Missing Man Paperback – 1 Dec 1975
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Then George bumps into the Rescue Squad and is swept up in the excitement of a hunt for a trapped girl. It is George who finds her with his special talent for guessing right . . . and it is George who suddenly becomes the pride of the Rescue Squad. With a friend running interference for him with the bureaucracy, George lands a place for himself as a "consultant" - and the more he works, the more his strange talents begin to grow.
With each success George begins to change. Using his special talents to rescue a computer technician from a gang of revolutionaries, he finds he has become a pawn in a mad iconoclastic game. A game where his own talents pose the greatest threat to The City-and the world!
Katherine MacLean's thrilling debut novel, based on work originally published in Analog magazine!
The setting for the book is a New York City where groups of people have become little self-contained communities within the city. This has led to a Balkanization such that many people never leave the five or ten blocks their communes lives on. Some of these communities are hostile to other communities. It is an interesting idea and Katherine MacLean does a good job of world building.
With this back drop the two main characters, George and Ahmad, struggle to help with law and order. They are childhood friends. Ahmad now works for the police force. After the first adventure George becomes a consultant. George has some ESP. For example he can pick up on people's thoughts and fears. Ahmad uses him to to rescue people and save the city from being destroyed, twice.
I was a bit surprised to find the Analog stories were changed slightly in the novel. For example in the one story Ahmad hasn't reported back to his supervisor for several days. George goes looking for him and finds Ahmad a prisoner in the Arab Jordon territory. In the Analog version this commune was going to kill Ahmad but George comes in and eventually everyone leaves on friendly terms. In the book version George rescues Ahmad and the Arab Jordon community is very hostile to George and Ahmad until near the end of the book.
Near the end George comes to learn more about himself and his abilities. The book is pleasant and I enjoyed rereading it. I do wish Katherine MacLean had written more about George. She opened a the door to some interesting possibilites and we never found out what happened to George.
If you enjoy 1970s classic Science Fiction, then I think you'll enjoy this book.
Katherine MacLean's underrated and seldom read novel Missing Man (1975) was expanded from her 1971 Nebula Award winning novella by the same name. I've not read the original version so I'm unsure about how much was added, subtracted, or completely re-conceptualized.
The novel version is a finely wrought vision of a future post-disaster Balkanized New York City comprised of innumerable communes, often at war with each other, inhabited by a small number of slightly telepathic people who are able to detect the emotions of others. Archetype individuals, without knowing, project emotions when they are in danger which could at any moment plunge society into intercommune war.
Maclean's world buildings skills are second to none. She refrains completely from frustrating "info dump lecture moments" which plague si-fi and instead reveals the world slowly through the actions and observations of her characters. The result is an vibrant and organic world -- replete with dystopic threads -- which exudes realism.
Katherine MacLean's prose is admirable. Beautiful sentences populate the pages, "We tasted ethnic food and played strange archaic games and rituals of the reconstructed past" (152). It takes a while to get used to the majority of the prose since it's a first person narrative from the point of view of a character, George Sanford, who's convinced he's unintelligent. As with Philip K. Dick's "chicken headed" characters in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) George, despite his lack of schooling and inability to acquire a regular job due to his frequent mental breakdowns (and lack of focus), has moments of poignant wisdom and almost savant telepathic skill. MacLean's character building skills are on show -- George is a peculiar individual endowed with extraordinary mental gifts, an inability to settle down in any particular role in society, often manipulated by dubious or downright destructive people, yet possessed with an intense loyalty to his friends.
Brief Plot Summary (some spoilers)
George Sanford aimlessly wanders the streets during the day doing odd jobs, repeatedly trying to use his credit card on soup machines, and spends most nights at the Karmic Brotherhood commune -- one of many communes that make up New York City. Eventually he meets up with his childhood friend Ahmed employed by the Rescue Squad which tracks down emoting archetype individuals in danger whose negative emotions drive others to desperate acts. When George and Ahmed were children they both were members of an multiracial UN Brotherhood Gang which sought to protect people and sneak into various culture enclave communes.
Ahmed enlists George Sanford's help in tracking down a missing girl. George's "talent" seems to be an odd capacity for guessing right and soon the girl is found. He's employed as a specialist by the Rescue Squad but lacks all ability and discipline to fill out forms, pass examinations, or adhere to guidelines. However Ahmed's trust in him is repeatedly vindicated when multiple emoting individuals are easily rescued.
Soon a more nefarious scheme is uncovered after the inflatable dome of an underwater commune of city bureaucrats and their families collapses killing thousands. George discovers that a fifteen-year-old boy poet and historian named Larry is responsible. This boy has access to the workings of the city and plays the various self-serving communes off of each other. In this environment of terror George is increasingly persuaded by the veracity of boy's message that there's a government plot by the educated "techs" to persecute and sterilize everyone else...
MacLean's vision of a decentralized and crumbling future New York replete with an Aztec Commune, Karmic Brotherhood Commune, Arab immigrant enclaves, underwater communes, emoting archetype individuals which threaten to engulf the city in violence and terror, endless carnivals, and roving gangs of children is beautifully realized. Throughout she pairs events with bits of news clips and soundbites. The telepathic abilities possessed by some are a matter of fact -- normality -- and never expounded on in pseudo-technical terms for pages and pages. George's character is most powerfully drawn from simple actions and situations -- for example his mental breakdowns which occur when he has to fill out paperwork for his position with the Rescue Squad. The characters, the world, and even the plot (the weakest element of the work) combine seamlessly.
Missing Man deserves to be read, discussed, and rediscovered. One of the best sci-fi novels on telepathy you'll ever read.
Pick up a copy.
I re-read the novel very recently. It's refreshingly devoid of aliens, robots, nanos, quantum physics, genetic warfare, vampires, zombies, wizards...well, alright, it has wizards of a sort. I suppose that dates the telling but the tale remains sociological and to some extent psychological sci-fi of the best kind.
And anime suits it wonderfully. Anybody watching?