no critical faculties 8: philip josé farmer’s night of light

I have limited experience with Farmer. Of course, I’m well acquainted with A Feast Unknown, but beyond that I’ve only sampled A Woman a Day/Timestop!, which while an interesting take on potential future fascist Parisian pseudojewry left me decidedly underwhelmed. It seemed a touch aimless and ultimately rushed, clever invention grafted onto too on-the-nose characterization and rote thriller machinations.

Night of Light, while it doesn’t have the relentless adventure pacing of A Feast Unknown, satisfies (ho ho!) nearly as much, in its fashion. Instead of taboo deconstruction of the interrelation of sex and violence and the absurd denial of the one through beloved pulp icons, you get an examination of faith, religion, redemption, and the implications of contact between truly alien societies on these concepts.

Also, it apparently inspired Purple Haze.

Every seven years, the planet Kareen (aka Dante’s Joy) experiences the titular Night of Light, when the followers of the two sons of the Goddess Boonta struggle, along with the living God himself, to decide the course of the next seven years. At the end of the Night, the God Yess or his evil brother Algul will be ascendant. During the Night, sensible residents of the planet “take the Sleep”, falling into drugged torpor behind barricaded doors. Outside in the Night those still awake experience the manifestations of their subconscious guilts and fears. Beneath the strange purple light of the moon, men transform into monsters and are forced to face things inside of themselves which lead, almost always, to their deaths. Those who risk the Night do so for spiritual reward, or else to actively take part in the drama between the Gods, to protect the one ascendant, or else kill him and install the other in his place.

Enter John Carmody, a clinical sociopath and rampant egotist who, years ago on Earth, calmly butchered his wife after she had the the gall to refuse to abort the child that was ruining, in his eyes, her beauty, and hogging love that should be for him alone. Residing on Kareen because it’s OUTSIDE OF FEDERATION CONTROL, he risks the Night in hopes that it will provide a means of staging his death, as well as out of a desire to be a man, the one man alive, who has killed a God.

Carmody finds that his sociopathy causes his subconscious manifestation to work outside of, instead of within him. While other men are tormented by pains or transformed into parodies of their innermost selves his unacknowledged guilt takes an outward form, harassing him from afar as he wanders through this strange landscape toward a goal that might not be his alone.

Hijinks, and abrupt personal transformation, ensue.

Carmody returns for the second half of the book as a man transformed, indeed, well past any point I would have speculated, and the narrative takes a turn as well, into the realm of metaphysical mystery novel, following that old, rarely-exploited archetype of hero priest as he returns to Dante’s Joy to deal with the consequences of his last trip there, the strange whims of a God Made Flesh, and the ghosts of the man he was before he risked the Night many years ago. While he is changed, traces of his old character bubble up as he faces the adversities imposed on him and, at times, and with no small amount of guilt, he falls back on the skills that allowed the old Carmody to be such a formidable criminal.

This second half meanders a bit, but it ends on a note that perfectly mirrors the end of the first half with the added notes of fear, doubt, uncertainty. This is a straight-up science fiction novel set in a detailed, well-realized invented setting where the conflicts, even when they manifest physically, are grounded firmly in the characters, in their inner etc. I liked it.


~ by ironcupshrug on 02/07/2010.

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