Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: 'Pig World' by Charles W. Runyon

4 / 5 Stars

Charles W. Runyon wrote a sizeable number of short stories and novels in the mystery, private eye, and sf genres during the 60s and 70s.

[Biographical information on Runyon via a Google search is surprisingly scant; he was born in 1928, and although the ISFDB indicates a death date of May 1987, Runyon is apparently still alive, although no longer writing.]

‘Pig World’ (190 pp.) was first released in 1971 as a hardcover volume in the SF Book Club; this Lancer paperback was issued in March 1973, with a cover illustration by Ron Walotsky.

The novel is set in the ‘near future’, i.e., around the year 2000. In the opening chapter we are introduced to protagonist Marvin Ross, an inmate in a particularly brutal maximum security prison in the Southwest. It transpires that the US is in a state of utter anarchy; the central government has collapsed, the country is divided into lawless territories infested with bandits and thugs; large tracts of land are too radioactive, or laden with nerve gas, to be habitable; and foreign armies contest for ownership of the Pacific and Canadian borders.

The novel then segues into an extended flashback, and we learn how Marvin Ross went from being a up-and-coming young businessman to a Weatherman –style revolutionary devoted to the violent overthrow of the ruling powers. However, circumstances intervened to deny Ross his opportunity, and now, as a condemned prisoner, he awaits the firing squad.

I won’t disclose any spoilers, but it’s safe to say that Marvin Ross will escape his prison and embark on a dangerous quest to regain control of the revolution from the despot who rules what remains of the USA. But time is running out; if Ross can’t enlist the aid of the Oppressed Proletariat, then the ‘Pig World’ of the book’s title will become a reality……

‘Pig World’ is a strange and interesting sci-fi take on the youth movement, and its revolutionary politics, of the early 70s (think of John and Yoko posing for a photograph while wearing army fatigues and berets). 

Runyon asks ‘what if ?’ the movements of the Weathermen and the SDS somehow gained sufficient traction to have led to an overthrow of the government, and then mixes in a full load of sf tropes.

The first half of the novel moves rather slowly, but the second half – dealing with Ross’s travels and travails in the southwest US – reads like ‘Damnation Alley’, or the 'Radioactive Rambo' genre of survivalist fiction. It is also rather graphic in terms of depicting violence - readers will want to prepare for some Splatterpunk leanings.

Runyon’s female characters are stock ‘Swingin’ 70s’ young nubiles, perpetually aroused, and ever-ready to ‘give it up’ for the ideals of the revolution. His descriptions of pubescent girls, in particular, while not that unusual for the 70s fiction, will seem creepy and unsettling to modern readers.

In summary, ‘Pig World’ is a fast-moving, sometimes quite engaging, example of early 70s pulp sf, one that incorporates themes and political stances echoed only hollowly by today’s ‘Occupy’ movement. 

The well-written action scenes, and the novel's clipped, declarative prose style (which in some ways prefigures the style of Cyberpunk authors like Gibson and Sterling)  make up for the rather contrived final chapter. 

This one is worth searching out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now I understand why I bought this...

I read your review three years ago and picked up a copy but then forgot why.

Reading it now.