Friday, 25 December 2009

"Man Plus" by Frederik Pohl

I've been travelling for the holidays, which means I've finally been cooped up for long enough to read a few new books. Since I have a bit of time off, I also have a bit of time to write up some of the books I've finished but haven't written up yet. Look for a few new posts in the next few weeks.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Frederick Pohl one of my favorite authors, but I've enjoyed his work before. "Heechee Rendezvous" in particular is a classic, just the right mix of fantastic ideas and everyday human experience.

The world of "Man Plus" is one in which the Earth's resources are scarce, and war looms. Humanity's hopes for long-term survival turn to Mars (apparently they haven't read that Ray Bradbury story where we get to Mars only to find out that we already used up all its resources before moving to Earth). The story centers around transforming an astronaut into a cyborg whose altered body is capable of withstanding the rigors of life on Mars. It's terraforming at the human level, androforming if you will.

The life of the titular cyborg is a believable mix of tedium and existential terror, duty and depression. Like the protagonist in "Now Wait for Last Year" (one of my all-time favorites), this "Man Plus" is more motivated by the desire for love, companionship, and understanding, even though he is also bound by his ambition and sense of duty to country. He is a "man" (husband, soldier) first, and a "plus" (cyborg) second. The "plus" is what makes this a good work of science fiction, the "man" is what makes it great.

Although I haven't loved every book in the "SF Masterworks" series, this book is another gem that I'd never have encountered otherwise. Highly recommended.

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