Fiction as fantasy

The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour. New York: Bantam. 357 pp. $13.75. THE Anasazi (Navajo for Ancient Ones) left enough cultural secrets in their stone citadels to intrigue anyone who ventures by book or car into the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. Atop L'Amour's ``Haunted Mesa,'' where space-time anomalies let parallel worlds collide, Eric Hokart is snatched by the dark lords of Amerind myth who commute between our free-spirited time and their spirit-ridden one. Mounted on his faithful, air-conditioned four-wheel drive, Mike Raglan rides to the rescue of his kidnapped friend and assorted fair maidens; with guns, fists, or faithful dog, in a kiva or karate, our hero shows all the Right Stuff. Dialogue, characters, and denouement are as tacky, unconvincing, and shallow as the author's passion for mesa and canyonland are evocative, deep, and real. This is not (like Dean Ing's ``Anasazi'') informed anthropological speculation for the sophisticated but is innocuous time-passing for a teen-ager with undeveloped literary taste. L'Amour's flaccid pap-fantasy is a sad case of love's labor lost. Roderick, by John Sladek. New York: Carroll and Graf. 348 pp. $3.95.

At Minnetonka U, where academics run their departments like gerbils run their wheels, a charismatic NASA scam-artist creates a robot research project so secret only he can divert funds from it for his own use. (sound familiar? From this unlikely fakery there arises a genuine A(rtificial)I(ntelligence): Roderick, an innocently suggestible little tabula rasa data-fed by every TV set, toddler, and theologian he meets. He is smuggled off campus, abused by ecologists, kidnapped by Gypsies, enslaved as a carnival fortuneteller, enrolled in public and parochial school - in short, put in every hilarious position Sladek can invent to compromise professional fools and fools in every profession. Jargon-ridden cant-spouters from the Middle West to the Middle East have their characters irresistibly assassinated in this paperback reissue of an acclaimed 1980 Marxian satire straight out of Groucho. In Sladek's wickedly literate Battle of the Boobies, everybody who deserves it gets a Swiftian kick from Roderick - and so will you. Hardwired, by Walter Jon Williams. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. (First mass market printing). 343 pp. $3.50.

``Hardwired'' means direct computer enhancement of body and brain, and the crystal connection glitters like the two-edged sword of human ingenuity in this stylized saga of future humans cyber-fitted to survive. Earth's dirt-siders, meteor-blasted into submission by profiteering conglomerates in orbit, then monitored by satellite-run datas and weapons systems, have to wire-up and compete or be wiped out. In Williams' war-savaged west of silicon-chipped outlaws, idealism and love have not vanished - they have simply, like Sarah and Cowboy - suffered a ``C'' (for cyber) change. You may not like what they are loyal to, but they still need loyalties to live. Cowboy recruits other plugged-in, freedom-loving sky jocks to save his spacer-scavenged world, while always at his back he hears, over a computer net of plots, implants, and ideals, the anthem of pilots hot-wired to their wings ``... (Inter)Face Riders In the Sky.'' Judge for yourself whether Sladek's glitzy immorality play is high-tech ``cyberpunk'' violence or a violent warning that the time to look at our high-tech future is now.

Frances Deutsch Louis teaches at York College, CUNY.

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