4 July 2013

Cybernaut, by Curtis Garland

Here it is, the review of the third and last pocketbook I own. One more time, don't be carried along by the appearence. In Cibernauta (Cybernaut) sure there's a cyborg, but it's not as terrifying as the one depicted in the cover. Otherwise, all promised by the illustration is in the narration: pretty girls, a man with parts of his body switched with artificial implants and spaceships.

Space opera is the scent of this work, but it's just the exotic wrapping of an adventure of the detective kind. Juan Gallardo Muñoz signed as Curtis Garland a thriller with quite sinister touches in which a man, agent from an interplanetary security department, must solve the mistery of his own assassination. This short novel was published in Bruguera's La conquista del espacio collection in december of 1983, reaching America (the hispanic one as you might expect) six months later, in june of 1984.

About the edition's quality of the book, referred to the printing quality, paper and bookbinding, I'll stick with what I said before regarding the other ones I've already reviewed because it's the same as those. About the story I can advance you it has a solid and well built core, seasoned with some quite curious science fiction details.

THE ARGUMENT: A slight sinister detective story

"Warlak has won again, and this time has delivered a severe blow to the IIIC. It's best agent has been killed and they believe that it was the criminal leader in person who has executed him. However, Ray Neville will have a miraculous second opportunity thanks to Doc Yordan's skill. So, rebuilded as a being not completely human, he'll face the gaps in his damaged memory and try to find who murdered him. The answer its hidden among the several suspects hosted by the Observer Station Century-666."

This is another story of great potential but unfortunate lenght, which Curtis Garland knew how to unfold with knack in the ninety faces that make up this work. The argument is, in my opinion, quite interesting and typical of the darkest police stories that I can remember. If you think about it thoroughly, you'll have to admit that is quite heavy to be killed (truly killed I mean) and being able to investigate later who murdered you. And let's not talk of the fun felt by the guy who sent you to meet your maker when runs into you again. Another aspect to mark are the technological elements mentioned by the author, like the cybernetic implants wore by the protagonist or, pay attention, artifacts able to spread sound... Through the emptiness of space. Read the two references I found:

"[...] Special ultrasonic vibrations, able to propagate in the void by new techniques of projected sound, highly sensible to the people[...]"

"[...]The sound of the commentator and the powerful reactors' whistling humming from the competing vehicles, emitted to enhance the excitement from the race by «sonic mirrors» scattered through the deaf cosmic void[...]"

Mister Gallardo had the courage to give or, rather, invent an explanation to why there's sound in space opera movies. I'll recognise the effort, but as far as I know there's no especial useful technique which make sound travel through space. In contrast, I have to mention the good use he makes from the implanted abilities in the main character. He'll put him in quite risky situations that'll force him to use them. Apart from that, the rest of science fiction's tricks used by the writer are the usual from the spaceoperistic subgenre and fill their seasoning function.

To close this point I'll say that the argument is reasonably original and its wrappings correct. Overall I see it as a perfect fit for a science fiction police movie. A saga could be even done with the protagonist, his problem of being a bit less human than the rest could provide quite a lot of play.

THE OPINION: The way the story is told weighs the whole

It's not that it's badly written, not at all. The problem is that I felt its writting a bit cold, and the dialogs don't feel natural in certain moments. That last thing is specially obvious in the passages where a character is pondering his current situation, because they do it out loud and stressing things already noticed by the reader. It's a waste of space in a novel with a limited length, besides slightly annoying to the one reading because of treating him like an absent-minded person. Possibly, the reduced time available by the author to write the work and the scarce or nil revision done by the editor allowed it to end the way I found it. Now, this is not a catastrophic thing since the story lets to be read well.

The two main characteres in this novel have room enough to define themselves and being credible, they have their own personality and allows to sense the writer's experience who created them. Maybe they're archetypal after all and nothing that haven't been seen before but, at least, they have a place to live in this work and bring the reading through the right way: one filled with entertainment and adventure.

In general, Cibernauta's story hasn't aged very badly. It could be very interesting to update and improve its narrative style, apart from the dialogs. That is, to give the story room and time to polish it and make it grow. Nevertheless, the book that I've had in my hands is worth to be read and enjoyed.

THE VERDICT: Well done Garland, well done. But a bit more of warm in the narration wouldn't have hurt.

I have to admit that I value this novel more for what it could have been if it had had a greater lenght and better writting, i.e., for what it could have meant to unfold all the story's potential in the right medium. Luckily, Curtis Garland knew how to squeeze well the format he was working in and developed the text without leaving things out or using tricks to solve the plot. Everything that he tells is useful and entertaining. Therefore, it's time to give points to this novel, and who's better than a "distinguished" cyborg to do it. Yes, ladies and gentlemans, it's not someone you're thinking. This time I'll use the mug of Jean Claud Van Damme.

Then, and using a 7 points metric, I give: one JCVD for a good argument, another for unfolding it correctly and without "magic" or harsh resolutions, other one because of having two well developed protagonists, a half for being covered by something more terrifying than the content it illustrates, another half for trying to explain the sound heard in space opera movies, another half for being Curtis Garland and I don't give more because the coldness he has when relating and the way the characters speak. Final score, four JCVDs and half.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Here's the end of this miniseries of pulp pocketbooks' reviews, simply because I don't have more than the three I've evaluated. It could have been interesting to compare these works with others done by the same authors, but decades earlier. You know, to see the evolution they have had since their firsts published stories and in which details they were centered. The feeling that remains is that there should be a huge amount of good ideas half developed among the thousands of short novels published during the second half of the XX century. Maybe we should recover them and find out if they can provide us something nowadays, in spite of their seniority.

REFERENCES

If you want to know more about the 'novelas de a duro' (pulp novels), through the following links you'll be able to find a lot of information (in particular in the Sitio de Ciencia Ficción site) and lists of titles of the diverse collections published in Spain. Of course, all of this content is in spanish.

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