18 March 2012

They'd Rather Be Right

They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
1955 Hugo Award Winner
181 Pages

This is already the second Hugo winner which features espers and I wanted to give this sub-genre a new name and to call it Psience Fiction, but then I found out there is a Doctor Who novel called “Psi-ence Fiction”.  That’s different enough to create a separate wiki right?  Probably not, but anyone want to volunteer to author that one anyway?

Also called The Forever Machine, TRBR shows us a world in which a machine which has been programmed by the world’s most learned men with every scientific fact in our possession, and only those facts.  The result is a machine called Bossy which has the power to imbue eternal life…if we’ll only let her.  After hooking into the body of a patient, Matrix style, Bossy can help the willing to shed their preconceived, false understandings and prejudices which are the only things keeping us from life everlasting.

The Good
Psiman Joe Carter is methodical, even-paced, and straight-forward.  He’s like a psychic Jason Bourne (and likely as handsome as Damon).  Or could be.  But it never materializes, because this book is written so horribly at times (most times actually).  We never really get to know him.  His motivations we understand to be loneliness, but any further and more interesting details are pretty much lost.  In nearly every instance Clifton and Riley’s ability to gloss over a dense philosophy or the science behind Bossy and especially Mabel’s transformation, is really astounding.

As you can see, there is very little good and even the good is kind of bad.

The Bad
Poor poor poor writing.  The first thirty pages of this book could literally be ripped out of this book, given to my 2 year old to be lost forever (along with my keys and every other important document in the house) and NOTHING would be missing from the story.  Around the middle of the book, I thought it was on the cusp of reading like a pretty good thriller based on the possible tensions they had created but then they failed to run with that excitement and the tension just sort of slips away.  Most of the characters are more boring than cardboard cut-outs.  In every instance, Clifton and Riley scratch the surface, but never go deeper.  They tell without showing and we all know how unspeakable a crime it is to break this fundamental rule.

But I’m not ready to throw it out yet so let’s consider this from another angle.

The Ugly
Many reviewers have really trashed this book for its ties to scientology.  I don’t really know how influenced the authors were by dianetics but let’s get over the pseudoscience issues shall we?  Whether the science in any given SF work is accurate (if it is even present), is immaterial at best.  I’d like it to be plausible sure, but possible doesn’t really matter.  What matters is to what ends they are using the science as a means.  Does it help us slog through some murky social issue?  In this case, the means may be a particularly murky set of pseudo-scientific precepts but I find the ends to be somewhat pleasing.

Okay, to get there, you have to…kind of…be willing to accept, for a moment, the basic idea/ls of dianetics, BUT if you’re willing to indulge, just look at what the authors are saying in the title - They’d Rather Be Right.

This book is not about the main characters.  It’s also not optimistic.  I guess a few reviewers out there are bothered by the fact that the authors are willing to say dianetics would physically work (in my opinion the worst and most dangerous crime they commit is confusing the goals of philosophy - truth with science - validity), but what struck me was that they also said it would be useless.  People would rather be right than to accept inconvenient truths.  The human race is so despicable, hateful and inflexible that the possibility of disseminating the technology to the masses is harmless and won’t really change life on the planet for the most part.  In fact, those select few who are able to achieve immortality and psychic ability are so emotionally shocked and unprepared for how horrendously hateful and ugly society is that they need their own therapy.

When JJ Abrahms made Cloverfield, his goal was to create a Godzilla type American monster.  Not only did he fail miserably, but the very idea is somewhat repugnant to me.  On top of that, the handheld shakiness was sickening and also repugnant to quite a lot of other people (I didn’t mind).  Despite a bad idea and poor mechanics in the telling of it, Cloverfield radiated fear and oozed terror.

If Clifton and Riley set out to write a book that would endear the public to dianetics, they too failed miserably at an idea that is scientifically repugnant and topped that off with some pretty puerile writing.  Nevertheless I think they do a fantastic job of painting humanity in a pretty ugly/irrational light and you know, I don’t think they were that far off in that respect.

I think it’s funny that I’ve seen the same people denouncing TRBR for its dianetics will also look to The Demolished Man as an example of great SF literature while ignoring the fact that Bester’s conclusion was exactly the same.  Namely, that psychic ability is the next stage in human development which will help us overcome the greatest threat to humanity’s continued existence, prejudice.

This book should definitely be read.  I know, the literary value is null, but I think this book would be a GREAT conversation piece for a group reads or those of us who like a little trash in their diet every now and then.  Yes, many people will struggle with it, but I think there’s something there for those willing to dig into the bowels of the genre.   Believe it or not, and this won’t be reflected in the HEP SCORE, I actually had more trouble getting through F451 and The Mule than this one!


Universe 2/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 2/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
Characters 1/5

Overall 13/25 (The lowest HEP SCORE yet)

This week’s book is Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein.  YAY!  I’m excited.

Next week’s book is ...And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal) by Roger Zelazny.  The first book in our first DEATHMATCH.  Big news and many announcements to follow.


  1. Cool review. Wonderful, delightful conclusion, that part of it being for everybody who like a little "trash in their diet." It's one Hugo winner I still need to read, but so far I haven't been able to find a copy here in the Republic of South Africa. I had a good chuckle with that "lowest HEP score yet." From my perspective it's hard to imagine a Hugo winner in a worst shape than "The Big Time", but then I read Sawyer's "Hominids" :-). And I haven't yet read The Forever Machine either.

    1. Are you trying to tell me you didn't choose this book as your reward for winning February's review poll?! I'm shocked ;)

      I'm trying to remember all the things you didn't like about the Big Time and I think some if not all of your gripes would be the same in this case. We had different interpretations on that one but in this case, we probably wouldn't be in any disagreement. I'd say not to rush but it seems you'll be waiting a while anyway since it's hard to find anywhere other than amazon. This was the first book that I had to buy and hopefully the last.

      For me reading a book like this one is like watching a good Lucio Fulci zombie flick. The science might be a bit floppy and the characters might not exactly hold themselves up, but damn if the shlock isn't fantastic.

      Also, just to be sure, The Forever Machine and They'd Rather Be Right are one and the same.

    2. Thanks, I got that bit about the two titles being the same book. I'll probably be forced to order it from Amazon, or even ABE books, if I want to read/collect all the Hugo winners. If it is truly anything like a Lucio Fulci flick, then it may just have a lot more going for it than "The Big Time" (Zombie and The New York Ripper are just pure excellence! And I have a soft spot for They Died With Their Boots On.) Note that "The Big Time" in my estimation is by no means the weakest Hugo winner I've ever read - that honor goes to "Hominids" (Sawyer fans will crucify me!). I'm intrigued to hear your take on the 2003 winner once you enter that century.

      And sadly, "They'd rather be right" and/or "The Forever Machine" was not one of the pick choices as an award for that February gig ;-) It would have been a great opportunity to collect the one outstanding book from all the Hugo winners on my shelf. Oh, I have "The Wanderer" on kindle, though, so it makes two in total that I don't have physical copies off :-)

    3. Agreed, Zombie is probably one the the all time best Zombies movies. Gonna have to check out The NY Ripper though. Also that sounds like a pretty awesome collection of books!

  2. I actually felt bad for this book! He got totally snopped! His "good" section was so bad!

    1. Aww... it wasn't totes snopped. I kinda liked it.


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