Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: 'The Unreal People' by Martin Siegel

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Unreal People’ (158 pp) was published by Lancer Books in 1973; the cover art is by Ron Walotsky.

Lancer was a major 'budget' publisher of paperback sf and fantasy titles in the late 60s and early 70s. Much of what they printed was mediocre. Some titles were downright awful, but once in a while there were also those rare titles that were above-average.

Unfortunately, ‘The Unreal People’ is in the ‘awful’ category. I gave up on it halfway through my reading.

The novel is set in the future, in the aftermath of World War Three. Humanity has since retreated from the devastated surface to live in a crowded underground city. The populace is kept compliant, and moderately free of depression, via a regimen of psychotropic drugs issued by the ruling cabal. 

The lower depths of the city are occupied by half-starved, mutant, homicidal scavengers, and a police force serves to keep them from penetrating to the more affluent sectors of the city.

The main character is a policeman named Conrad, second in command of the ‘Narko Skwad’. As the novel opens, the populace of the city is growing increasingly restive, a state partially induced by the rumors of people who have escaped the city, to live lives of fulfillment and ease on the now-reborn surface of the Earth. The rioters want permission to emigrate to the surface, something the ruling oligarchy is loath to allow.

Conrad and the Skwad brutally subdue the rioters, an action that deepens Conrad' s misgivings of the ruling oligarchy. He decides to flee to the surface. But his escape is complicated by the knowledge that friends of his, deemed subversives by the oligarchy, are going to be assassinated. Can Conrad rescue his friends, and escape with them to the surface, before the government realizes he has switched sides ?

The writing in ‘Unreal People’ is bad, even by the relaxed standards of New Wave sf of the early 70s. 

Author Siegel regularly uses a mangled, stream-of-consciousness effect to bring us deep into the psyche of selected characters. Here’s a sample passage of the wordy, empty prose that occupies much of the book:

You don’t, can’t, interfere in the jungle unless you want to live there, he told himself. And that’s flat. No more. He wished it didn’t feel it was an escape of his reality. And then – why the hell not escape ? That’s what the kid’s like, right ? He didn’t know. Satin wanted out and got out. Maybe the kid….not the point, a voice said. Hearing voices today. No point in getting into this. That’s the point. Unless you want to enter it, stay out of the jungle. And I’m leaving.

As a regular reader of New Wave sf, I have acquired a great tolerance for the prose styles employed by that Movement and its imitators, but I could only take so much of ‘The Unreal People’ before bailing out. This one is best avoided !

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