22 April 2012

The Wanderer

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
Published by Ballantine Books
1965 Hugo Award Winner
318 Pages

Sometime in the 1950’s, both the United State and Russia have Bases on the Moon and a small group of hopeful UFO enthusiasts hold a meeting.  In the middle of that meeting, a planet suddenly appears near the moon.  It just appears.  Someone decides to call it “The Wanderer” and that’s about all that anyone knows about it.  Which is to say, they know next to nothing.

That Old Suburban Horror
What I liked about this book was the transition from fear of The Wanderer to fear of their neighbors.  At first, no one is quite sure what The Wanderer will do or what it is capable of and their fears are overwhelming for just about everyone.

Wanda called back angrily: “Look, when I have a heart attack, it’s bad—and there’s no thinking about it!  But when my heart attack’s over, it’s over.”
Chapter Fifteen

Some people respond with very specific fears about The Wanderer, others reactions ran the gamut.  People get so absurdly paranoid that their actions make no sense and their fear bleeds into violence, exhaustion, scientific detachment and even lust.

I liked this aspect.  Stars and planets are so abstracted for most people that when one shows up on our door-step, they literally don’t know what to be afraid of.  That’s a cool idea…right?

Very quickly, everyone realizes that the most immediate danger comes not from The Wanderer, but from other PEOPLE.  As the new, enormous, tides roll in and supplies and safe places become more and more scarce, The Wanderer almost becomes commonplace and really just an avenue to introduce world-wide conflict between neighbors.

I always think of this fear of our neighbors as a suburban horror; we’ve shut ourselves off from even those closest to us and when we are forced to interact with them, it is basically the scariest thing that can happen.  Just before I began this book, I had this experience with a drunken neighbor so maybe I was primed to focus on this, but in a book where not much else was done very well, I thought this anxiety about other humans when we’ve just learned that aliens exist, was done pretty well.

Whether this is specifically a suburban horror or not, it was cool to see this topic taken up in something other than a zombie story where I think the fear of the other has generally been done best, and after reading the wanderer probably still does.

Be Careful What You Wish For
What I didn’t like about this book was it’s structure.  Another comparison with zombies here—It read a lot like World War ZThere was something like 4 different groups around the world and the story skips from group to group throughout each chapter.  I guess it wasn’t so much the structure, but the execution.  Whereas the same style was done in longer segments in WWZ, it was easier to identify with each person or group and Brooks actually gave us enough time to build up some investment in his characters.  In The Wanderer though, Leiber’s pace comes off frantic and his characters are so devoid of personality that it’s hard to care what’s happening from one segment to the next, let alone remember who they were and what was going on.

Of any of the stories, I was most interested in Tigerishka and the other aliens.  While I was silently begging for more detail, when I finally got it, I wished it would go away.  Heinleinesque gigantic bodies of text meant to be dialogue.  I guess it was one of those things that are only good because they leave so much to the imagination... oh well.

Honestly, for someone looking to read a Leiber SF title, I’d probably direct them to The Big Time.  If however, they love cats and might appreciate that the idea that they are higher, more intelligent beings than we are, they might be interested in this one—what with the cat-like aliens and all…  While I enjoyed the subject matter, reading this one was a lot like trudging through waist deep mud after an alien planet induced super-high-tide.

Universe 3/5
Social/Political Climate 4/5
Dialogue 2/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
Characters 2/5

Overall 14/25

The Roll of the Die
This week’s book is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.  PKD is so well known and has written so many great books, but somehow, I’ve only read one novel and one novella.  On top of that, PKD from what I know of his other books, it seems like he knows how to speak to me.

Next week’s book is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.  This should be the last RAH title and to be honest, I’ve read something like 6 or 7  of Heinlein’s books in the past year, so I really could use a break.

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