by Thomas M Disch

Reviewer Rating:


This is a jarring science fiction that knocked me off course for a bit. It was written in 1968 during the Vietnam War – you know, the first one you could watch on TV- and does a terrifyingly awesome job of projecting the sentiments of the time. Although this backdrop is rarely referenced, it serves as the first clue that there is real madness lurking at the edges of the novel.

It's structured as a journal written by a “conchie”, a conscientious objector to the war named Louis Saccheti. After being found guilty and imprisoned for five years for refusing to fight, Louis is taken to Camp Archimedes where he’s injected with Pallidine, a drug which has the double-edged nature of significantly increasing one’s intelligence while simultaneously causing rapid disintegration of the body - ultimately leading to death within 9 months. Once injected, he and the other diseased inmates are tasked with discovering alchemical methods for prolonging life (which is, after all, in their best interest…an interest that was forcibly aligned with a government's who is criminally involved in a war that has no possible end other than annihilation.)

I almost had to pick this one up again after finishing – the timeless ruminations on life and war, the ease at which governments can subvert the will of the people, and the potential for technology to act as a mechanism for human downfall are themes that will give you pause.

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