Moomsnops 10

Written by Fred Patten, and published on the LASFS Rex Rotary, November 16, 1966. Intended for the 11th Meeting of the G. Peyton Wertenbaker Appreciation Society, hosted by Rick Sneary at Len Moffatt's home, November 18, 1966.
...and a kind word for Capt. S. P. Meek, too.                Salamander Press no. 218.


The Dream Master, by Roger Zelazny, Ace #F-403, 155 p., 40¢.

Zelazny is one of the few authors of quality that Ace has remaining today. How it got him, I don't know, but he goes far toward making up for all the Lin Carters. It's a pity that his books aren't appearing in hard covers, even if only Doubleday SFBC selections; they deserve more permanence than a cheap paper binding will give them. For right now, though, you can't afford to miss them for only 40¢.

Actually, the Dream Master is Zelazny himself. He can write like few others in today's s-f field can; he is the best image maker since Bradbury, with all of the poetry but little of the saccharinity; a Delany perfectly intelligible. Zelazny is a writer of social science-fiction as it should be written, showing the effect of a postulated future upon people, but not constructing the people merely as straw dummies to allow the society to be shown. The technology is the background, and it stays in the background where it belongs; Zelazny is writing about people.

The plot itself is not a new one; John Brunner covered its broader social aspects well in The Whole Man. The protagonist is a Shaper, a sort of super-psychoanalyst who, with the aid of a machine that allows him to make direct mental contact with his patients, creates dreams for them in order to study their reactions and for aid in their treatment. But this is a two-way street, and Shapers have been known to succumb to their patients' delusions in such close contact, when the patient is the more emotionally powerful of the two. Even if such a psychiatrist should not be lost directly in a patients' dream, what is the long-term result of his use of the machine? how is his personality affected by being intermixed with that of so many admittedly mentally deviant persons? how does he react to the opportunity to play God with the machine? in short, can he continue to utilize this process to cure his patients and remain sane himself?

Dr. Charles Render is a reasonably young and quite successful Shaper, one of the more proficient handlers of the new dream process. His mental outlook is one of a strongly detached aloofness; he has trained himself to be able to rise above emotion, since an accident that killed his wife and young daughter. He still has a ten-year-old son, a precocious boy away in boarding school, to whom he is very closely attached. Since the deaths of his wife and daughter, he has been involving himself more deeply in his work, past what some of his colleagues consider to be safe limits, although he has nothing so far but successes to his credit. He has a satisfactory arrangement with a girl friend, and is socially well adjusted. Suddenly, he is introduced to a strikingly beautiful girl, a doctor (physician) who is quite successful despite her handicap of having been blind from birth. Her goal is to become an expert in Shaping, like him; and because this is impossible at present because she lacks the visual knowledge to create dreams, she asks him to train her with his visual memories to give her the needed visual background. Both recognize that her drive toward Shaping is at least partially based on her emotional reaching for a device that will give her the eyes she lacks; nevertheless, Render agrees to take her on as a pupil, both as a professional challenge and because they are attracted to each other.

This introduces an abnormal doctor-patient relationship; she is a friendly and therefore "safe" subject, but more emotionally powerful than anyone else he has ever worked with. Render becomes more personally involved in the joint dream-creations than he ever has before -- dangerously so? In a style sometimes pedestrian, sometimes poetic, and sometimes abstract, Zelazny traces all of the different emotional forces as they play against Render, who must really "know thyself, physician" if he is to remain in command of the situation.

Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines, by Margery Sharp, illustrated by Garth Williams, Little, Brown and company, 1966, 148 p., $3.95

This is the fourth book in Margery Sharp's fantasy series "for all ages". As always, the central characters are the two mice, Miss Bianca and Bernard, and various other members of the Mouse Prisoners' Aid Society; and, as usual, the plot revolves about Miss Bianca's kindhearted determination to rescue some poor human from undeserved durance vile in an absolutely escape-proof prison -- this time, it's a little boy, Teddy-Age-Eight, enslaved in the salt mines. As before, Miss Bianca is sophisticated and charming, and Bernard is devoted and persevering; the plot and dialog skip wittily along, and a happy ending is soon reached for all.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, but I was disappointed to discover that it didn't say anything new. Miss Sharp has written the same book for the fourth time now, and the novelty of the basic plot has worn off. The series has not deteriorated, exactly, but it is noticeably beginning to stagnate.

The previous books had at least some interesting sidelights in their sub-plots. The Rescuers was the first book, and as such was new and fresh; a real delight. Miss Bianca had an even more pathetic prisoner worthy of rescue, a truly horrifying and intriguing prison (the Diamond Palace of the Grant Duchess), and a thrilling escape. The Turret introduced the Mouse Boy Scouts, presented the danger of the MPAS disintegrating through inaction and internal feuding (and the prospect of Bernard's having to marry the amazonic Games Mistress to keep the Society together), and posed the question of whether this prisoner really deserved his punishment more than the freedom that Miss Bianca was determined to thrust upon him. But in Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (even the title is heavily wordy and uninspiring), the plot is just a rehash of the elements of the first three books: the foreboding prison, as in the first book; the pathetic child prisoner, as in the second; Bernard worshiping Miss Bianca from afar, as in all the books (and no closer to nor farther from a marriage); and a happy ending through saccharinously fortuitous circumstances. The overuse of such serendipitous coincidence isn't so bad when the escape itself isn't the main focus of reader interest; when there's nothing else to concentrate on, though, it stands forth too clearly as the shallow solution that it really is.

The basic plot of this series is definitely worth reading, but catch it in one of the first two books. I'm afraid I really can't recommend Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines, unless you're a completist and want to finish the series, or unless you just adore this kind of fantasy and/or cute mice. And, unless she can come up with some new ideas for sub-plots, at least, I think Miss Sharp had better stop before her series begins to visibly lose ground. Four books are at least one too many, as it is.

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