Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: The Green Brain

Book Review: 'The Green Brain' by Frank Herbert

1 / 5 Stars

‘The Green Brain’ first was published as a novelette titled ‘Greenslaves’ in Amazing Stories in 1965; this Ace paperback (160 pp) prints an expanded version of the novelette, and was issued in 1966; the cover artist is unknown.

The novel is set in the ‘near future’. The overpopulation of the planet has meant that ever-larger tracts of land – including much of the Amazon tropical forest – are being plowed under and subject to cultivation. In order to maximize yields, the International Ecological Organization (IEO) has deployed new formulations of insecticides, which are used to carpet-bomb the terrain. Once areas are cleared, high-tech ‘vibration barriers’ are deployed to prevent reinfestation.

Needless to say, these sorts of mass applications are playing havoc with the ecology, and in some areas of Brazil, and the state of Mata Grosso, in particular, resistance to insecticides and herbicides is showing up, and fields once free of insects are being reinfested. Eco-activists, termed ‘Carsonites’, are decrying the despoiling of the ecology by mechanized, intensive agriculture, and warn that the Earth is in danger.

As the novel opens, a team of scientists from the IEO has been deployed to Bahia, Brazil to investigate the reinfestation phenomenon, and the rumors of strange varieties of insects emerging in the interior. 

At a swank nightclub, Rhin Kelly and Travis Huntington Chen-Lhu of the IEO team make the acquaintance of Joao Martinho, a native Brazilian and chief of the Irmendades, the state / corporate entity responsible for eradicating insect life from the cultivated zones of the Mata Grosso. No sooner have the parties embarked on conversation, that one of the rumored mutant insects appears in the street outside the nightclub, terrorizing the citizens and requiring dramatic action from Martinho.

Their curiosity – and suspicion- aroused, the IEO duo travel into the depths of the Mata Grosso, to where the reinfestation is reportedly under way. When he gets word that the IEO team has encountered trouble of some sort, Martinho quickly flies out to investigate.

Martinho, Kelly, and Chen-Lu soon discover some disturbing aspects to the reinfestation, and the lethal insects that are associated with it. For it appears that some sort of hive-mind – a ‘Green Brain’ - is governing the actions of the insects. Does it seek revenge on the humans who are intent on the eradication of the insects ? Or does the Green Brian has a larger goal in mind… the human race cannot ignore ?

‘The Green Brain’ is one of the worst sf novel’s I’ve ever attempted to read; I got as far as page 100 before giving up.

The subject matter seems inherently dramatic – you can’t go wrong with mutant bugs spitting concentrated formic acid - and the eco-awarenes themes of the novel were, and are, very topical. So how and where does ‘The Green Brian’ go so wrong ?

Well, for one thing, Herbert seems to have made a conscious effort to make this a ‘literary’ novel, and he was simply not a skilled enough writer to accomplish this ambition. ‘Green’ is filled with tedious conversations and stilted interior monologues, all presuming to provide the reader with profound insights into the personalities and attitudes of the main characters. Instead, these conversations and monologues team up with labored expository passages to weigh down the narrative. Too much text is wasted on empty prose.

‘The Green Brain’ is a dud, one of an unfortunately large number of duds that Herbert cranked out over his career. Unless you are intent on reading everything Herbert authored, you can pass on this one.

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