Another posting about books related to H. G. Wells.
Raw Feed (1996): An Island Called Moreau, Brian W. Aldiss, 1981.
Sort of a sequel to H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. The founding conceit here is that there really was a Moreau or, rather MacMoreau who conducted vivisection experiments fictionalized by Wells. Aldiss brings the story forward to 1996 and keeps much the same plot: a shipwrecked (or rather spacewrecked) man lands on the island, is horrified by the experiments being conducted on beasts, and eventually watches the whole set up come crashing down.
However, narrator Edward Prendick of Wells’ novel is rather – in the world at large – insignificant. Aldiss’ narrator, Calvert Roberts, is an ambitious, self-important, rather pompous Undersecretary of State for the U.S. (Oddly, though his primary job is as negotiator, he is unable to reconcile the Beast People and Dart.) Moreau is a rather physically strong, imposing figure. Aldiss’ island is ruled over by Mortimer Dart, a man maimed by fetal exposure to thalidomide. Like Moreau, he has set himself up as a god over the Beast People (descendants of MacMoreau’s experimental subjects), and he gives the law to them in catchy rock tunes reminiscent of Moreau’s Law chants.
Dart is interested in the effects of form and attitude on behavior (the plasticity of flesh like Moreau). He sees himself as a victim though he is just as tyrannical as Moreau and experiments on human fetus’ to create Seal People. Like Wells’ novel, this book is concerned with animal and human nature. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, the narrator tries, at first, to see a sharp distinction between man and beast then realizes much of the animal remains in man. In this novel, the narrator realizes there is a continuum of animal to human nature.
Aldiss, however, is unwilling to indict the animal nature as evil. When Calvert lives for four days with the Seal People, he looks back on the experience – complete with sexual unions with the genetically human but bestially formed Seal People and a four year old – with pleasure and no shame. The narrator views the sensual Heather as corrupted by civilization.
As nuclear war is looming outside this island and eventually breaks out, the increasingly human (led by the clever Foxy) Beast People destroy the human presence on the island as they become more human – and are killed by the rescuers of Dart. The book’s theme is that instinct (the animal virtue as embodied in the Seal People) must be alloyed with Reason (as epitomized by science and Dart’s playing of Haydn).
I’m not sure I believe in the validity of this appeal to the virtues of the animal – civilization seems to work best channeling and controlling these impulses, but that seems the book’s conclusion.
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