D-grade novel on par with B-grade movie (2/5)
I usually start my Brunner posts with a brag, and so I shall continue this trend: This is the twenty-seventh Brunner book which I have read. Double, Double (1969) was published between two of Brunner’s most famous novels, a sandwich of greatness one could day: Stand on Zanzibar (1967) and The Sheep Look Up (1972). Between the energy-loaded content of those two novels, one would expect to find the substance of Brunner’s bibliography, right? (Insert onomatopoeic word for a buzzer)
While Timescoop (1969) is a fun historical romp and The Jagged Orbit (1969) is among Brunner’s best, something else crept into his otherwise great bibliography: shit. This shit includes the pointless novel The Wrong End of Time (1971) and the novel highlighted in this review—Double, Double.
Rear cover synopsis:
“Inkosi—the magnificent Ridgeback
Bruno and Hermetic Tradition—a pop-rock-mod group consisting in part of Bruno Twentyman, Cressida Beggarstaff, Gideon Hard, Liz, Nancy, Glenn and others
Dr. Tom Reedwall, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
Miss Felicia Beeding, a pathetically daffy old drunk, a living in a burned out house above a chalk cliff
Joseph Leigh-Warden, a rundown journalist, mostly sour, sometimes vicious
Sergeant Branksome and Rodge Sellers of the local constabulary
Radio Jolly Roger - a piratical broadcasting station whose personnel sometimes fished
And many more.
What peculiar invisibility tied these disparate types together—threatening to make them all the same? They themselves didn't know –and perhaps never would.”
Have you ever seen The Horror of Party Beach (1964)? Is has been cited as one of the fifty worst films of all time. Well, Double, Double is a clone of that movie… and I welcome it into my list of 100 worst novels I’ve ever read (all two-stars or below). As fellow SF blogger Joachim Boaz has said, “Only recommended for Brunner completists/collectors…. And even they will be disappointed” –never were there truer words, my friend.
On the north coast of Kent lies the sleepy town of Brindown. The most recent news abuzz in town is the crashed plane and its missing pilot lost at sea. Constable Sellers and Sergeant Branksome staff the police station, where the maximum amount of activity for the week is placing the batty old sot, Ms. Beeding, into a cell to recover from her drunkedness. Regardless of the inactivity, Joseph Leigh-Warden occasionally snoops around the station trying to sniff out a lead in order to send a report back to the London newspapers. Meanwhile, Ms. Beeding lives a recluse life out near the chalk cliffs in a partially burnt out shack. Just a stone’s throw away sits the Organic Acids’ depot and docks, a local source of complaint due to the odor and innate toxicity of its chemicals. Further out to sea and resting above the waves of the North Sea rests the pirate radio station of Jolly Roger. The interlopers to this sedentary life are the members of the pop band Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.
Having spotted the chalky cliffs from the sea, the band is eager to find the location because of it would be the perfect place to host a “freak out”; thus, they scour the countryside trying all access roads to find that perfect beach. One errant road leads them to Tom and Netta Reedwall—along with their ridgeback dog Inkosi—who both work for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries measuring ambient water temperature, raising oysters, and setting a pen for a future experiment with dolphins. The friendly trio direct the band to the road which can access the idyllic cliff overlooking the isolated beach, where they meet the tatterdemalion-clothed woman Ms. Beedy. As she’s not the owner of the land, she can’t grant them permission to host their “freak out”, but she can pilfer a few beers from them.
Later that evening, what looked to be an injured dog swimming ashore was actually a man. As they help him from the water, the man’s sodden clothing gives him an unusually heavy weight, though the most particular feature of the man is one half of his face which is “puffy with incipient decomposition, his hideous pallid flesh looked more like sponge … the cheek was eaten away to reveal the whiteness of bone and teeth” (37). They immediately run away in terror as the man-figure also runs away into the surrounding forest. They notify the police station, where the snooping journalist Leigh-Warden catches wind of the news and pens a quick summary to London. Though the police dismiss the band’s tall tale of horror, the London newspapers print the band’s involvement in the scene, causing a smattering of shame coupled with unwanted publicity.
On the platform of the Jolly Roger pirate radio station, one man’s pastime is casting a line into the waters; though he’s never caught anything, at least it passes the time away. But on an otherwise unremarkable day, he snag something big. He calls for his colleagues to get his movie camera as he pulls in what looks to be a giant squid… but squid don’t metamorphose before your eyes and they certainly don’t have tails. Amid this bizarre news comes word from Ms. Beedy’s house: a small fire has destroyed part of her house, signs of struggle are evident within, and the old lady is missing. The sergeant insists that he saw her in town but a conflicting report from the sanitarium says that she is catatonic and aggressive yet safe.
At the chemical depot, security reports that an old woman has been seen wandering around the dangerous chemicals. One man even tried to apprehend the intruder, but his hand was instantly dissolved when it came into contact with it. When they give chase in protective garb with guns and acid spray, the figure scurries up a ladder and dives into a tank of crude phenol. When they drain the tank to retrieve the body, the only corpse they find is that of what initially looks to be a halibut. The most curious part of the fish is its tail fin, which is a mammalian tail fluke. They take the abomination to the Tom Reedwall at the Fishery outpost where he dissects the pseudo-fish and discovers that its innards are a mix of species-specific organs—it seems to be in a suspended state of metamorphosis.
Meanwhile, Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition play on.
Having Brunner’s own name on this name is a shame to his credibility and the words “science fiction” on the cover are a shame to the genre. There is very little science involved in Double, Double, which is just a cheap paperback thriller; a shameless, hokey and bloated plot covering 222 pages; a thoughtless piece of slasher-film-equivalent idiocy; a contractual obligation and a quick buck for Brunner.
Taken as a stand-alone story, it’s sheer drivel; it can’t even be twisted into a metaphor or allegory because there’s just nothing substantial to grasp in the novel. I think the worst thing about the novel is Brunner’s sad token attempt to pontificate the familiar message of world pollution from The Sheep Look Up (1972) and use it as an excuse for a so-called plot twist or a catalyst for the plot’s disaster: “In the past couple of decades we’ve put more mutation-inducing substances into the sea that you’d normally expect in several centuries—fallout from H-bombs, canned waste from nuclear power station…” (158).
There is some saving grace which keeps the novel away from a 1-star rating. Firstly, while the characters and situation are all dull, I admit that the mystery of the creature is a tad interesting: From where did it come? What are its intentions? How does it feed and breed? Brunner doesn’t squander every opportunity to make the plot more interesting, but it is a dull, bumbling, pointless read. Secondly, it’s readable: I wasn’t bored witless or driven into a rage (kudos to any book that does that).
Ditto on Joachim’s words: “Only recommended for Brunner completists/collectors…. And even they will be disappointed.” Pass.