Anarchaos; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Well, I don’t have any bright ideas for a new series of Raw Feeds while I work on writing new reviews.

I saw Gaping Blackbird‘s recent review, so I thought I’d put this one up.

Additional observations are provided by The Westlake Review (I’ve linked to the second half of a two-part review, but the first part is worth reading too), Existential Ennui, and Olman’s Fifty

Raw Feed (1993): Anarchaos, Curt Clark, 1967.Anarchaos

A short novel of bitter irony.

Narrator and protagonist Rolf Malone, a man so short tempered he kills five people for making too much noise at a party, gets our of jail after seven years to avenge the murder of his brother on Anarchaos, an anarchist world based (I assume given the names given) on the writings of anarchist philosophers.

Contrary to the cover blurb – “The only crime was to be killed”, there are absolutely no crimes – or laws – on Anarchaos. The author uses it take some swipes at the philosophy of anarchism, syndicalism, and the social degeneracy that the extreme practice of rugged individualism would allegedly cause.

Realistically people would not live without some form of law – even if just manners, customs, and traditions and not written law. Clark aka Donald Westlake realizes this in one scene where various taxi drivers competing for the narrator’s fare are very polite to each other. “An armed society”, as Robert Heinlein is alleged to have said, “is a polite society.”

His brother, Gar, is the opposite of Malone – cool-headed (Gar thinks he’s too passionless), educated, responsible, well liked by this family. But the brothers are close, and Rolf feels his brother’s death heavily.

As soon as he ventures out of the spaceport on Anarchaos, he murders a taxi driver for his weapons, and I thought I was in for a tale of a man methodically, ruthlessly finding out the murderers of his brother and killing them. But the novel takes an unexpected turn as things rapidly go wrong.

Rolf Malone is shot, sold into slavery for four years (a chilling experience which reduces Malone to a mindless, animalistic level), maimed, escapes only to be rescued by a man he reluctantly kills because he also wants to enslave Malone), and Malone is kidnapped again.

During most of the book, he makes absolutely no progress towards his goal of vengeance. It is only when kidnapped the second time that he, almost at the end of the book, discovers his brother died because of his discovery of a mineral deposit, caught in the crossfire between two off-planet mining companies. The United Commission only assists colonial governments based on real or theoretical governments of the past (a legal invention I liked and which seems realistically bureaucratic and flawed). Therefore, the UC wants to get rid of Anarchaos but is politically foiled by corporations who find the political conditions ideal for exploiting the planet’s fur and mineral wealth.

The man with the violent temper can not work up enough passion to kill his brother’s murderers when he learns their identity. Indeed, he pleads with them to erase his mind and return him to the animalistic mindlessness of their slave camp he escaped from.  As he urgently explains to his captors

“ … I came to this planet, I thought I was hard, I thought I was the strongest there was and it would all go my way, and nothing went my way. I lost every fight. I lost a hand. I learned nothing, and I’m sitting here a prisoner of a man I don’t know, caught up in some sort of problem I don’t understand.”

The problem is, as Rolf discovers, that Gar’s mineral discovery is unknown, its location encrypted in Gar’s personal diary, and both Rolf’s kidnappers and Gar’s old employers (which seem more sinister as time goes on) want that secret. Upon reading a personal passage in which Gar talks of his hopes for what his reunion with Rolf will do for both brothers, Rolf musters the will to kills his captors. Though he strangles them, his attitude is not passionate but dutiful. He comes to think of his brother’s death as “accidental murder” and not a personal act done because of whom Gar was; he agrees with what so many people tell him at novel’s beginning, that it is Anarchaos and its political, social, and economic conditions which really led to his brother’s death.

At novel’s end, a couple of clichés emerge.

There is the ambitious, scheming Jenna Guild, ex-lover of Gar and concubine of Gar’s employer, head of Ice syndicate, who plans on using Rolf to kill said head, Colonel Whistler. Whistler himself says that corporations tend to send their worst employees to Anarchaos as punishment and that he’s no exception. Worst here seems meant in a moral sense and not competence.)

Rolf obliges but only, with Guild’s help (he eventually abandons her), to invoke another cliché: the sf action story that abruptly ends with the hero inciting a sudden political/social revolution/transformation. (The idea isn’t inherently bad. Look at Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.) Here Rolf gets a hold of some corporate bombs and uses them on United Commission embassies on Anarchaos. This act of terrorism will incite the UC towards one of two things: imposing their government on Anarchaos or pulling out of the planet and taking their economic assistance with them (the bombs destroy a good chunk of banking records) – assistance which keeps Anarchaos alive given its shrinking population. It was not a bad ending, and despite being a common plot device, it’s an act that makes sense given the context and themes of the story. Still, my favorite feature of this story is the transformation of its protagonist, a process unexpected in this kind of story.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

4 thoughts on “Anarchaos; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

  1. George Kelley April 7, 2018 / 1:21 pm

    Donald Westlake could be funny–as in the Dortmunder series–or very noirish–as in the Parker series. Westlake, like John D. MacDonald, didn’t write much SF, but what he did write was worth reading.

  2. pete April 7, 2018 / 3:00 pm

    Thanks for the mention!

    Anarchaos is not a bad book, and it certainly earned its second life in review blogs. It’s been interesting to see how it means different things to different people.

    One thing that occurred to me, in the time since I’ve read it, is that Anarchaos could have been a satirical take on the way so much SF was merely Westerns with ray-guns instead of six-shooters. Westlake had a famously bitter breakup with the SF genre before Anarchaos was finished, and its ending may reflect a dissatisfaction with the way many novels end in some sort of wish-fulfillment scenario.

    • marzaat April 7, 2018 / 5:02 pm

      I actually liked the book. It seemed not only sort of a hard boiled “crime” novel (obviously no legal idea of crime on Anarchaos) but a look at how true anarchy would be.

      Sf has a political streak in it that’s baked in its DNA between its utopian and satirical ancestors, but I can’t think of a lot of anarchies. S. Andrew Swann did one with the Hostile Takeover trilogy and there’s Larry Niven’s “Cloak of Anarchy”. The last, though, is just a temporary and accidental anarchy, not a deliberately established one. Obviously, a lot of post-apocalypse stories have anarchies, but they aren’t a desired outcome, the protagonists hope to escape them, and many of these stories show how a government of some sort is established in the ruins.

      I first heard of the novel from reviewer Ed Bryant in Locus, but I don’t remember in what context.

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