Wednesday, November 03, 2010

52. Anarchaos by Donald Westlake

Anarchaos is the legendary lone science fiction novel by Donald E. Westlake. It was originally published under the Curt Clark pseudonym (he also wrote several sci-fi short stories under that name as well). I had located a french version of this book at my local library, but was waiting to find the english one before I read it. I ran across a hardback first edition in Amsterdam and was all excited until I realized the author on the cover was "Donald Westlake", thus making it some kind of reprint. I don't even know if the Curt Clark version was released in hardback.

I had no idea what to expect. Parker in space? Dortmunder in space? One of his multi-character epics like Humans or High Adventure? It's the story of Rolf Malone, recently out of jail on earth, who travels to the violent and un-governed world of Anarchaos to find out why his brother died. It was an interesting premise and the science fiction stuff was quite well done. For instance, the planet doesn't rotate so there is a dark side and a light side. Westlake does a lot of interesting things with this concept, bringing out the coolness of the idea (which is an aspect of sci-fi) but also and more importantly making it an important part of the narrative.

Unfortunately, the book takes a weird turn at the halfway point. It becomes about the protagonist's understanding of himself and his motivation and thus really bogs down. He gets put into a slave camp where you are basically broken down into nothing and then spends the whole rest of the novel trying to figure out what he wants. It makes for an interesting encounter or two with the baddies when they aren't able to threaten him (he has become so existential that he welcomes their worst threat of a drug that will wipe out his memory). I as a reader also struggled with my own understanding of why I was continuing to read the book. Not terrible, but you just get the feeling Westlake ran out of a raison d'être for his main guy and instead of forcing one on him, just let him sort of dawdle until he slapped on a way too neat ending.

So not the greatest, but now I've read it. For Westlake completionists only.

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