Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: 'The End Bringers' by Douglas R. Mason

3/5 Stars

‘The End Bringers’ (Ballantine SF, 1973), by Douglas R. Mason, features a striking orange-red cover illustration of a city’s destruction by well-known artist Chris Foss.

Not too far in the future, in the aftermath of some undescribed cataclysm, the remnants of mankind live in high-tech cities maintained by robots. Most of the robots are fashioned to have a quasi-human appearance, and, referred to as ‘androids’, they handle every function of the city’s operation. The human population is left to indulge in every pleasure they may desire. ‘Mood-control disks’ attached to each person’s wrist display their emotional state; if things get too upsetting, androids monitoring the disk intervene to reduce tension and send their human client back on their hedonistic way.

Mike Finnigan is a malcontent among this society of lotus-eaters residing in the city of Wirral in what used to be Europe. Rather than taking part in orgies, drug parties, or simple leisure activities like sailing or swimming, Finnigan likes to ask questions about how the city came to be and what, exactly, the robots gain from the unusual socio-economic arrangement.

One day a large segment of the city’s population is summoned to be carted off for ‘medical treatment’ related to an outbreak of disease. Mike Finnigan is one of the selected ones, but instead of going along with the group, he covertly leaves the roundup and observes from a distance as the monorail-load of people travels to the vast agricultural districts outside the boundaries of the city. There he discovers that the androids’ rule is not entirely benevolent.

Finnigan quickly finds himself in a race against time to free the humans of Wirral from their gilded prison and establish a resistance movement. Things are complicated by the fact that the robot overseers of Wirral are contemplating a war with the AI ruling Africa, and they are not in the mood to tolerate any dissent among their human charges….

‘The End Bringers’ is a competent, action-oriented SF novel. It’s short ( 208 pp) and to the point and reflects the stance of the publishing industry back in the day, namely: shorter-length books were readily accommodated.

Mason wrote a large number of SF novels and short stories through the 60s and 70s, some under the pseudonym of John Rankine. I can’t say his writing is stylistically impressive; ‘Bringers’ has too many passages where Mason employs a breezy, future-sounding argot that instead comes across as stilted and contrived:

“That Alex has a point. You’d be a hard case to share a pillow with. Questions, questions. It’s just a feeling. A sense of obligation. The again bite of inwit.”

***

Wanda said, “I hope to God these zombies aren’t just playing dumb and waiting for us to get well in before they do their thing.”

***

Finnigan said, “Where would the entrances be ? In squares like this, for a monkey.”


In its favor, the narrative never loses momentum; the scope and scale of the war between the androids and the humans can only escalate, and along-the-way expositions of a deep emotional or philosophical nature are kept brief and to the point. Anyone looking for a fast-paced, pulpish SF adventure may want to give ‘The End Bringers’ a try.

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