After buying the Ace Double book to get a copy of The Winds of Darkover to add to my collection, it seemed silly not to flip the book over and read the other novel, The Anything Tree by John Rackham. It was a frivolous read … classic patriarchal science fiction that contained a few neat ideas to offset the things that annoy me so much about much of the pulp fiction written during that era.
The Anything Tree begins with our heroine, the beautiful and brilliant Selena Ash, discovering that her small space cruiser has been sabotaged. This alerts her that someone knows she is not just the empty-headed social butterfly and daughter of a wealthy, powerful intergalactic businessman she’s been pretending to be! After being thrown off course and deftly disabling the bomb intended to destroy her, Selena manages to land on a nearby planet so that the real adventures can begin. On this unknown, uncharted planet, she meets Joe, a man who claims to have been stranded and living on the planet for a few years. He has “gone native” and his companion is a seemingly sentient blue flowered plant named Friendly.
Since this was written in the 70s, there has to be a scene where the heroine’s clothing gets destroyed and her voluptuous beauty is briefly revealed, there has to be evil and ugly villains who meet tragic ends and of course there has to be the usual smattering of cool technology and societal advancements for us to dream about. Finally, the girl must realize that she would rather stay in the middle of nowhere with the hero, who faces an impossible challenge but is true to himself, rather than go back to being a spy on her own.
Can you tell there were things that bothered me about this novel?
While there were some interesting ethical questions and one plot twist that caught me completely by surprise, the fact remains that this story seemed so weak in comparison to the rich, intricate offering that Marion Zimmer Bradley was able to accomplish with just 25 more pages of text in the same Double book. When I looked John Rackham up on Wikipedia, I felt as if I’d read one or two of his other novels in my teens and certainly quite a few of his short stories in Analog magazine. The overall impression that I have, from reading The Anything Tree, is that his work is too formulaic and patriarchal to ever capture more than a passing glance from me.
Paperback format, 114 pages, published in 1970 by ACE Books.
Yet another dystopian novel jumps on the bandwagon, hoping somehow to snare a portion of the reading audience so enchanted by Hunger Games. Like Matched and a few of the other novels I have been reviewing as part of this challenge, Wither makes a brave attempt to carve its own place among the competition.
The marketing campaign behind this series is brilliant and certainly has its pulse on where the next generation goes to create a buzz. The website for the trilogy is slick and the trailer on YouTube feels almost like a movie trailer aiming to entice a techno-savvy generation into reading this novel.
The basic premise of the Chemical Garden series is simple yet disturbing. Thanks to the meddling of science and the attempts to eliminate diseases, a plague has affected all of the younger generations of humanity. Men now die at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20 from the virus that plagues civilization. The gap between rich and poor has widened to the point where the wealthy are now able to entice or kidnap multiple brides for their young sons to breed successive generations or find a cure before they themselves (the untouched older generation) perish wither and die.
Wither opens with plenty of action. 16 year old Rhine Ellery is captured by the “Gatherers” and sold along with 2 other girls to become new brides for a wealthy young man named Linden Ashby of Florida while the rest of the captured girls are brutally slaughtered. After being drugged and transported to closed compound of the Ashby manor, Rhine and her “sister brides”, Jenna and Cecily begin a life of captivity and privilege. Rose, the love of Linden’s life is dying from the virus and they are to be her replacements.
Wither was one of the most disturbing books that I’ve read in a long time. It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale or Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. When 13 year old Cecily becomes pregnant and carries Linden’s child to term or 18 year old Jenna uses sex as a weapon, it felt like promoting teenage exploitation. The fact that Rhine somehow manages to escape consummating her marriage for the entire novel, despite Linden sleeping next to her many nights in her room, is not only improbable, it may give young women a false sense of their own safety. When the heroine falls in love with a young servant in the house, she pretends to be more compliant in order to earn the privileges that come along with being a “First Wife”. The rest of the novel deals with her challenges as she tries to avoid arousing the suspicions of Linden’s demented scientist father, Housemaster Vaughn. What twisted experiments is he conducting in order to find a cure? Does he mean for Cecily’s son to be Linden’s malleable heir if a cure cannot be found in time?
Two novels remain in this series and I may eventually read both of them to satisfy my curiosity of how the story turns out… but I find the mercenary, dismal, objectifying overtones of this first book will certainly keep me from recommending Wither to friends with daughters and my own youngest daughter.
Hardcover format, 358 pages, published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster