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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Involuntary Human by David Gerrold

The Involuntary Human by David Gerrold. Framingham, Massechusetts: NESFA Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-886778-68-9

I haven't read much by David Gerrold, to be perfectly honest. The only thing I can remember ever reading by him was The Flying Sorcerers which he co-wrote with Larry Niven, way back in 1971. I'm not sure when I read it, but I don't think it was quite that long ago, but it was many years ago, to be sure. The Flying Sorcerers was quite frankly one of the funniest SciFi novels I've ever read, before or since. If you've never read it, I HIGHLY recommend it.

But this review is supposed to be about Gerrold's collection The Involuntary Human. I must confess I warmed up to one hidden aspect of his personality just from reading his intro. He likes to write limericks! (As do I.) He wants to publish a collection of them someday (as do I) if only he could get a publisher interested in a volume titled The Satanic Limericks. I'm afraid mine might even be worse. The title I came up with was The World's Most Disgusting Limericks, but that's another story.

So do I have anything to say about THIS book? Well, it starts out with a collection of aphorisms attributed to one Solomon Short. Additional collections are scattered through the book hither and yon. Some of them are pretty darn good. Some samples:

A quote is what you say when you don't have anything of our own to say.

Piss happens too.

A man's speech should exceed his grasp, or what's a metaphor?

Ignorance is bliss? It ought to be painful!

Great minds often think alike. But then, so do mediocre minds.

The first place to look for evil is in the mirror.

And those are all from the first batch of them, mostly chosen because they were short and easy to type. So what about the stories? The very first one is still one of my favorites. Titled “The Martian Child,” it appears to be based on the author's real life experience adopting a child. With a little twist, of course. This story definitely reveals Gerrold's humanity. If I hadn't known who wrote it, I might have suspected Orson Scott Card, because like his stories, it's got a heart, a BIG heart. And since the second story pretty much takes up where the first one let off, it's a favorite too. Way to go, Gerrold.

Then come some more Solomon Short aphorisms, three PAGES of them, mind you. I can't resist providing another sampling:

A little ignorance goes a long way.

Hell hath no fury like a pacifist.

Common sense isn't.

Never justify anything. If it needs justification, it's already wrong.

Bad taste is timeless.

You deserve the gods you worship.

Murphy's law is always a good excuse.

Next comes a Star Trek: Next Generation script which never got produced, which caused the author to leave the series. It's OK, but I'm not very good at doing the mental gymnastics necessary to turn it into a real story. I'd have preferred that he rewrite it AS a story. Then a couple of gimmicky stories, “A Shaggy Dog Story,” (literally), and “The Strange Death of Orson Welles.” OK, but not great. Then more Solomon Short aphorisms. But no, I'm not typing any in here, no matter how good or clever they are, because if I do, I'll never get this review finished.

Gerrold is apparently famous for his "War Against the Chtorr" series, which he describes as his “epic seven book trilogy about an ecological infestation of the Earth . . . “ and here he provides a lengthy excerpt that didn't make it into book 5, but will apparently show up in book 6. Not my cup of tea. I don't believe I've ever read any of the Chtorr series, although I'm not 100% positive, since I was at least peripherally aware of them. But I suppose any fan of that series will want to get a hold of this book to read this story before the next volume comes out.

Here's a sample of the so-called Satanic Limericks:

A limerick of proper proportion
should have meter and rhyme and a portion
of humor quite lewd,
and a frightfully crude,
impossible sexual contortion.

Not a bad definition, that!

“Digging in Gehenna” was the next half-way decent story, and once again, it involves a family. The King Kong pieces were boring. For some reason, all of the stories I liked the best were family tales. “Chester” wasn't a very nice story, but I enjoyed it, again because of the family aspects.

BTW, there have been two or three more Solomon Short “Interludes” by now. Frankly, they became tedious after a while. Even when they were good. They weren't stories, and I had to force myself through them. This collection is a decidedly mixed bag. It has some good stuff, some indifferent stuff, and some lousy (read “definitely not my cup of tea”) stuff. If you've never read any David Gerrold, by all means go read The Flying Sorcerers. If you're a Gerrold fan, well, go ahead and read this, I guess. Otherwise, you probably needn't bother.

That's not really fair. If you like family oriented stories with a SciFi twist, or think you might like them, then this book is also worth checking out (from your local library!).


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