversation with fellow sci-fi blogger Joachim Boaz, we have both mentioned that Pohl being one of the most over-rated science fiction authors of all time. Of the eleven Pohl novels I've read, six have received a 2-star rating. Man Plus is among Pohl's worst novels along with Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Syzygy (1982), and Black Star Rising (1985).
In regards to the Man Plus experiment itself, a few items struck me as poorly thought out. One: why does Man Plus need to have an enema when the Man Plus on Mars will have use for its sphincter due to the atmospheric pressure? Two: in the beginning the `bat wings' were for heat dispersal but later on the wings are used for energy absorption (heatsinks would have been more suitable for heat dispersal and also less of a corny idea). Three: Why did the team building have trouble, of all things, with the throat mike, when they could accomplish such feats as replacing an entire mans body? Four: There was utmost attention (2 pages to be exact) paid to the layman's explanation of how frog's eyes worked when the rest of the story paid no attention to the frog-like function's of Man Plus' eyes.
During the 60s and 70s (and perhaps to a lesser degree the 50s and 80s), there was an increase in the amount of effort to make sci-fi novels sexy. And not "sophisticated sexy" but more like "drop-sex-into-random-paragraphs-for-the-teenaged-readers sexy." Pohl has a tendency to randomly slap sex onto the pages of his novels when the sexiness really isn't called for--as in it leads little credence to the plot or characterization. Sexiness can be done artfully and/or tastefully, but Pohl lacks the grace of including sexual beings into his stories, rather it comes out of bestial lush of a one-track minded alpha male (ah, that rings true with a number of Pohl novels, actually). More to the point, Man Plus mentions "screw" six times, to a more mature degree it mentions the word "sex" five times and beyond these two words, an additional twenty references are made towards copulation, coitus, penetration, matings, etc.
For a book heralding the words, "A novel of unbearable suspense... a desperate political gamble to save earth from destroying itself... the struggle of a man is more than a man to becomes the first Martian," there isn't as much Mars as there could be. Only about the last 15% of the entire novel is dedicated to actually being on Mars. The rest of the novel is filled with the Man Plus research (which is actually fairly interesting, except for the rambling bits like frog vision), the political turmoil around the world (nice broad play here by Pohl but the generic references to Asia is annoying as Asia does, after all, have a third of the world's population) and a predictable set of events stemming from Roger and Dorrie's superficial marriage.
Sadly, there was a, frankly, stupid ending to the novel which brought the entire book down one star. It seems as if the last five pages was a desperate attempt to tie it into a sequel (and look, there IS a sequel!). This reviewer, however, is not conned into reading the sequel after this half-hearted 70s attempt. There is more sophisticated sci-fi in the world.