Brain Child

The George Turner series continues.

Raw Feed (1992): Brain Child, George Turner, 1991.

Cover by Thomas Canty

This book truly deserves the distinction of being called a masterpiece. That distinction is almost solely because of Turner’s incredible skill with characterization (making him, in the science fiction field, probably the best in this area along with Philip K. Dick).

Turner’s plot in this novel of genetically engineered superintelligence is (according to my reading of the “Superman” entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) [that would, of course, be the massive second edition before it went online] typical of the sub-genre of the superman:

  1.  The superman gracefully opts out of human society (the A Group).
  2. The superman has a fatal flaw which is the result of the creation process (the B Group’s death by sudden Alzheimer’s).
  3. The superman can’t stand to live on a planet of ignorant savages (C Group’s suicide).

What makes the novel so great are its characters. Not only is it the retrospective tale of the narrator maturing, becoming world-wise, and developing true family ties with Jonesey and his family but all the people — normal and the Project IQ results — are well-drawn and show the effect of Project IQ.

There is the incomprehensible abilities of the C Group (and Conrad’s treating Derek Farnham like a splendid dog) in intellectual achievement and manipulation, minds who find us little better than monkeys: confusing, violent, ultimately unknowable as well as less advanced. [It was only years later, after reading Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, that I realized Turner’s hat tip to that novel.]

There are the “bleak, utilitarian” minds of A Group who seem baffled by human emotive language: they laboriously mentally translate it and clumsily fumble with expressing emotion (especially Arthur Hazard) nor can they conceive objections to plans other than logical ones. [In retrospect, Turner seems to make these a sort of autistic group.]

There is the manipulative, arrogant B Group.

Turner uses these groups to make some interesting points about intelligence.

First, that it is probably the interaction of many genes, and that there are many kinds of intelligence. [I suspect the idea of multiple intelligences may have been from Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences published in 1983. Time has not been kind to Gardner’s theory. As to genes, the current finding is at least 538 affecting human intelligence.]

The logical, linear reasoning of A Group, the artistic genius of B Group are not beyond normal man; however, C Group is completely beyond human ken. It is with this idea that Turner brings up one of the central themes of the novel: intelligence is of little use without equals to communicate with.

It is this lack of equals that drives Conrad’s attempt to set up an island of C Group children; the failure of that plan drives C Group to suicide. [And that seems a hat tip to Stapledon’s Odd John.]

Lastly, Turner brings up the corollary to this last idea: that each type of intelligence and level of intelligence must have a niche in society (equals to communicate with on the same intellectual and emotional wavelengths) to survive and thrive.

Turner does a nice job portraying the ruthless politician Sammy Armstrong who is ultimately shown as deluded as to his relationship with Belinda (he never once bedded her) and the extent of his power.

And I liked the sentimental Jonesey who takes David Chance under his wing (and eventually David marries into the family). I thought it was a nice change (perhaps, in the spy genre this is a common plot device, I don’t know) to have Chance’s shadower ultimately turn out to be an aide and friend and surrogate dad.

It was also nice to see an exciting, competent action plot of intrigue logically done with a fine touch of humanity. Sure, the Super and his Department may be corruptible, but they seem realistically reluctant to be utterly ruthless, and the Super seems honestly enraged at two deaths even if they are of Armstrong’s thugs.

I also liked the idea of Conrad’s legacy being a picture of the true mechanisms of human genetics.

I did think the sanguine acceptance by Chance and Jonesey that immortality should be rejected to be kind of weak. On the other hand, keeping another C Group out of the world, as Arthur Hazard does when he destroys the triptych, is a good reason to burn the pictures.

I liked the Groups’ common morality of not destroying knowledge and debts and payments. (Arthur Hazard mourns indirectly destroying C Group because, though he finds it necessary, he regards them as man’s best achievement and most dangerous.)

Lastly, I liked Turner’s off hand slap of science fiction when Armstrong complains that sf writers, whom he expected to support Project IQ (Armstrong believes, rightly, that entertainment is where opinions are formed), aren’t interested in science — it intrudes on “real creativity”. That seems a genuine criticism of some sf writers and also an ignorance (perhaps just on Armstrong’s part, not Turner’s) of what sf is about.

Lastly, I liked how the Anthony Burgess and Turner epigraphs that open the novel took on meaning at story’s end.


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

3 thoughts on “Brain Child

  1. pete June 22, 2018 / 6:24 pm

    This one has been sitting in my collection for years — nice to see that it’s good, and you can see the influence of Sirius in it.

  2. Catana June 25, 2018 / 10:32 am

    It’s been many years since I’ve read Brain Child, but have always planned to reread it. Guess it’s time. I’m sure I was unaware of the hint of Odd John, another one deserving several rereads. Odd coincidence: Just this morning, I read a defense of Frames of Mind. I originally read it soon after it was published, and I was unimpressed. Still am.

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