Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: Dr Adder

Book Review: 'Dr. Adder' by K. W. Jeter

3 / 5 Stars

I would like to add my vote in favor of showing female amputees in your magazine. One-armed and, especially, one-legged females offer a unique excitement and a pictorial featuring attractive girl amputees would certainly be welcomed by a large number of readers.

Letter, Penthouse magazine, November 1972

Not too many sf novels have an opening epigraph that consists of a letter published in the November, 1972 issue of Penthouse……. it’s a clear sign that Dr Adder is no ordinary novel.

According to the Afterward by Philip K. Dick, the novel was completed in 1972, but K. W. Jeter couldn’t find a publisher, a reluctance probably caused by Dr Adder’s explicit sex and violence. The book finally saw print in hardback in 1984 (completing one of the longest gestations in modern sf publishing history) and received immediate critical acclaim. 

Jeter eventually published two quasi-sequels, The Glass Hammer (1985) and Death Arms (1987).

This mass-market paperback version (238 pp) of Dr Adder was released by Signet in February 1988, and features a striking cover illustration by Barclay Shaw.

Dr Adder is set in a near-future Los Angeles, in a USA fragmented by warfare and social unrest into corporate fiefdoms. Most of LA is a seedy wasteland known as Rattown, a red-light district where hookers, pimps, drug dealers, junkies, psychopaths, anarchists, and fanatics all converge in search of profit and mayhem.

Dr Adder is both the unofficial mayor of Rattown, and its star citizen. In his gated compound, Adder performs surgeries on hookers, surgeries designed to ‘customize’ the girls for particular classes of clientele – not just the johns who desire amputees, but the johns willing to pay top dollar to satiate their unusually perverted fetishes.

Into Rattown comes E. Allen Limmit, an alienated, self-centered young man who has been tasked with delivering a briefcase to Dr Adder. Although replused by the violent, aimless nature of life in the city, Limmit agrees to serve as Adder’s assistant, and gains access to the nuances of the street culture that provides Adder with his patients.

But as Limmit is to discover, Rattown is living on borrowed time. For in neighboring Orange County, the Greater Production Corporation holds sway, and its CEO, a televangelist named John Mox, bears considerable ill-will towards Adder. 

John Mox has plans to wipe out Adder and Rattown, using an army of gun-toting religious converts. With Rattown ill-prepared to fend off such an assault, it will fall on Adder's shoulders to organize resistance, and Adder has in his possession a unique weapon of great power. But unknown to Adder, John Mox has learned that in Rattown, everything is for sale, including loyalty....and a betrayal is set in motion........

Is Dr Adder a Masterpiece, as Philip K. Dick states in his Afterward ? 

It's not. 

It benefited from being ahead of its time in terms of its edgy, explicit 1972, most sf was devoted to the New Wave movement, and intent on imparting at least some degree of a humanistic message to even its worst dystopias. But Jeter's depiction of violence and depravity in Rattown refuses to offer any sort of sop to humanism; all of the characters in Dr Adder are amoral and devoid of any redeeming graces. In that sense, it was offbeat and imaginative for 1972.

But Dr Adder suffers to some extent from being a First Novel. 

The first half of the book is the best, featuring some striking passages that drive home Jeter's uniquely sleazy and depressing vision of a near-future LA.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book tends to meander; its satirical treatment of the relationship between LA and Orange County was lost on me, probably because I'm not at all familiar with either LA or Southern California. There also are too many expositions on the main characters' emotional and psychological travails; these quickly become tedious.

Summing up, Dr Adder rightfully can be considered a first-generation Cyberpunk novel, for its bleak, street-level settings; its use of cyberspace; and its transgressive attitudes towards the humanism that tended to dominate sf writing of the 70s and early 80s.

If you're a Cyberpunk fan, then the book belongs on your shelf. Those who are less devoted to the genre may consider Dr Adder to be optional rather than a must-have.


Bob R Milne said...

I have that exact same edition sitting on my shelf. I read it years ago, but honestly don't remember much about it. I've kept it around hoping I find time to revisit it.

665+1 said...

I loved this book! Being a native of Orange County, the references weren't lost on me, and were in fact a highlight, but more than anything, I dug how Jeter managed to find a spot right between Ballard ickiness and Phildickian mind-bending, not to mention proto-cyberpunk vibes without succumbing to out-and-out pretension. I've had zero luck getting into Glass Hammer, however. Formally weird, that one.