Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 11, 2016


Anti-Man by Dean R. Koontz (1970)

The near future is an overpopulated Malthusian nightmare and while human life is valued, it is not valued much.  Decisions were made to let people die and not to try to prolong life.  Cryogenics laboratories were made illegal.  Doctors could still ease suffering but they also did not try very hard to save lives, letting the old just die because there were so many younger ones to take their places.  And so certainly did not try to bring the dead back to life.

For reasons that do not make sense to me, the World Authority created an android capable of (among other things) manipulating his hands for form microscopic appendages that could harmlessly reach into a human body and remove cancers, blood clots, and toxins.  The android was much more than they expected.  He was changing...evolving, and he had a conscience.

So when the android used his skills to revive a a dead man, the World Authority Secret Police determined that he must be destroyed.  Dr. Jacob Kennelmen has worked with the android and bitterly opposed his destruction.  Kennelmen kidnaps the android and the two flee.

What do you name the first of its type?  Any name seems trite so Kennelmen just calls him He (or Him, depending on the grammatical usage).  This gives us the picture of the android as Divinity and, as we soon learn, Her feels that if he is allowed to evolve, He can save mankind.  (How is not really stated, but He would be able to teach men how to control their cells as He can.)

As the two criss-cross the country, evading capture but not really harming anyone (both He and Kennelmen have moral objections to killing), they find themselves in a large Alaskan park in the cold of winter.  He is changing and he needs the energy that raw flesh can give him to effect that change, so He kills some rabbits barehanded and (again barehanded) skins them and eats them, leaving only fur and bones.  Evidently the aversion to killing did not apply to animals.  A bit later when they are attacked by a band of starving wolves, He does the same with one of the pack.

As He continues to rapidly evolve, Kennelmen realizes that He is a being far beyond man and becoming more so.  He evidently does not need Kennelmen to survive.  As He becomes more evolved (more Godlike, if you will), how will He look on Kennelmen and the rest of humanity.  Will they be viewed as just more fresh, raw meat?

Anti-Man is a very early book by Koontz, his seventh published novel (his first was published only two years before) -- long before he discovered the secret to best-sellerdom.  Two obvious things -- aside from the writing style -- clue you in that it's an early book:  the use of his middle initial and the lack of a dog.  And, as with much of his work, there's a Catholic (as well a a pulp) sensibility here.  It's a good, enjoyable book, but nothing great.

The book is an expansion of his short story  'The Mysteries of His Flesh" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, (July 1970). (The book is dedicated to then-F&SF editor Ed Ferman.)  Neither the book nor the short story have (to my knowledge) been reprinted in English.  A quick check of AbeBooks show 24 copies available, priced from $9.70 to $65.00, not including shipping.

A couple of words about the cover.  It's ugly.  Perhaps uglier than any other book ever published by Paperback Library, a publisher which had some pretty sad and ugly covers in its day.  The cover also tells us that this is "THE SCIENCE FICTION STUNNER OF THE SEVENTIES!"  It's not.  It's a quick enjoyable read if you are willing to overlook the logic behind the plot.  Also the front and back cover blurbs call the android "Sam," which shows us that the blurb writer merely scanned the first few pages and missed this sentence on the second page, "Somehow, naming a mileston Sam did not seem right to any of us."  As well as these, at the end of the paragraph, "And our android, flawless as a hydroponics apple, was the archetype, so it seemed, of Man.  He:  a fitting title."

Feel free to ignore the last paragraph.  I've been a tad cranky since the election.