Apparently, if you've read R.A. Lafferty before, this is a pretty characteristic work. Not having done so, I must admit it is one of the more mind-bending, yet intelligent and enjoyable works I have read in my life. Really it belongs in a category of its own: dystopian science fiction featuring St. Thomas More. Yes, really. Thomas More is the main character in a mass-market sci-fi novel. And the best part is, it absolutely works. Lafferty manages to write a work that is real science fiction, complete with time travel, artificial intelligence, aliens, and spaceships, while at the same time delivering some really interesting meditations on the purpose of life, and telling a hugely engaging story all the while.
The general idea is something like this: Something is wrong in a utopian world, something so wrong that the controllers of that world fear that it may be on the brink of collapse if serious action isn't taken. So the controllers send for Thomas More, who coined the term "utopia," in the hopes that he can do something about it. However, they aren't about to give over their own power and control to him, preferring to try and use him to continue to pursue their own agenda. But Thomas More has ideas of his own. Or does he? Just what does he believe? And what is he trying to do? To add to the fun, along the way, he will meet up with a man with no last name, Lilith (whose eyes never seem to be the same color for long), Adam (who is very good at dying), semi-angelic seals, an empire ruled over by a college fraternity, giant beasts with sulfurous brains, a priest, malevolent robots of all kinds, and men who may or may not be men, some of whom aren't quite sure what they are. No, it isn't crystal clear, but it all makes a lot more sense in the end than you would dream possible. Lafferty seems to have mastered the art of taking a huge number of preposterous and disparate elements and drawing them all together into one tightly knit story with a definite theme. Nothing is superfluous, no matter how absurd it seems at first.
I am sure not everyone will like this book, especially if they leave off after the first pages, when the story is still developing. But it doesn't take much patience before the story really grabs a hold of the reader. I read it in four days, and that is only because I forced myself to put it down three times. It's a book with something to say, if you're willing to read with attention, and it isn't in the end what it seemed at the beginning, but only because it's better than you would have imagined.
One caveat: A few references to Catholic morality and praxis may not make much sense to the non-Catholic reader, but they are central to the story, so a little digging for information on Catholicism at the time he wrote might be helpful. They aren't really complicated references, but one can tell that Lafferty's faith really shaped his worldview. His sly commentary on the New Mass is darkly hilarious, and very revealing as to the state of affairs at the time this was written.
- Audio CD
- Publisher: Tantor Media Inc; Unabridged edition (3 December 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 154140971X
- ISBN-13: 978-1541409712
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 18.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 90.7 g
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