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Bug Jack Barron Paperback – 12 Oct 1999
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Norman Spinrad made his biggest SF splash with Bug Jack Barron, whose 1967--68 New Worlds serialisation brought raging controversy which Michael Moorcock discusses in an afterword. It's a quintessential 1960s novel, prophetically highlighting the irresponsible power of mass media and corporations.
TV megastar Jack Barron hosts the wildly popular Bug Jack Barron, a phone-in show that listens to public gripes and puts politicians and bosses on the spot--live. Naturally Barron pulls his punches for safety's sake...until he tangles with paranoid billionaire Benedict Howards, peddler of cryonic immortality, and walks into a minefield of deadly cover-ups. Violence erupts. Howards believes he can buy anyone, even Barron's estranged wife, even Barron. Barron doesn't mind selling out if the coin is immortality. On TV, the power remains all his:
As they rolled the final commercial Barron felt a weird manic exhilaration, knowing that he had set up a focus of forces that could squash the five-hundred-billion-dollar Foundation for Human Immortality like a bug if Bennie proved dumb enough to not holler "Uncle".The Foundation's medical secret--poor science but still packing a vicious gut-punch--is more appalling than Barron's nastiest guesses; by the time he learns the truth he's ensnared in complicity. Worse things follow. At the climax, with nothing left to lose, our man goes for broke in a desperate effort to crack Howards open in Barron's own glowing TV arena, in front of 100,000,000 viewers....Slightly dated and occasionally crude, but still hyper-intense, memorable stuff. --David Langford
Bug Jack Barron is a controversial science fiction novel that managed to upset the British Parliament because of its depiction of the power of money and money''s corrosive effect upon the media.'
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No doubt it will offend those who want to bowdlerise classic literature to pretend the nasty old past never existed. So read it with an open mind. It is very much a product of its times. Science fiction on a baroque scale.
The novel was also given a lot of stick for being the first science fiction book to use the 'F' word, although by modern standards, the language is quite tame and I can recall reading a wonderful critique of the time, taking the author to task for his 'preposterous' prediction that America would ever have Ronald Reagan as its president ¬- as I said, the world is a totally believable one to a 21st century audience!
This is science fiction, and Norman Spinrad, at their respective bests. The book easily crosses the divide between mainstream novel and science fiction - there are no aliens called Gloop from the planet Glup, just ordinary people falling in love, being haunted by their pasts and buckling to the corruptive lure of power, fame and immortality. The first time I read this book was during my morning commute into London for a job I detested; the week it took me to savour every word was the only time in three years I got out of bed relishing the journey. Totally absorbing, shocking and riveting: a unique tale, and by far Spinrad's greatest work.
Then, one day, he for a change decides to run with a different story: someone has apparently been ... hmm ... buying young children from poor, very poor families... Over the course of a few weeks, Jack Barron will discover how those events are connected, who is behind all that (you have one guess...) and what is the goal behind them (do you like the idea of dying? Just asking...)
Then, he will be face with the ultimate challenge... What exactly is the price of his silence?
A very good book, much better written than many other Spinrad books (he's a little bit too weird for my taste, at times...) A great read.
Check out 'The Men in the Jungle' and the short story collection 'Last hurrah of the Golden Horde'