Monday, January 28, 2019

Red Mars


Who among us hasn't read the first 100 pages of this multiple times over the years? Who among us hasn't abandoned this novel more than once? Or owned the entire trilogy for years before getting around to it? Who hasn't collected the new series of covers (with the same ISBN) before ever reading it? Ahem, certainly not me for that last one.

KSR's Mars Trilogy won a slew of awards, has been optioned for film and television, and remains one of the definitive works of science fiction about Mars. And thus, as it is a sacred cow, people have tried to kill it. I'm not opposed to taking well-known or well-feted works down a peg or two. After all, on this blog, we take what we want from Deleuze and Guattari, which is to take what you want from the Oedipal fathers and reject the rest. However, I find myself ever-increasingly opposed to bad faith engagements with works of art. I try to avoid "hate-watching" anything (there's too much good stuff out there; why would I waste my time on things I know I won't like) and I try to encounter cultural objects on their own terms, which is to say, the form of a low-budget horror film made by friends in their backyard doesn't warrant the same amount of scrutiny as famous-for-their-form directors such as Christoper Nolan. With science fiction, I'm not generally particular about fidelity to the science the book is contemporary with. I'm not a scientist—I'm an English major. However, I do bristle at reviews in bad faith, in reviews not willing to engage with the object on its own terms, either as text or as cultural object enmeshed and imbricated into the wider sociopolitical tapestry of life under late capitalism. 

Nathaniel's review on Goodreads is an example of bad faith criticism. Let's look at it section by section, shall we? 
As a matter of principle, I try not to review books that I don't finish.
Not a strong rhetorical gambit to open with this omission, I'm afraid. He does admit to reading over "300 pages" which I personally think is enough to judge the book's aesthetics. After the halfway point, the reader has a very firm sense of the aesthetics and artistic aims of the author. Perhaps there's a wild left turn in the back half, a motion towards modernism maybe? But likely not. So in the interest of good faith criticism, let's give Nathaniel the benefit of the doubt.
It's the type of sci-fi story that wins awards not because the story is any good, but because of how meticulously researched it is.
I'm not convinced Nathaniel knows much about the history of science fiction awards, or specifically the Nebula (which Red Mars won). The Nebula is given by the Science Fiction Writers Association and some works in the hard science fiction subgenre have won, but just as many have won outside of that subgenre, such as two awards for Samuel R. Delany, not known for his interest in actual science.

Already, we can sense Nathaniel's expectations are different than mine. He's expecting scientific "realism" (though he later bristles at the word "realism" in the comments) and so he's judging the novel, whether consciously or not, along this spectrum.
I was impressed with the level of detail in everything from the description of the trip to Mars to the lengthy descriptions of Martian topology.

Then again, "length descriptions of Martian topology" might not sound like much fun to read. And--trust me--it's not.
We've reached a crucial point here. He's impressed by the level of detail, but he previously dismissed award-winners for their level of detail over story. Personally, long descriptions of Martian topology and trips around the surface interest me a lot (that's one reason why I finished this finally). Descriptions of landscape allow writers to let loose their more painterly instincts, to write in a visual mode, and this is often where my interest piques: the more elegant and/or novel way to describe non-human things in the material world, the better. I'm not sure I do trust you, Nathaniel, to determine what is and isn't fun. Especially since the rest of your review is pure pedantry.
Interspersed among these long passages describing Martian geography, attempts to create a greenhouse effect, and so on there is a story. Kind of. It's really just a meandering series of first-person narratives that are more of a travelogue than a novel.
Yes, we've established you don't like the traveloque aspect of the novel. I thought we could at least agree that part of the appeal of visiting Mars via fiction (because when will we ever get the chance to do so in person?) was the novelty of experiencing an alien world. But apparently not. Maybe Nathaniel is just jaded when it comes to descriptions of Mars. "Meandering" is one way to describe the sections. They're not episodic; each section builds on the chaos of the previous one, heightening the social unrest to the finale's boiling point. Meandering is in the eye of the beholder, I should think. What isn't subjective is his incorrect assertion that these are "first person" narratives. No, Nathaniel, they are third person limited, or more generally, internal focalization. Considering the review will nitpick KSR to death, we should hold Nathaniel to the same standard, no?
Kim Stanley Robinson is the most clueless person who has ever imposed the misfortune on others of writing about economics. I'm an econ graduate student, so this might bug me more than you.
And so we arrive at Nathaniel's personal bugaboo, KSR's grasp of economics. Nathaniel makes a good point here, one we shouldn't ignore: different readers have different thresholds for plausibility. For myself, KSR could have said the sky on Mars was aquamarine and I might have believed him, or if I had known better, I'd consider it unimportant in the macro. For STEM folks, the science in the Mars trilogy might set their teeth on edge because the author gets some things wrong. And that's fine. But what isn't fine is then using the same threshold against all aspects and willfully missing some of the points the mistakes (and correct aspects) are in service of. I'll come back to this.
What I do mind it *stupid* political writing (sci-fi or not) that utterly fails to understand the rudiments of the issue at hand, presents its case with all the cheapest tricks in the book, and then basically fails to actually prop up anything resembling a coherent, workable thesis.
In Nathaniel's case, he is correct: the Mars trilogy is presenting a thesis and that's conceptualizing alternative social, political, and economic models which aren't corrupt and aren't a zero-sum game. Normally, I would stress finding a "thesis" in a work of fiction is problematic critical reading, but KSR is quite explicit in his bibliography and overall theoretical project. He's using science fiction, the genre most fecund for this type of conjecture, to imagine alternatives for political emancipation.
Robinson gets the most basic elements of economics laughably wrong (he has no concept of what money is for, as an example).
Nathaniel expands on this in the comments. But all the examples he provides are quotes of dialogue from characters. I'll reiterate this later, but over and over again, Nathaniel conflates the dialogue of the characters with the beliefs of the author. A rookie mistake.
When he wants to criticize a viewpoint he disagrees with, he just creates an obnoxious, stereotypical character to represent it.
One of the strengths of Red Mars is its characterization. Using a series of internal focalized characters, the novel provides multiple perspectives on the same things, such as politics, economics, ethics, and even other characters. We see Frank Chalmers from many different angles, some flattering, some negative, but most of all, nuanced. Even all-American superhero John Boone is textured. A common critique of KSR is his employment of stock characters. Arkady, the revolutionary, is the closest we get to stock character (the spirited optimist). I can think of only one character who might be presented as an obvious strawman, Helmut Bronski, though it's heavily implied he's a victim of systemic pressures, the corrupting influence of capitalism. I just don't truck much with this interpretation, especially as Arkady isn't proven correct by the book's end. In fact, he dies as a result of his revolutionary zeal, a victim of a project gone awry.
And his own idea of ecologically-based economics (which isn't remotely original) is actually *less* well articulated and defended than works less than 1/10th this length.
Earlier in his review, Nathaniel calls this novel a "treatise" and then a "a giant technical manual." As this is only the first in a trilogy, I don't think it's fair to say KSR has reached a conclusion. If this is didacticism, then KSR hasn't yet reached the "lesson" Nathaniel thinks beats at its heart.

The important part that Nathaniel keeps missing: the eco-economics part of Red Mars are only ever presented as hypothetical, one system they could adopt as an alternative to the baggage they've brought from Earth. Though KSR ostentatiously shows the current systems on Earth are not sustainable, he also never shows the colonists implementing a single system. It's only ever spoken about as a possible system. Eco-economics, or at least the practical application of it, are implied to be ethically superior to capitalism by dint of the descriptions of Earth, but that's not what Nathaniel is arguing. He's arguing KSR gets the details of eco-economics wrong.

In the comments, he writes:
My contention is that in addition to taking upon himself an obligation to get Mars right as a physical setting, he also took upon himself the obligation to get economics right because of how he wrote the story. (italics in original)
By Nathaniel's own logic, which in his favour, he unfolds for us, fiction writers have an implicit contract with readers. Both writer and reader agree on certain aspects of plausibility. The Mars trilogy is going to stick with actual Mars topology and that any violation this realism isn't purposeful but a mistake. The same thing, Nathaniel argues, applies to the book's understanding of economics. The rebuttal is quite easy here: the economics described in this book is only ever described by the characters. The topology is described by both the narration (we can take this as "objective" for the sake of argument) and by characters (subjective). At no point does the narrator say the implementation of this economic system is successful or better than capitalism. In fact, the finale of the novel undermines Nathaniel's thesis; the characters are shown to be naive, politically helpless, and in some cases (Arkady) straight up wrong!
it is KSR himself (not just his characters) who makes objective statements about how economics works that are integral to the way the novel unfolds.
No. Just wrong. And he never gives a citation from the text.
the one I can recall is the statement that when the Mars colonists stopped using cash, the economy became more efficient.
This isn't true either. The colonists do not use cash and many emigrants receive their paycheque after returning to Earth, where it has been accruing interest.
It's not even a close third person narration. It's much closer to traditional omniscient narration.
He's wrong and he's contradicting himself.
It would be one thing for KSR to write an informed (albeit iconoclastic) dissent from Hayekian views of markets. It's another for him to blithely blather on about how efficient everything got without markets without even recognizing that--from a physics standpoint--he might as well be merrily chatting on about how all objects tend to slow down over time on their own
Arkady's statement about the efficiency of the market, in that there is no market, is what Nathaniel is taking issue with. But, again, in his classic bad faith mode, he's completely disregarding that a) the finale of the novel shows Arkady was wrong and that b) the economic system was in collapse from the get-go. There was no efficient market because it never got off the ground. Too much interference from the transnational corporations and too little intervention from the (financially and politically compromised) government.
Is there any point where KSR effectively says, "Surprise! My characters were all stupid! Here's how things really work!"
No, Nathaniel, because award-winning fiction such as this doesn't stoop to the level of painstakingly explaining why characters were wrong. It's up to the reader to infer, to conclude, to judge. If you had finished the book (you didn't), you could have judged for yourself.
Nor does "realism" have anything to do with it. No fiction is realistic. That's why it's fiction.
Here's where Nathaniel is uncomfortable with "realism." Even though in this bit he argues to take fiction on its own terms, his whole Jeremiad focuses on nitpicking (without ever specifying the nits he's picking) the economics some characters discuss. I agree that "realism" is an illusion. Which is why I meet this novel on its own terms. It's the first chapter of three, a long saga about both the colonization of Mars and the possible society built alongside and on top.

Like good leftists, KSR realizes a utopian workers' paradise is untenable. There are always going to be outside influences, always going to be greedy capitalists, vultures, parasites. No society can ever be a Marxist utopia. This reality shouldn't dissuade workers from trying though. Even if there is no ethical consumption under capitalism that doesn't mean folks should shrug their shoulders and not bother at all. Little steps help, even if just for the well-being of the individual. The pleasures to be found in Red Mars include the revolutionary zeal, the optimism for something better. It's also finely written, not at the level of M. John Harrison or Gene Wolfe, but elegantly written, and somewhat nuanced in its characterization. I hoped, in this post, to highlight the positives of the novel while weighing against bad faith criticism. Good readers should always finish the book if they wish to discuss the novel's arc (either plot or political) and good readers should never mistake the characters for the author.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

January Reads Part Two

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
Killing Gravity by Corey J. White
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

I haven't yet determined if Halliday's debut novel is the best 2018 novel I've read or the greatest example of the Emperor's New Clothes I've ever encountered. My feelings for the clever novel swung from indifference to admiration and back again once or twice during the experience. Asymmetry is a novel of three parts: two novellas and a short coda, which is said to reveal aspects of the previous two parts. "Folly," the first part, charts the May-December romance of a young literary editor and a doyen of American literature, old and increasingly decrepit. In "Madness," an Iraqi-American is trapped at an airport waiting for the high security systems to allow him to pass through the UK. Finally, the coda is a transcript, a "Desert Island Discs" interview with the aforementioned grand master of American lit. If I might brag for a moment, I figured out the connection of the second part to the rest of the novel almost immediately in "Madness." There are clues, if clues is the right word, in "Folly" which point to the provenance of "Madness." I won't reveal them, but the coda confirms exactly my suspicions. Apparently, this link between parts isn't clear to everybody (check out the 1 star reviews on Goodreads), but fair enough. Halliday never explicitly explains. The structural ingenuity of the novel, a metafictional game nowhere near as clever as Calvino or Borges, both overshadows the smaller pleasures and bandages over the limitations of Halliday's writing. "Madness," while wonderfully empathetic and beautiful, is overwritten. Sure, one could argue (and people have) the floridness of the prose is intentional, in a metafictional way, but that's just hand-waving.

Mira Grant's mermaid horror novel was such a throwback to Michael Crichton novels: tons of science, populated by scientists, dealing with a horror sort of explainable by science, and facing their own hubris. What made the novel more tolerable than Crichton's schlock (entertaining schlock, but schlock) is a subtler thing. First of all, the novel is populated with women, not just one women, who is the bitter ex-wife of the protagonist (the usual woman character in these novels) but women plural. And they have conversations with each other. And they have sex with each other—okay, only two have sex with each other, but still. Secondly, and the more subtle aspect of this novel's overall success, is that conversations between people reveal a deeper emotional intelligence than writers like Crichton and Stephen King et al. Attention to paid to body language, not in the sense of telling the audience how characters are feeling, but in the sense of how characters are interpreting another character's body language, ie the classic emotional intelligence women are socialized to have and men are not. But Grant extends this to even male characters; she allows them to pay attention, even when they're morally grey or even black hats. In fact, the most villainous human of the cast is distinctly humanized by his proximity to and his love for his wife. He pays attention to her. Likewise, even a mermaid is given a scene in which to communicate. Lots of attention is paid to hands in this novel, not just the two (not just one, but two!) deaf characters and their interpreter, but to the mermaids and the hearing characters. Communication, the novel explicitly states, is more than words, but tone, body language, inflection, etc etc etc. Thus, my favourite parts of Into the Drowning Deep weren't the horror parts. I found the horror to be mostly ineffective; too little happens and by the time Grant burns the map and goes for broke, figuratively speaking, the tension was deflated. The horror was flat for me. The case wasn't helped by Grant's doom laden prose; every chapter or paragraph ends with foreshadowing to the deaths to come and instead of evoking suspense or anxiety, the result was like reading the lyrics to a really cheesy metal band trying to write Lovecraft. I did especially enjoy the reveal at the end, and how completely restrained it was. Restraint is an admirable ambition, if you ask me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation was terrific, one of the best 2018 books I've read (not that I've read a lot). Moshfegh is an incredible writer, working to find ~350 pages of incident and writing despite an extremely passive premise. I don't have much to say about this other than the closest comparison I can make, in terms of affect, not aesthetic, is Bret Easton Ellis.

Dreams Before the Start of Time was read in a single day. It's a bit old fashioned in that it's science fiction of ideas, not plot, but characterization does play a significant part. The novel is a series of connected vignettes, following a family as it multiplies over one hundred or so years. Each vignette feels like a short story, though they require knowledge of the previous episode. I read this book in one day, after finishing Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea, and it was the perfect breezy chatty refresher. I love these mosaic novels, or hyperlink novels or whatever buzzword you'd like to use. That's why I can't stop thinking about The Race by Nina Allan. Speaking of which, click on over to Allan's website where she's hosted a conversation between her and Charnock. It's a fascinating look into process and of course they mention a bunch of titles I've never heard of so I had to add them to my to-read list. They of course speak of what they call "fragmented narratives." Here's Nina on the allure of them:
[T]hey made a powerful impact – something about the thrill of discovery, the way my own imagination played a vital role in linking everything together... Fragmented narratives are often described as being complex, and of course they can be, but I happen to believe that large numbers of readers actively enjoy the element of mental participation this approach encourages.
One of the reasons why I liked Asymmetry and The Race and The Fifth Head of Cerberus (reviewed in the same post as Allan's novel) was the work required in connecting the disparate threads, the participation and eventual satisfaction from either guessing correctly or being surprised. Dreams Before the Start of Time does not require guesswork from the audience in the same way. Instead, the time jumps ask readers to re-familiarize themselves with new situations each time, orienting themselves in the chronology and family tree. Though not a puzzle, Charnock's novel is superb for its perceptiveness, its observations on character and how the science fictional elements press themselves onto the cast.

Corey J. White's Killing Gravity is the first part of a trilogy, and represents an effort to bring grimdark's affect into science fiction. It's a fun novella, asking little of the reader, and in turn, giving explosions, gore, a cute animal sidekick, some quips (ugh), and some enby representation. The plot is fairly forgettable; something about a military-government genetically manipulating babies to be telekinetic and all-powerful and the protagonist seeking revenge for what they did to her. Killing Gravity is more style than plotting, thankfully, but the style isn't quite there. There's the sneer of cyberpunk and some of the weirder worldbuilding of say, Dick or VanderMeer, but prose-wise, it's staid. Still, I'll keep reading the trilogy; they're fun and easily digestible.

I'll write some more about Red Mars later, I think, but for now, here's an example of some not so great type-setting (jacking a car is the context).


Friday, January 18, 2019

The Sea, the Sea


It's been literally years since I completed a Booker Prize winner (The Luminaries, here). My project to read them all stalled out after I started university, due to a lack of energy and a change in focus. I have some faint nostalgia for those heady, rushed years during which I voraciously consumed Bookers willy-nilly; it was an exciting time, reading-wise, as the project asked me read books I would not have looked at before. My tastes expanded. My cultural literacy increased. I remember a day, a beautiful summer day, when I walked to the library (I lived down the block from the main branch), picked up J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and I read it in a single day thereabouts. I think fondly of that time, perhaps because of the relative peace and equanimity before my girlfriend of the time broke up with me, and perhaps because of the initial rush of freedom after university, when all of my reading time was my own. Funny how the project's temporary stoppage coincided with harrowing emotional shifts and drastic weight loss. Now, here I am, years later, much fatter, and balding, reminiscing when my hair was perfect, my social life existed. The blog helps archive but my memory remains for much.

This kind of self-indulgence is an apropos way of beginning a review for The Sea, the Sea, a long novel, winner of the Booker Prize in 1978, which doesn't begin for 91 pages in this edition. The first section, titled "Pre-History," does much of the stage-setting, so to speak, as Charles Arrowby, the retired theatre director, shuffles off to Shruff End, a house by the sea, where he will "adjure" the "magic" of the stage and write about his (unique, to say the least) culinary exercises and his memories. Long paragraphs of places, people, moments, and emotions flow from his pen, stymieing any modern reader expecting plot. This is my second time with The Sea, the Sea; the first I never finished it (obviously), frustrated by its passivity, its inactivity, its stodginess. Even now, as a different reader, the first section is a hump, an obstacle to overcome before getting to the meat. While this "Pre-History" is entertaining, perceptive, it doesn't vibrate with the electricity of the long middle section, when Murdoch lets loose, has all her characters on stage, so to speak. The manic setpieces in the middle are comic delights, theatrical farces with people coming and going, even if the reason for their exits and entries is darker, more corrupt than Charles himself would have you believe.

A monumental coincidence is the hinge upon which the plot turns: Charles bumps into his very first (and by his metric, only) love from when he was a boy. Hartley (her middle name) is now frumpy beaten-down Mary, wife of a void named Ben Fitch. Charles, intoxicated by the rush of memories, believes her to be trapped in an unhappy marriage. He rushes about, strenuous in his attempts at—not seducing her, but rescuing her from this trap of matrimony. When she resists, confused but determined to remain in her situation, Charles concludes the only solution is to kidnap her. Throughout this time, he congratulates himself on never forcing her, always allowing her her freedom if she so chooses, but eventually, she returns to Ben. 

There are a multitude of other characters, other complications, including the coincidental arrival of Titus, the Fitch's adopted son. Other people in the novel seem to the sole function of vexing Charles, such as his cousin James; an ex-lover hellbent on destroying any of Charles' attempts at relationships; an actor debasing himself to be Charles' butler. Much of these characters exist only to provide turns in the plotting and fodder for comic setpieces. Only James, the cousin, appears to elicit thematic depth from the novel. 

And there is much depth to this. The Sea, the Sea is a dense tapestry of thematic strands, so much so I'm at a loss to say what the novel is "about" without violently simplifying it. Murdoch's eye is brought to bear on the secretive nature of marriages, the lengths people will go to deceive themselves, the foolishness and sacredness of love, and of course the implacability of the sea itself. The eponymous sea looms in the horizon at all times in this novel, sometimes still but often sending its waves to crash at the edge of the reader's consciousness. Murdoch spends much time describing the sea in loving, threatening ways. Charles imagines the sea hosts a frightening marine monster, an eel of impossible dimensions, and it hungers for him. A symbol which works a bit better, not so naff, is Charles' repeated but always thwarted attempts at a rope to pull swimmers from the rocks where they emerge from their swim. Every time he ties a rope, the waves lap the knot undone. In other words, the sea has no interest in people's plans, in their ambitions, in the tiny dramas of their lives. The sea always gets its desires. 

There is an edge of mysticism in the novel that my review is hopefully hinting at. In the final quarter, James provides Charles with some much needed reality couched in the verbiage of Eastern religion and exoticism. This is the late Seventies after all, when the occult and New Age began their inexorable conquest of bourgeois society. For some, such as The Guardian's Sam Jordison, this angle is nothing more than "mystical bollocks" (here). For me, Murdoch's almost-but-not-quite magical realism works: Charles, the Prospero figure (or so he would like to think) has given up stage-magic and trades it for a more meaningful, deeper magic of the real world. Whether or not he grows during this experience is left up to the reader. Though the sea gives him a sign at the end of his re-acquaintance with Nature (seals lark about in the pool where he almost drowned earlier), the postscript, an over-long epilogue shifts things. Charles' self-deceit is still prominent, but maybe not as powerful. Murdoch appears to be suggesting, subtly, gently, people can change, but only a little. 

A novel of memory and its delusions but too long and perhaps not dark enough (?). The Booker Prize tally stands at 60%, 32 out of 53. Maybe I'll try to read another in a smaller timeframe than before.

Friday, January 4, 2019

January Reads Part One

Howards End by E. M. Forster
Slimer by Harry Adam Knight

Forster's Howards End took me a lot longer to read than I was expecting. For a book only 360 pages long (the Everyman's Library edition, in gorgeous Palatino typeface), the novel used up 7 days of my reading time! I'll admit, my faithful reader, I struggled with Forster quite a bit. My initial impression was that all these characters were rich snobs, even the poor character! Each person to open their mouth, whether it be the annoyingly idealistic and naive Schegel sisters or the materialistic capitalists Wilcox family, seemed designed to fan the flames of violent revolution in my heart. Every single one of these people should have been put up against the wall. Though, as the novel progresses, Forster does some complicated characterization work, the kind other novelists can only dream of coming near in skill level. Margaret and Helen are given such beautiful speeches about connecting, about humanity, about duty and responsibility and ethics and art and romance, and one can sense the two of them are functioning as mouthpieces for the author himself. Why else give a character the "only connect" speech so frequently quoted (even by me) and representative of the novel's themes and aims? The trick is that Margaret and Helen are kind of annoying on purpose. They're not saints, but silly sheltered girls who have never experienced hard work or hard times. Of course they're idealistic. And idealistic folks say and do ignorant things. What the novel doesn't do, though it comes perilously close, is punish the Schegels for their idealism and optimism. Unlike a novel written today, the characters do not suffer an ironic fate, a kind of nasty nihilism plaguing contemporary fiction. The last 80 pages are a masterclass in technical skills, though the death of Leonard Bast, necessary for the plot, I guess, makes my radicalism scream. Forster might have had an excess of empathy—for his time—but he still had a way to go. Howards End is a great novel, but it's soured somewhat by its lionizing of the rich.

 
The Fungus was one of my favourite reads of 2018 so why not ring in the New Year with his earlier novel Slimer? I would have purchased a vintage paperback of it, but there was only two editions (UK and US) and both go for big bucks. Valancourt Press, of whom I've spoken before, reissued both novels this year with terrific cover. The new cover for Slimer accomplishes a rare feat: it equals the original covers without feeling ironic or retro or overly modern. Well done, Valancourt! The book itself is a slim 160 pages but never feels too short. Any more and I might have baulked. It doesn't quite reach the breathless apocalyptic heights of The Fungus either in scope or in execution, but it's a terrific version of Carpenter's The Thing: six smugglers in search of rescue happen upon an abandoned oil rig, populated by empty clothes and the odd blood splatter. Quickly they realize they're being stalked and picked off one by one by a creature science should have never created! The creature itself isn't quite as fully realized a threat as the alien in The Thing and this has to do with the near-constant scientific infodumps, which often feel like petulant justifications for the very existence of its fictional creation. It's okay, authors, you don't need to come up with a rationalization for its powers! You can just let it be scary and unknowable. Of course, the scientific jargon and breathless explanations were in vogue at the time, thanks to Michael Crichton and Robin Cook and other thriller writers. A desire for realism, in part due to Stephen King's folksy populism, choked a lot of the existential horror from these ephemeral paperbacks. Slimer still boasts the ever-popular sexual fetishes of horror written by men in their thirties and forties, though in two Knight novels, cuckolding appears both times! Women are constantly bearing their breasts and men are constantly leering at their crotches. It's weird. But at least the only real sex scene in this novel isn't depicted as sexy, sparing all of us readers from whatever the authors believe to be sexy, erotic prose *shudder*. Like The Fungus, I had a lot of fun. Can't wait to read the third Knight novel I have, Carnosaur.