I didn’t know what I’d make of The Deceivers. It was more than thirty years since I’d last read it and, apart from the fact that I had been disappointed with it from the very outset, I could not remember a thing about the book. This was as if I was reading it for the very first time.
Nor did I remember anything about it whilst reading it, and I am usually very good about having my memory jogged about something in a book previously read, no matter how long after I return to it.
Oddly enough, after the horrendousness of Golem 100, I found myself quietly liking this book. Not to the extent of ignoring its many flaws, or of finding it in the least bit convincing, but it lacks the larger part of the misanthropy, the terrible urge to wallow in horror that makes Golem 100 such an unclean experience. Simply by dialling back on the crassness, The Deceivers becomes a by default more pleasant experience.
Oh, but it is so bad in so many ways! I don’t mean such almost inevitable factors such as the underlying racism, his misogyny and his even more vicious homophobia, but in the book itself, the lack of any adequate idea for an actual storyline, the pages devoted to extrapolation that once would have been a fascinating digression on a dazzling future but which is now backwards-directed discourses on racial characteristics, and the confusingly slipshod structure which slips into and out of first and third parties, whilst supposing to be an account compiled from everyone’s stories by a figure simultaneously controlling and peripheral, who drops into and out of the story, which is about someone else, and unforgivably, is a quasi-authorial figure who lacks a genuine presence.
I’d be tempted to say that the book demands the attentions of a strong-minded editor, except for the manifest evidence that an editorial hand would basically demolish the book and leave nothing on which to build.
To me, this is a dead book. It’s been written because the author has to write, whether he has anything to write about or not. That’s something most people don’t understand: writing is a compulsion, sometimes as strong as the compulsions that drive the Gully Foyles and Ben Reich’s of fiction. It can’t just be switched on and off at will. We think in words: we work things out in words, and if we have nothing to be said, we will still look at new ways of saying things. That’s what comes off The Deceivers for me.
Very well then: what is this book about? The hard ones first, huh?
The book is about Rogue Winter, or properly R-og Uinta. Rogue is some kind of super-enhanced human, whose special conception is dealt with in a preliminary section that riffs a bit off Bester’s successful Sixties short story, ‘Somebody up there likes me’. Rogue’s ‘parents’ die in a spaceship crash as he’s adopted by the Maoris, who now have a planet, or a moon, to themselves somewhere in the outer reaches of the Solar System (it’s the twenty-seventh century and Man has colonised the Solar but in racially specific terms, naturally).
This is a Solar system suffused with the energy of Meta, a super-source mined on a moon run by the Jinks (i.e., Japanese-Chinese, or J-Chinks, which is the furthest I’m going to go into those kind of terms).
Rogue is a Synergist, which appears to be an upgraded version of Bester’s inductors, those who deduce from disparate information. Synergism involves an extra focus on patterns, of which Bester demonstrates a couple of ‘sophisticated’ examples, such as a trail based on The Twelve Days of Christmas, although it rather falls down when Rogue fails to spot the obvious one in the back half of the book that rather batters itself against the readers’ eyes.
Rogue is also an unconscious agent for some Terran Government organisation, represented by the sometime narrator, Odessa Partridge, who’s in the secrecy-about-something business. And despite being adopted, he’s heir to the Maori kingdom, despite not wanting to be a king. But his predecessor dies and he has to accede to the throne, despite opposition, which makes him a dangerous figure to some in the Solar.
Shortly prior to this, Rogue is set upon by, and falls in love with one of his magazine’s co-workers, Demi Jeroux. Demi’s from Titania, so that makes her a shapeshifter, and she can change into anything, except perhaps a character with a discernible character or serious point in the story. Actually, despite the fact Titanians can’t get impregnated by humans, she gets knocked-up on the first night with Rogue.
And, whilst Rogue is off getting crowned, Demi disappears, presumed kidnapped by the Meta Mafia (i.e., the Jinks) which sends Rogue on a rampage, by the end of which he’s defeated, humiliated and broken, possibly permanently, the slickest, most sophisticated mind in the Solar, a guy somewhat smarter than every other cleverclogs put together, but that doesn’t matter because this T’omas is a sick fag, anyway. You can always tell.
Confused by that? I’ve not been deliberately vague about the story, that it all I can make of it 48 hours after reading the book. It really is as disjointed, inexplicable and broken-backed as that. Incoherent would be a kind word to use.
As for Demi, she’s not kidnapped, only hidden, and it’s crucial to keeping the book going for as long as it does that Rogue should ignore what’s under his nose.
It’s a tangible disaster, and first time round I read it with increasing dismay, unable to see any merit in it. A long time later, with no expectations, I admit that I found it mildly likeable, and whereas I don’t intend to keep Golem 100, I’ll probably hold on to this. In it’s way, it’s an example. Of what, I’m not entirely sure. Most people who want to write should read it: much will be learned.
The Deceivers was the last book published in Alfred Bester’s lifetime, and the last book he finished. But writers have to write, and many years later, there was one more book to consider.