Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Manalone

Book Review: 'Manalone' by Colin Kapp


5 / 5 Stars

‘Manalone’ (197 pp) was published in the UK by Panther Books in September 1977. The cover artist is uncredited, but probably is Chris Foss.

The title of the book, which also serves as the name of the major character, has the allegorical quality of a New Wave era sf novel…..but in every respect, ‘Manalone’ is a ‘hard’ sf novel, devoid of contrivance.

‘Manalone’ is set in a near future UK. Overpopulation means that much of the landscape is occupied by enormous apartment buildings, and the countryside has been converted into the giant tracts of farmland necessary to feed the masses. A large percentage of the population is unemployed and dependent on government largesse. Young people – nicknamed ‘Breves’ – view society with contempt, and focus on pursuing hedonistic lifestyles marked by a propensity for violence. Society, it seems, is continuously on the brink of collapse………..

Manalone (as he is referred to throughout the book) is a computing genius, and enjoys a comfortable life as the chief systems engineer at the Automated Mills Consolidated corporation. Although the term ‘hacker’ didn’t exist in 1977 when the novel was published, Manalone is indeed a hacker: he is uncomfortable in social situations, a loner, someone whose idiosyncrasies set him apart from the masses. But more than this, Manalone is constantly asking questions of the society in which he lives, aware that something, somewhere, is Wrong…but unsure as to why the government has concealed the information that would lead him to derive the nature of the crisis.

As the novel opens, Manalone has been contacted by his friend, the investigative reporter Paul Raper, who urges him to attend the clandestine showing of a film made in the 1970s. Malone does so, and makes a startling discovery: the activities in the film – which is a television cop drama – appear to contradict the laws of momentum and gravity. Astounded, Manalone concludes that either the physics depicted in the film are part of an elaborate show of special effects, or the laws of physics have been changed with the advent of modern society.

Troubled by the implications of the film, Manalone decides to follow up on more discoveries that Paul Rape has made....discoveries that reveal a host of problems afflicting society, problems that the government has taken pains to avoid discussing openly.

Manalone soon discovers that his and Paul Raper 's inquiries will bring them into conflict with the government – and the government is quite at ease with using violence to eliminate people who are asking the wrong kinds of questions.

Despite the increasing threat to his life, Manalone pursues his analysis of the society around him. But as he draws closer to uncovering the underlying reality of life in this future UK, he makes another, even more disturbing, conclusion: the government believes that its actions, however cruel, are justifiable......... if Mankind is to avoid self-destruction………

‘Manalone’ is part of the subgenre of sf in which a persevering, intelligent individual refuses to accept the status quo and embarks on an often hazardous journey to discover the truth behind the façade of ‘normal’ society. Many such novels, when they arrive at the long-sought Ultimate Revelation, are a disappointment, as the Revelation usually relies on a contrived, unconvincing plot device: it was 'All a Dream', or a 'Planted False Memory', or maybe 'An Illusion Created by Malevolent Aliens', etc., etc.

I won’t disclose any spoilers, save to say that I found that the Ultimate Revelation in ‘Manalone’ to be un-contrived, clever, and fully supported by the narrative.

Summing up, ‘Manalone’ is one of the better sf novels of the 70s, one well worth picking up.

2 comments:

sciencefictionruminations said...

The artist is one of many Foss clones.... Angus McKie

It is credited on isfdb.org.

thingmaker said...

Thanks... I need to search my collections and then, probably, hit Amazon for some more Colin Kapp..