Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1977: The Extraterritorial (Morressy, John)

The outsider dissecting the propaganda from within (3/5)

I gather from online sources that John Morressy hasn’t been a very widely read author, perhaps best known for two fantasy sequences in the 1980’s and his novel Starbrat (1972) has a small cult following it seems, but I didn’t care much for it. I guess if one theme could be pulled from Morressy’s bibliography, it would be the recurrence of revolt over dictatorship by a lone, determined man. It may be the miasma of machismo which is too overbearing to take these novels seriously (keeping in mind, I’ve only read Starbrat and Extraterritorial), but even the characterization of both protagonists seems to be similar.

Rear cover synopsis:
“Everyone knows the extraterritorials protect the Association’s interests outside the Barrier; no one really understands how. Even Martin Selkirk, an extraterritorial himself, has only a hazy idea of his work. And that is how the Association likes it. But when Selkirk begins to dream—ugly, terrifying images that grow increasingly vivid—he realizes they are not dreams, but memories of hideous atrocities he has committed for the Association. And Selkirk plans his revenge.”


After twelve years of being outside the resplendent confines of the Association’s city comforts, Martin Selkirk visits the city between missions in order to visit his brother Jack and his wife Noreen. Everyone he meets lauds the efficiency and security that the Association has given the northeast corner of the once United States, but Martin sees the perfect order and ignorance of life beyond as a sign of governmental gangrene. Those belonging to the Association don’t take kindly to his way of thinking.

The citizens of the Association comply with its demands for the simple sake of comfort; they prefer “a comfortable lie over a painful truth” (143). Having been in charge twenty-one years since the America’s democratic end in 1991, life inside the Association in 2012 is greatly controlled: communication, old documents, books, papers, films; “everything we learn, everything we read, everything we hear, everything we see” (142). The complacent, comforted masses in Section One contrast the poverty and repression faced by the non-Association members in Section Three.

Martin brother Jack is simply an apolitical lawyer, loyal to the Association but also loving towards his wife and brother. After dinner with the two once night, he disappears after a visit to his office. Surmising that he’s working on a secret project, Noreen tries to continue her housewife life, waiting for word from Jack… she instead receives news from the Association: Jack had been killed by terrorists, the ring on his finger and the fingerprints lifted confirming the devastating news. In reality, Jack has been shipped to a concentration camp under the false conviction of breaching security. The Association knowingly wants Jack for his close genetic similarity to his renegade brother in order to understand why Martin’s mind has rejected the Bruckner Process of mind wiping.

Martin’s memory of his job as an Extraterritorial is unclear to him. He thinks he remembers being a mining expert, but after his mission is complete his memories are erased. His flashbacks of a burning jungle remind him that the Bruckner Process is safe, but at the same time the memories haunt him. When Martin visits Central Registry for his reassignment, the bureaucracy frustrates him for an entire day. The next day, when no one reaches him for more information about his reassignment, Martin goes again to Central Registry to confront the same staff member. He walks to the same office, but his prior visit was unregistered and any contact he made was impossible. When guards some to escort him away, he manhandles them and resigns to the fact that he must escape to Section Three.

After a month of despair and isolation, the Association storm Section Three to capture Martin. Rapping at the door reveals a familiar face from Central Registry, but his capturer turns out his rescuer, part of the Counterforce, a latent band of resistance established in the underground tunnels branching beneath the city. When the Bruckner Process is reversed, Martin realizes his ability to transform this lethargic sect of revolt into a lancing schism of rampage.

With “no army, no navy, no armed forces, no police” (152), the Association is left vulnerable to a well-organized revolution from outside its own walls. With the Barrier separating the former northeast US from the Outlands, there is little threat from the savages of the outside, western American nomads who’ve crossed the burnt, devastated western prairies because of the earthquakes which sunk their homeland and destroyed their cities. Are the Outlands the real threat to the peaceful existence of the Association or is the closer threat of the Counterforce more menacing? Martin is the strategist.


Martin’s motivation for resistance is understandable but closely parallels the strife faced by the protagonist in Morressy’s other novel Starbrat: the painful loss of family and lies about his existence. However, his recruitment to Counterforce is too convenient and the situation Martin found himself in when inquiring at Center Registry was too much of a tall tale. Considering that the Registry was the most closely watched area of the Association, the Counterforce’s high-level infiltration seems unlikely. Once ensconced, his near-maniacal bloodlust for revenge is too far-fetched. As Martin really doesn’t understand the history of the Association or the underpinnings of its existence, his desire for its destruction seem superficial; the demand for its demise too machismo.

The utopian Association world created by Morressy isn’t all too inventive. The situation America found themselves during the 1980’s gave rise to a benevolent group (far from a regime, dictatorship, or authority in their own regard) where “all belong to something and help one another” (37). However, the sheer size of the Association’s bureaucracy renders it malevolent by extent; the manpower it controls and the leverage it wields are too massive for a benevolent centralized government. Its offices are the façade of its strength but the ones in control remain hidden from public knowledge, not even the Counterforce knowing who’s truly in command. After twenty-one years of lenient intracity control, the first true resistance from the intercity weakens its grip on the city and its infrastructure.

At the same time, the utopian corner northeastern American, the Association, is an interesting mind experiment on how people inside and outside a supposedly benevolent society react to injustices beyond its walls. The propaganda machine is only propaganda to those who are being unjustly treated; the consumers of the propaganda are blissful of their ignorance. The citizens of the Association are kept from traveling outside their limited territory, thereby exasperating their condition of ignorance of the outside world. One outsider, Martin, a non-citizen but also not an Outlander, can plainly see past the lies and non-truths. One of his hosts, his brother, is sympathetic to his distrust of the Association, but his brother’s wife isn’t as open-minded to Martin’s intrinsic dissent.

Destroying much of the plot’s continuity, the necessary deaths of some characters come about erratically. These pivotal points weren’t planned out very well and their importance didn’t accelerate the pace of the plot or add dimension. The deaths simply take place to instill a sense of revolt in Martin, a ferociousness which was already encapsulated when learning of his true nature as an Extraterritorial.

One interesting aspect of the Association is its calendar reform. Instead of dividing the year between twelve unequal months with illogical names such as October (eighth month) and December (tenth month), the Association divided the year into four Quarters, each Quarter thirteen weeks long, starting on a Sunday and ending on a Saturday. Midyear between second and third Quarters, a non-calendar holiday called Association Day would occur. Additionally, every fourth year at the end of the fourth Quarter would be another non-calendar holiday named Progress Day, in lieu of the traditional leap day. Much to the tradition of the Association, “Everyone liked the new calendar. It solved all the old problems in a simple, orderly manner” (41). In place of February 10 would be “First Quarter 31” or instead of March 28, “First Quarter 87” would be used. Occasionally erring, the authors refers to some eras of time experienced by the characters as “months,” which ruins the congruity with the author’s created universe.


I finished this book in one day--easy read. During the five hours I spent reading it cover-to-cover, there were some high points: mainly Morressy’s creation of the Association, albeit heavy on the theory but light on the practice. Then there are the low points: the predictable doors which must be passed through for Martin to attain the proper level of revolt. Both the highs and the lows are very scripted. Include eight pages of carefully placed meta-documentation and you have yourself a well-organized but blocky structure. Considering that Morressy’s Starbrat also rated 3-of-5 stars, I don’t hold much hope for other Morressy novels.


  1. Still seems like one of the better Laser Book novels -- they were notoriously poor through their run.... To quote the sci-fi encyclopedia, "The books were restricted to a formula which specified a male protagonist, an upbeat ending, no sex or atheism, and a minimum of long words. " And, "the Laser formula made it unlikely that books of any literary quality would be published, but some were interesting, including K W Jeter's debut, Seeklight (1975), and Ray Nelson's Blake's Progress (1975; rev vt Timequest 1985)."

  2. I thought it was odd that I didn't have any other Laser books on my shelves. The "upbeat" ending wasn't prevalent here, but a big high-five on the "male protagonist," "no sex" (if I could even give a high-five for something like that), and "minimum of long words." Pretty generic, but not bad bad.