Letter, Penthouse magazine, November 1972
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.
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.
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.