Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Stone God Awakens

Book Review: 'The Stone God Awakens' by Philip Jose Farmer

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Stone God Awakens’ was issued in paperback by Ace Books in July, 1973, with a cover illustration by J. H. Breslow. 

Artist Bruce Pennington provided a particularly well-done illustration for the (UK) Panther Books 1976 edition:

During the New Wave era, Philp Jose Farmer produced two types of novels: straightforward sf adventures primarily written for commercial purposes; and artier pieces, designed to display his aptitude at crafting ‘speculative fiction’.

‘Stone God’ belongs to the former category.

The premise is not particularly original: it’s 1985, and at Syracuse University, Ulysses Singing Bear, a biophysicist with a part- Iroquois ethnic background, is experimenting with a novel ray capable of ceasing all molecular activity in its targets. 

Ulysses makes a fateful mistake and is struck by the ray. Instantly he is transformed into a man of ‘stone’, indestructible and unmoving. Time has no meaning for Singing Bear in his suspended animation.

Upon awakening, Singing Bear finds himself inside a crude temple, in the midst of a violent conflict between tribes of 'cat people', who revere him as ‘The Stone God’. Singing Bear discovers that the land around him is occupied by various other races of Manimals, all of whom operate at a stone-age level of technology. He suspects that millions of years have passed while he was in his frozen state.

Using his superior scientific knowledge, Singing Bear is able to organize the disparate tribes of Manimals into a single nation, loyal to his commands. He then embarks on a journey to discover the secrets behind Wurutana, the enormous tree, up to 13,000 feet high, with branches hundreds of yards in diameter, that covers most of the continent.

Regarded as a God by the races that live within its branches, Wurutana is gradually extinguishing what remains of civilization. Its relentless outward growth is pushing the towns and cities of all sentient races into a marginalized life at the coastland, where the salt water deters the tree from extending its roots.

Unless Ulysses Singing Bear can discover a way to defeat the tree, the Manimals of this far-future Earth will be consigned to life as nothing more than aphids, eking out an existence as parasites on the bark of a massive plant………… 

At 190 pp in length, ‘Stone God’ is a quick read, and a mildly interesting sf adventure. With its unadorned, declarative prose style, it was clearly an effort by Farmer to write something that paid the bills. That said, the novel’s climax, involving an extended battle scene, is well-written, and superior in many ways to much of the dedicated New Wave fiction Farmer produced in this era.

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