Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1964: The Whole Man (Brunner, John)

Very un-Brunner-like: psychology & telepathy (3/5)
From July 13, 2011

It's odd that I've read twelve other Brunner novels and yet I can't compare The Whole Man with any of them. The Whole Man is part of Brunner's bibliography but better resembles aspects of other science fiction writers. The writing style, too, feels very un-Brunner-like. I can't pin the assumption on any one part, but the prose feels more akin to an Aldiss novel.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Howson's mind could get legions to do his bidding--but not one doctor to release him from his hell that made him A Whole Man. Gerlad Howson wanted nothing more than to be like other men--to move without pain, to live without ridicule--even after he discovered hsi remarkab;e telepathic powers. But the quirk of genetic fate that had warped his body and gifted his mind had also rendered him impervious to medical science. And if, as others before him, he gave in to the dazzingly rich but deadly fantasies that allowed him to escape his torment, it would mean death or madness for anyone who tried to save him--and a human loss as great as any the world had ever known!"

Telepathy is the main theme and I can't name another Brunner book which includes this. I'm not a fan of science fiction books with telepathy or telekinesis or any of those other pseudo-sciences. Most of these plots have a poor basis, much like The Whole Man. The source of telepathy is an organ in the brain called the Funck which is composed of only one hundred cells. Gerald, our super-telepath, has an organ twenty percent larger than this (one hundred and twenty cells?). It's also not described how a telepath earns their mental powers. All it says is that it happens after twenty years of age--batta-bing, batta-boom.

Gerald comes the employment of the UN because of his skills. With this, he is trained as a curative psychologist, or a telepathist who is able to cure patient's psychoses with the deft touch of the long arm of the mind. Being the big shot he is, Gerald only takes the most severe cases, including the cases involving other telepathists. A certain psychosis which telepathists are prone to is something called catapathic grouping in which a telepath lives out a detailed mental fantasy by assimilating other minds.

If you can swallow the plot line involving a telepathic cripple with hemophilia based in Ulan Bator, then scenes of using telepathic skill and natural wit to release the hold of the catapathic grouping is a good show. One excellent scene is Gerald's involvement of a catapathic group fantasy which takes place in ancient China. The picture Brunner paints if rich and deep, but unfortunately this only takes place over the course of twelve pages... which felt climatic even though there were still sixty unclimatic pages remaining. This is where the book begins to drag.

After the climatic ancient Chinese fantasy battle of magic, dragons and tigers Gerald returns to his hometown to hang out with some friends for forty pages. Seriously un-cli-ma-tic. In the end there's an out-of-place inclusion of some multi-sensory art form. The ending did not capture any previous red-flag in the plot, any nuances which may have been picked up on, or any intensity in previous climaxes. Flat, just flat.

If you pick up DelRay edition of The Whole Man with the flowery cover art, stop after page 130 and consider he book to have a rather abrupt ending rather than reading the remaining fifty pages of tapering filler without the whiz-bang. Read it for its take on telepathy and psychology AND because it's a Brunner novel, but stay clear if its merely a causal read.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, more than 17 -- let's go look at my collection.

    (I return, multiple minutes later)

    Only, I've read only 16 -- alas.... I haven't read his works in a year or so -- I really should.