Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, June 22, 2012

1965: The Mindwarpers (Russell, Eric Frank)

Manipulation, subterfuge, and espionage (3/5)
From June 3, 2011

Published in 1965 after most of the author's bibliography had been created, Mindwarpers (alternatively titled With a Strange Device) was created towards the end of his career and this happens to be the first Russell novel I've picked up... and that's unfortunate because it seems as if his prior creations of Wasp (1957) and The Great Explosion (1962) are held in high regard. Mindwarpers, it can be said, has a fairly generic cover picturing a white and red starship of some kind in front of a planet and its moon. Keep that in mind when reading the review.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Richard Bransome worked in the government's most vital scientific laboratory, under the ultimate security. Nothing--living or inanimate--could crack the security barriers that guarded Bransome and his fellow workers. Nothing known to man...
But something was making key scientists give up their lives' careers, sometimes to just drift away, other times to die. Then Bransome began to remember a past he had completely forgotten--a past which he had been a cold-blooded murderer! To discover the truth about himself, he set out on a solitary mission that would lead him against the most incredible enemy ever known to the people of Earth!"

At a highly restricted weapons laboratory in America, the scientists have been acting awfully off recently; they have been killing themselves off, disappearing or living hermetic lives in small-town America. (no spaceships yet) Eventually, one man (Richard Bransome) falls into the same symptoms of disconnectedness and aversion to communication, as if something is on the man's mind. The narrative is told through Bransome and the reader can follow how these symptoms came about. Richard was sipping coffee and overheard truckers talking about a body found under an uprooted tree in Burleston, when suddenly Bransome remembers that HE killed someone and buried them under a tree in the same town! Soon Bransome asks for time off and he begins to track down the truth behind his crime. (no spaceships yet)

He finds himself in the town of Burleston but no one knows of the tree that was fell and the exposing of the body. He also finds he has a tail from the laboratory and that his behavior is very strange considering he's on holiday. (no spaceships yet) Eventually he finds someone like himself and they discuss what it is they are afraid of. They make plans to speak at a later date when the truth behind the mystery is more well known. Bransome returns to his town to stalk the likely culprits of this mystery. (no spaceships yet) All is resolved.

The end... and no spaceships. WTF? How's that for subterfuge!


I'm told (hats off to Joachim) that Lancer will put a spaceship on any novel and call it science fiction. Mark me as one of the gullible sci-fi consumers who love science fiction with spaceships!

Besides the missing spaceship, the 158 page book was quite an easy read. I finished it in something like seven hours with much time given to a nap, lunch, and some internet activity. The build-up to the counter-espionage is a pretty good read and merits a 4-star effort, which is actually what most of the book is about--that of Bransome seeking the truth. Sometimes, the truth is NOT out there but rather indications of what is more likely the anti-truth. This is the case of Bransome.

If you like a good sci-fi-esque espionage novel (like Brunner's The Wrong End of Time but with better results) then you might want to look this up if you're a completest. I'm tempted to find more of Russell but I have reservations as the ending to Mindwarpers was seriously bad, offering a numskull solution to the whole ordeal and leaving the reader thinking, "Well, duh, of course it was them!"

Read it for the anti-espionage fun but don't pin your hopes on a great conclusion.

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