Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Book Review: The Castle Keeps

Book Review: 'The Castle Keeps' by Andrew J. Offutt
2 / 5 Stars

'The Castle Keeps' (191 pp.) was published by Berkeley Books in July, 1972. It features cover art by Richard Powers. It's one of the first non-porn, non-pseudonymous novels Offutt published.

'Castle' is set in the late 20th or early 21st century, in a dystopian U.S. marked by economic and ecological collapse. The rest of the world isn't doing much better, save for the clever and resourceful Israelis (for some reason, some of the sci-fi novels of the early 70s liked to posit that when everything went to hell, the Israelis would come out fine, as they do in the 1974 novel 'The Texas-Israeli War').

Violent crime is pervasive and afflicts both city-dwellers and rural folk. As the novel opens we are introduced to the main character, Kentuckian Jeff Andrews. Andrews is the head of a household of eight, and he has turned their communal homestead into a fortress. This is due to the ongoing depredations of raiders ('rippers') who seek to rob, rape, and murder any hapless family (the authorities, overwhelmed by chaos in the urban areas, have left the rural population to their own devices).

Andrews is a stand-in for Andrew Offutt himself (we are told that Andrews is a science fiction writer, and there is a sly allusion to his also earning income from penning 'sexbooks').

'Castle' is episodic in nature and chronicles various trials and tribulations both of the Andrews clan, and a family of city-dwellers, the Caudills, as they cope with the scourges of pollution, overpopulation, food shortages, social disorder, and the constant threat of Clockwork Orange-style 'ultraviolence.'

Most of 'Castle' is taken up with discourses in which Andrews / Offutt promotes libertarian ideologies, and decries the failure of 1970s America to adopt these ideologies, leading to the collapse of the country. The reader is made to understand - in at-times a laborious fashion - that Andrews, being a visionary and someone devoted to self-sufficiency, is adept at surviving (and thriving) in a world where many people are too passive to act in their own best interests.

In between his discourses, Offutt supplies some well-composed action sequences, in which the Andrews household indulges in shootouts with various degenerates. The novel's closing chapters see Andrews's son Scott journey to the city, where his homespun confidence, and facility with firearms, contrasts with the feeble skills of the young people with whom he falls in. There are some mildly salacious segments in which a naive Scott learns about how fresh city girls can be (and presumably gives Offutt the chance to winkingly insert some softcore porn prose, as only he can do). 

The novel ends with another exciting action sequence, and some messaging about how rural Kentucky folk can hold their own and best represent the nation's hopes for the future.

I finished 'The Castle Keeps' content with a Two-Star Score. Had Offutt provided a more focused narrative, devoid of pontification, the novel could have been an engaging look at a near-future, nightmarish America. But as it stands, I only can recommend the book to those readers who like their sci-fi accompanied by political philosophising....................

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