|List Page » Reviews » Details & Review »|
Although there is a wolf-like creature involved, the werewolf in this novel is more conceptual than physical. In fact, the body of Andrew Blake is inhabited by two alien minds, the other being The Thinker, an unemotional intelligence dedicated solely to Thought, because “it's the one significance. . . that could take the matter and the energy and make it meaningful” (G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, Book Club Edition, c. 1967, p.209).
To make matters even more complicated, Blake is not really human himself, but a synthetic construct built with an implanted mind from a scientist 200 years in the past and sent out among the stars to gather data on other dominant life forms. Or, as Dr. Lukas explains,
The data would be transmitted to the simulated human which, because of the uniqueness of its biological open-endedness, would change into an exact copy of the creature . . . The human would, in fact, become the creature. Not one of the creatures, you understand, but an exact copy of the creature from which it had been patterned. It would have that creature's memories, and its mind (Ibid, p.64).
This sets up some obvious conflicts that become the core themes of the novel. The dialectics between The Changer—representing humanity with all its history, home planet security, and emotional attachments, dreams, and longings—and The Quester—the beastial actioneer, yet an idealist and aesthetic—and The Thinker—cold-hearted logic ultimately seeking the universal, God-like mind—create the harmony of Simak's perfect being that is at the heart of his naturalistic philosophy. Throw in the complication that Blake's mind's personality is still conscious in the Intelligence Depository, which is a “massive mind bank [carrying] in its cores the amassed beliefs and thoughts of the world's most intellectual humans” (Ibid, p.38), and is very much interested in putting his own spin on things. It sounds as messy as whirled peas, yet Simak's distinct logic keeps it relatively manageable.
What is a disaster, however, is his blundering overstatement of his causes and fumbling over-sentimentality of their instigation. Simak has always had a problem with female characters. They are Stepford-like creations, unable to exist independently from men and seemingly appear solely as some sort of nurturance and support stations along the plotline of the story. This one's named Elaine Horton, but she's interchangeable with all the rest. She is used strictly as a device to add an abundance of syrup to an already over-sticky, hopelessly happy ending.
Another sustenance suckup are the Brownies, migrant aliens who landed on Earth 150 years ago and quickly vanished into the woods, acting and fulfilling our folklore visions of elves. Very underwhelmed with our civilization, they prefer an interactive relationship with our dirt and its feral inhabitants. They are the physical embodiment of Simak's idealized, perfect beings, living in harmony with Nature without greed, avarice, or gluttony. They are “blood brothers to all life, [with] no quarrels with anyone” (Ibid, p.136). And, as Blake flees from the inevitable prejudices toward The Outsider, he bunks in a Brownie burrow inside a massive oak tree, complete with a friendly raccoon that snuggles him in his leaf bed.
This maudlin scene would seem silly even if it wasn't in such sharp contrast to Simak's depiction of the modern home. In this future, houses move around by using anti-gravity technology to set down in whatever trailer-like park they like. There are no neighborhoods and the only interaction is with on-board computers that whine, badger, insult and demand compliance through squeaky speaker grills throughout the house. They make living with 3PO seem like a vacation. As mankind foists off his menial workloads, the payment is his acquiesce to a nagging, mechanical busybody. Blake naively thinks at the beginning of his re-entry to society that “in time [he] could come to look upon his house as a loyal and loving friend” (Ibid, p.26).
Ultimately, Simak doesn't spread enough potting soil to sustain the thoughtful kernels that sprout throughout this novel. His unapologetic down-home charm of things as basically simple and best understood through love, peace, and harmony gets diluted as he waters them over and over and over again.
And, worst of all, it comes off appearing trite.