Dead and Alive is another book (see yesterday’s post on The Avenger) that I already knew the outcome of from having read a later book. Unlike with The Avenger, I wasn’t fascinated by the way the author developed the plot to reach the expected conclusion.
The only characters I really enjoyed were Erika Five and Jocko, Victor (Frankenstein) Helios’ tank-produced wife and the troll-like creature that grew in and burst out of another of Victor’s New Race people who was masquerading as a police detective. (All that is told in the first two books of the series.) I knew them as characters from the later book, but in that book they already knew each other well. Here I could see their relationship develop as their own characters develop – both having been independently alive (i.e. out of the tank and out of the detective’s body) only a day or two.
The rest of the book is pretty much showing numerous New Race people going off the rails in one way or another. The replicants of the District Attorney and his wife discover that the most pleasure they’ve ever had is killing members of the Old Race (i.e. human beings) – while running around stark naked. Victor’s housekeeper thinks she’s a character from a movie she watched (she happens to look just like the actress who played that character). Another of Victor’s servants thinks a cantaloupe is a crystal ball telling him the way to happiness.
Victor, meanwhile, becomes more and more convinced of his own greatness, to the point that he nearly loses touch with reality. That is probably a positive aspect of the book – a graphic illustration of how continually choosing vice over virtue (and self-aggrandizement is definitely a vice, even if not one of the first we typically associate with that word) leads to disintegration. Humans are created to live by certain moral principles; the human body and soul cannot remain healthy if those principles are ignored.
With the disintegration of the non-human New Race, however, it’s not clear whether the fault is in Victor’s programming or in the mere fact that he attempted to created people artificially. With the exception of his wives (the current Erika is his fifth attempt at a wife that meets his needs perfectly), he does not allow them emotions other than anger, envy, and hate. He allows them no happiness and no family life, as those produce sentimentality, which reduces efficiency. The Erikas (both Four and Five) develop compassion and hope, because Victor had allowed them to feel a wider range of emotions (so that he could enjoy their suffering when he abused them).
This suggests that because Victor used human genetic material to build his New Race, they are not truly non-human, but rather humans so handicapped by Victor’s meddling that they cannot live anything approaching a normal life, no matter how physically superior they may be. If his message is that humans need to be able to pursue happiness, and to have hope and compassion, I quite agree, but he seemed intent on hammering the point home long past the point where I became tired of the repetition.
It’s not that it’s an awful book. It just could have been a whole lot better.