This is utterly fucking awful. I really loved a pair of Bester’s old SF novels, kind of pulp with modernist ideas (we’re talking Joycean SF in the ’50s), and real intensity – at least, that’s how I remember them, but I wonder if, if I reread them now, they would seem as woeful as this feeble attempt.

Bester was clearly an extremely intelligent man, but we are talking about a man involved in pulp serials, in SF, in comic books. A nerd, really. He took two decades off from writing SF or books, and by the time he returned, he had lost what creative talent he had. The ’60s had seen countless attempts to incorporate modernist approaches, by more talented writers. By the time of this novel (copyright 1981) Bester was in his late 60s. So, an out of touch, elderly nerd: you may be able to see the problem with trying to write a novel full of hip talk and sexual playfulness. The slang is genuinely painful to read, at its jaw-dropping worst when terms like ‘blackamoor’ and ‘chink’ are used as if they’re fine. The sexual banter is worse. He really has no idea at all how men and women might talk to one another.

I guess these things might be tolerable faults if it were any good in any other way. He created some excellent protagonists in his two ’50s novels, but this one is just a super-nerd, and there isn’t much more to say. The female lead is far worse, the lame fantasy of a nerd who isn’t even trying very hard. The story is worse: the 27th Century world is actually the 1970s in space, a xenophobe’s view stretched out across the solar system. The science is drivel with big words, full of stupid explanations that would have been better omitted. The plot is dull and pointless, with the world’s feeblest ploys, clues and tricks, and most of it centres on a contrivance that never makes any sense on any level at all, and since it’s the reason for the action, for the tension, for the denouement and all, this is a crippling flaw on something already damaged enough that it couldn’t survive a misplaced apostrophe.

One of the worst books I have ever read more than a couple of pages of.