The Charles Sheffield series continues with a . . .
Raw Feed (1997): The Mind Pool, Charles Sheffield, 1993.
”Introduction” — Sheffield explains that this is a revision of his 1986 novel The Nimrod Hunt which, he frankly admits, was greatly influenced by Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.
The Mind Pool — This is Sheffield’s attempt to imitate Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. As he says in his introduction, Sheffield makes no attempt to imitate Bester’s wonderful style and is not capable of doing so. The lack of Bester’s prose style may explain why this story was not particularly engaging when I read it nor memorable.
To be sure there are plenty of baroque, Bester-like elements though Bester seems to not only show the influence of The Stars My Destination but also Bester’s The Demolished Man. The element of personality disintegration and reconstruction, epitomized by the Demolition of the latter novel, is the major theme. It is echoed in the novel’s end with the fate of two major characters, the brain-damaged Luther Brachis and the catatonic Esra Mondrian, facing possible reconstruction in the Sargasso Dump.
The submergence of individual personality into the Mind Pool is another example of this as are the alien Tinker Composites. Closely allied to this theme is the idea of personal transcendence a lá Gully Foyle in The Stars My Destination. Chan Dalton experiences this in the Tolkov Stimulator as do the participants of the Mind Pool.
Repressed drives and other elements of Freudian psychology play a big part in Bester’s work and show up here in the obsessive drive of Mondrian’s for Boundary Security.
There are the other baroque touches of drug abuse, custom made life forms including the engineered prostitute Godiva Lomberd, bizarre vengeance, political intrigue, pursuit of a missing weapon – Nimrod – alá The Stars My Destination, extremes of class and wealth.
I liked what Sheffield did with despised Earth, despised because, as Brachis says, it has a degenerate gene pool in which the compotent and adventuress have long ago left for Earth. Automation means few have work on Earth – mainly aristocrats and those connected to them. They emphasize their titles but are painfully aware they can’t compete in the bigger universe.
Sheffield again creates clever aliens: the insect group mind of the Tinkers, the symbiote of plant and crystalline intelligence in the Angels, the gentle, Pipe-Rilla (an insane one is sent to Earth to spy and becomes Mondrian’s analyst) who, by virtue of their size, only had to survive, on their native world, impersonal forces and not compete with other life forms. Hence they are gentle. All regard man as dangerously insane.
Sheffield also gives us the new intelligence of the Morgan Constructs and the Mind Pool.
It’s not a bad novel. But Sheffield has done better, and the individual elements, while good, don’t coalesce into a memorable whole.