Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

The Humanoids

HumanoidsThe Humanoids by Jack Williamson


Every so often, I run across a book that has an intriguing idea, but is rather dull and dry for reading.  Vinge’s Rainbows End and Flynn’s Eifelheim are two recent examples, and now Williamson’s The Humanoids can go on that list.  I discovered the book through a Webcomic, of all things, but the description of the novel captured my imagination: In a distant future, the Humanoids, a race of robots with a prime directive to protect humans at all costs, effectively invades different planets and takes over.  The Humanoids are so painstakingly dedicated to their directive that humans cannot cook (the heat is too dangerous), perform crafts (scissors can be dangerous), or even drive (cars are too dangerous).  Once they begin their assimilation into society, the humans begin to feel imprisoned, and any signs of unhappiness on their part is met with a form of lobotomy so that humans no longer feel unhappy.  It’s a frightening concept, and it made me uneasy during much of the novel.

The novel is actually a collection of a short story, “With Folded Hands,” that introduces the Humanoids, and the novel proper, which continues with the concept of their invasion.  They were both published in the late 1940s, and aside from the usual sexist portrayals of women and men, it’s still a timely book.  The writing style became obtuse in portions, as the author spent a great deal of the narrative discussing the science behind the rhodomagnetic science, but the story itself captured me.  The story accounts several attempts by humans to stop the Humanoids, only to show them fail each time.  I felt anxious for the characters to end the tyranny of the overprotective androids, and frustrated when they met with failure each time.  The Humanoids were just too efficient to defeat.

Which brings me to the point of the novel that troubles me.  It’s depressing, to me, to think of a rule such as this, and the novel doesn’t bring any clear resolution to the issue that makes me feel any better about it.  There is a happy ending, of sorts, but it’s more a case of mutual existence between the Humanoids and the humans, and I almost felt betrayed by that conclusion.  The story is told in such a way as to make the reader feel as outraged as the protagonists, but in the end, I felt cheated by the ending.  Was I supposed to?  Or was I supposed to be accepting of the final outcome between the humans and their captors?

I enjoyed the novel, because it contained some interesting social commentary, and elicited some genuine emotion from me.  It was slow going, but ultimately satisfying.  I would recommend it to anyone wanting to catch up on some of the more obscure classic science fiction, and would suggest that they email me about it when they finish it so I can see if I’m the only one who feels like I do about the conclusion.


April 23, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Lost Echoes

EchoesLost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale


I discovered Joe Lansdale when I was looking for new horror writers.  As a horror writer, Lansdale is OK; his stuff crosses more into the bizarre and weird, a la John Shirley or Rob Hardin, and I prefer something with a little more of the ordinary with a touch of menace, like Bentley Little.  As a mystery writer, though, Lansdale shines.  When he’s capturing the period of the early twentieth Century in East Texas (Sunset and Sawdust), he really finds his voice, and when he reinvents the buddy-mystery with Hap and Leonard, he turns cliches on their heads and gives you something unexpected.

Lost Echoes, though, isn’t a Hap and Leonard novel, nor is it one of his period mysteries.  This is a mystery/horror novel set in modern times, with some standard characters that you would find in other novels on the best-sellers list.  The main character has the ability to detect the violent past through sounds, and he’s recruited by a childhood friend to discover the truth behind her father’s murder.  He’s also a recovering alcoholic, taking some lessons in Zen and martial arts from another recovering alcoholic.  It’s all a little strange, and not a little bit mundane, for Lansdale.

The story moved along well enough, and kept me interested throughout the novel.  The characters were likable enough,  and the antagonists were appropriately nasty.  It just didn’t have anything special, like I’ve seen in previous Lansdale novels.  Where was the sharp, witty dialogue?  Where were the unique, oddball characters?  Where was the East Texas landscape that is as much a character to the story as the people solving the mystery?  For a novel in general, it’s only mediocre, and for a Lansdale novel, it’s a tremendous disappointment.

I was watching one of those movie review shows yesterday, and one of the commentators mentioned that it’s unfair to judge an artist based off of his previous works, and that we should only judge the work on its own merits.  If that were the case with Lost Echoes, though, I’d likely tell everyone I know to not read this book, or anything else by the author.  As it is, Lansdale is a gifted storyteller with a unique voice; unfortunately, this isn’t the book to showcase his talents.  Look to A Fine Dark Line or Sunset and Sawdust for a better understanding of Joe Lansdale’s abilities.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment