Sunday, 1 June 2014

Past Master by R.A. Lafferty

Past Master reads like a lesser The Einstein Intersection, which was published a mere year earlier. Both are looking at future societies, and attempting to integrate myth and legend into the stories they tell. But what Past Master lacks is the lyricism of Samuel L. Delany. Similar figures, archetypes of myth and Christian legend, are present, but Lafferty tells these stories in much more prosy prose, and having read and loved The Einstein Intersection earlier, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the story told here.

It's not bad. It's just that if you're looking for a successful integration of myth and science fiction, go with Delany.

In this book, on the golden world of Astrobe, human society has reached its zenith. Or so they thought. But more and more humans are rejecting the life of ease and comfort to live in a hardscrabble settlement, Cathead, just outside of the main city. No one can understand why. Machines live side by side with humans, and can indeed even interbreed with them. Programmed Killers stalk the streets, to take out anyone who interferes with the Astrobe dream.

In the midst of a society that seems perfect, yet is being rejected by increasing numbers, the Circle of Masters decides they need a new candidate for President. One who can be manipulated. But is honest. They pick Sir Thomas More, and pluck him forward in time. Once on Astrobe, Thomas sees the similarities between this new Eden and his own Utopia, which he insists was written as a satire rather than a practical plan. Despite this, and despite the urgings of his own disciples, Evita, the female embodiment of, well, femaleness, and her brother Adam, doomed to die again and again, More falls in love with the Astrobe dream, and vows to save it.

But is his will his own?

But while Past Master was interesting, the writing didn't live up to the promise of the ideas, and it was never a book I was eager to get back to. I didn't mind reading it, mind, but it never really grabbed me. Delany's a far better bet. Too bad for Lafferty his great idea coincided with a much better delivery of the same sort of themes.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees


  1. It was his first book. Pretty good, I thought, but then I never read The Einstein Intersection.

    1. Fair enough. I will have to give his later books a try at some point. I read this as part of my attempt to read all the Hugo-nominated books.