BOOK REVIEW – SPIDER ROBINSON – TELEMPATH 1978 Baen Books.
Isham Stone is a vengeful assassin, sent by his father to kill Wendell Carlson, a man who is believed to have wiped out most of humanity. Carlson was an anarchist and a scientist, who after watching a film version of Alastair Maclain’s The Satan Bug, created a virus that increased the human sense of smell a thousand-fold. The result was that most people were driven instantly insane by the over-powering stench and committed suicide. Others were killed by a newly discovered but actually ancient gaseous species called Muskies, a gaseous entity that has been invisibly feeding off human pollution, and only regarded as ghosts and poltergeists if ever discovered before. With the bulk of humanity wiped out by the nasal virus, the Muskies have declared war on the rest of us, but Carlson, and soon, Stone can smell the Muskies, and they know that heat can destroy them.
Stone fails in his initial assassination attempt, but he finds Carlson strangely willing to help him. Carlson amputates his gangrenous arm and saves his life. Soon afterwards, Stone attempts to kill his own father using chlorine and bleaching agent in a toilet flusher. He believes he has been successful for much of the book.
Stone is soon captured by a group of radical scientists who are trying to rebuild technological civilization, despite attacks by a Luddite like Guerrilla band (such as claimed stone’s arm). They are on the brink of executing Stone as a traitor when he reveals Carlson’s plan. Carlson has learned to communicate with the Muskies, using telepathy to contact their leaders who drift with high altitude winds. Carlson and Stone, the most telempathic man he has met (hence why he spared his life), plan to make a bargain with the Muskies to let them survive by feeding off deliberately generated pollution piles, and thus end the war that will destroy both species otherwise. The remainder of the book is stone putting this policy into practice, and then finding that even his forgiving father, the real destroyer of civilization, forgive him.
After an exciting opening section Telempath gets quite dull, and rather preachy in its syrupy moralising. This is a novella padded into the length of a novel, a far cry from the quality of Robinson’s later Callahan Books.
Isham is not doing very well as the story starts. He has been wounded and his arm is infected with gangrene. He wanders through the corpse-strewn streets of New York, briefly befriending an ageing Leopard that has escaped from a zoo. The Leopard does not reappear.
The front cover is a classic of bad misrepresentation in literature. It shows an aging white man sitting eating a sandwich with the leopard. In the Book, stone, the only man to meet the Leopard, is young, black and in danger of losing an arm.
Another Robinson review - SPIDER ROBINSON – CALLAHAN’S SECRET
Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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