Past Master Paperback – 1 Dec 1968
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Top customer reviews
Thomas More is brought forward in time to solve a political problem on a supposedly utopian world, but the puzzle is not as simple as that. In some ways his presence is merely an excuse for everything else that goes on between a diverse cast of human and alien beings, all beautifully crafted and who leave a lasting impression in our mind. But then their actions are even more peculiar, and we need to travel right to the end of the book, through all of the book, to be able to comprehend what is going on. Skimmers beware, it really does make sense, but only if sufficient time has been allowed to read it properly.
Underlying the main theme of high adventure is a foundation of wit in various forms, sardonic, raucous, tender, even tragic, depending on the circumstance and individuals. The flavour of the narrative adds to the atmosphere, and once inside the story I would not want it any other way.
This is a book every SF enthusiast should have read, perhaps even owned and treasured. I bought my Ace copy, as shown here, when it came out in 1968, and have just enjoyed reading it again. I forget how many times I have re-read it in the intervening years.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The general idea is something like this: Something is wrong in a utopian world, something so wrong that the controllers of that world fear that it may be on the brink of collapse if serious action isn't taken. So the controllers send for Thomas More, who coined the term "utopia," in the hopes that he can do something about it. However, they aren't about to give over their own power and control to him, preferring to try and use him to continue to pursue their own agenda. But Thomas More has ideas of his own. Or does he? Just what does he believe? And what is he trying to do? To add to the fun, along the way, he will meet up with a man with no last name, Lilith (whose eyes never seem to be the same color for long), Adam (who is very good at dying), semi-angelic seals, an empire ruled over by a college fraternity, giant beasts with sulfurous brains, a priest, malevolent robots of all kinds, and men who may or may not be men, some of whom aren't quite sure what they are. No, it isn't crystal clear, but it all makes a lot more sense in the end than you would dream possible. Lafferty seems to have mastered the art of taking a huge number of preposterous and disparate elements and drawing them all together into one tightly knit story with a definite theme. Nothing is superfluous, no matter how absurd it seems at first.
I am sure not everyone will like this book, especially if they leave off after the first pages, when the story is still developing. But it doesn't take much patience before the story really grabs a hold of the reader. I read it in four days, and that is only because I forced myself to put it down three times. It's a book with something to say, if you're willing to read with attention, and it isn't in the end what it seemed at the beginning, but only because it's better than you would have imagined.
One caveat: A few references to Catholic morality and praxis may not make much sense to the non-Catholic reader, but they are central to the story, so a little digging for information on Catholicism at the time he wrote might be helpful. They aren't really complicated references, but one can tell that Lafferty's faith really shaped his worldview. His sly commentary on the New Mass is darkly hilarious, and very revealing as to the state of affairs at the time this was written.
Lafferty’s writing is deceptively simple and his characters are so weirdly fascinating, or fascinatingly weird, that had, by an unlikely cosmic coincidence, this book made it into the mainstream and spawn movies, games, etc, all this Laffertarian gang of characters, the Evita, the Thomas, the Paul, the green monk etc would have definitely been visualized and put on show in wax museums of the paradoxical, for everyone to feel either awed or disturbed or both.
Past Master is a polarizing, allegorical trip in a Utopia part Dystopia, or a Dystopia part Utopia. Which of the two? It’s up to each and every reader to decide.
Finally, consider that Past Master comes from an era where books were not bloated artificially and you have a highly recommended read.
Although I said that NOT TO MENTION CAMELS is a 'satisfying read' on a previous review, PAST MASTER is by far better and has more food for thought. Lafferty's off-beat style is easier to grasp and the book, which seems to be something of an allegory, and feels more complete and more thought-out. And, best of all, Lafferty conjures of up some haunting images and passages that I'll treasure in my mind for always (having read NINE HUNDRED GRANDMOTHERS I can vouch that he does this particularly well).
In all, this is a probably now one of my favourite novels and I recommend it heartily to anyone who wishes to discover 'the madman' Lafferty.
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