Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: 'Omnivore' by Piers Anthony

1 / 5 Stars

Since he published his first short story in 1963, and his first novel (‘Cthon’) in 1967,
Piers Anthony (the pen name of English sf author Piers Anthony Jacob) has published nearly 150 books.

Obviously, some of this massive output is going to be mediocre, even awful, while some will be highly readable and engaging.

Unfortunately, ‘Omnivore’ falls into the ‘mediocre’ category.

Omnivore was first published in 1968; this Avon paperback (221 pp) was released in October, 1978, with a fine cover illustration by Ron Walotsky.

Succeeding volumes in the ‘Of Man and Manta’ trilogy include ‘Orn’ (1970), and ‘Ox’ (1976).

The plot of Omnivore is simple and straightforward: a federal agent named Subble, possessed of superhuman physical and mental attributes, is dispatched to interview / investigate three people who have recently returned from exploring the planet Nacre. 

These three individuals are Veg, a burly, extroverted vegetarian; Cal, a sickly scientific genius who can barely walk unassisted in normal-grav worlds; and Aquilon, a stunning blonde whose beauty masks an inner psychological turmoil.

With each interview, Subble learns more about what the trio experienced on the world of Nacre, where it seems that all of the larger, sentient animals – herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore – are descended from fungi.

It turns out that the trio have smuggled juvenile Nacrean carnivores – creatures referred to as ‘mantas’ – back to Earth. Having underestimated the intelligence and physical fortitude of the mantas, the trio have unwittingly exposed their home planet to an alien life form that could change the destiny of all life on Earth….and it’s up to Subble to figure out how to avert disaster……

By the standards of late 60s sf, Omnivore is no worse, and no better, in terms of plotting than other works of the time. But the prose is poorly executed.

The author is intent on making his novel ‘deep’ and loaded with profound insights into the nature of life, evolution, and destiny – in short, Anthony intended that Omnivore, while superficially an sf novel (a genre often assumed in the late 60s to be juvenile and amateurish in nature), transcends the boundaries of simple genre fiction, to stand as a work of literature.

The truth is, Anthony couldn’t pull it off; at the time he wrote Omnivore, his skills as a writer weren’t sufficiently developed to produce the novel he intended

As a result, the reader must prepare for lengthy conversations taking place among the protagonists, conversations filled with empty phrases and stilted dialogue. 

He or she also must prepare for sections of text in which the narrative gets placed on hold, while the author expounds on such topics as the role of fungi in Earth’s ecology; nemativorous fungi (?!); fungi and hallucinogens (there is a bizarre LSD ‘trip’ sequence in the novel); and industrial food animal production (?!).

As I waded through ‘Omnivore’ trying to digest these pedantic episodes, the overall momentum of the narrative gradually wilted away, until by the time the denouement shuffled into view, I simply wanted to end it all..... and get my review written up.

Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to tackling ‘Orn’ and ‘Ox’.

But, mindful that Anthony could produce some worthy sf –and here the ‘Battle Circle’ trilogy comes readily to mind – maybe I’ll forge ahead.


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