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Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1985 Nebula Award Nominee- 'The Remaking of Sigmund Freud' by Barry N. Malzburg

This book could be a prime example that our surrounding and mindset has almost as much to do with our enjoyment of a novel as the content.  'The Remaking of Sigmund Freud' has everything that an SF reader should want in a novel, originality, humor, complexity, interesting writing style, but somehow the book comes off as flat.  I'm forced to ask myself if this was just my experience in reading, as I was on vacation and this book followed several other superior novels, or is this the general experience in reading the book?

I never assumed that Sigmund Freud would make for a good protagonist in a novel, and I don't think Malzburg believed that either.  The character of Freud in the book comes off about as well as one would think he would in real life.  His internal monologue and actions are frustrating throughout the novel, kind of what you would expect if Sigmund Freud actually were to go on the sort of space adventure we see here.

You have to applaud Malzburg for originality here, no matter what else you think.  The concept of famous people from the twentieth century somehow ending up on spaceships, no matter the faulty logic involved or the convoluted reasoning behind it, is pretty awesome.  Deserving even more applause is Malzburg's choice of which twentieth century personalities to showcase in his novel.  If I were picking famous people to place on a spaceship I would probably go with Ghengis Khan, or George Patton, making it a military SF novel seems like a logical move.  Even Sir Richard Burton or some other explorer in space would make sense.  Malzburg's idea to resurrect Freud, Mark Twain, and Emily Dickenson deserves some degree of respect.  This is probably the only novel ever published that will feature these three characters on a spaceship.

The actual commentary that Malzburg is trying to make with these characters borders on the profound but is ultimately derailed by the distraction of using real life characters.  Some of the comments the author attempts to make about mental illness and the future of humanity in space are interesting, but when Sigmund Freud shows up complaining about Carl Jung the entire thing goes off the rails and any gravitas the author was attempting to bring turn into a spate of giggles.

Towards the end there is a bit of introspection regarding fame and success, and how close each of these major historical characters perhaps was to being largely forgotten by history.  Freud then trades in his entire fictional life from the book for the real life that we are aware of.  It's an interesting bit of metafiction and kind of a cool question to think about, the random choices in a life that can lead to success or failure.  But, by and large doesn't save the novel from earlier distractions.

This isn't the first book I've reviewed that attempted to take a preposterous premise and treat it seriously.  I think 'The Void Captain's Tale' wins the prize in that regard.  Whereas in Void Captain Norman Spinrad's talent as a writer was able to keep the reader grounded and suspend disbelief (stave off the giggles) for the duration of the novel, in Remaking Malzburg is not quite up to the task of making us take this story seriously the entire time.

Malzburg would have done better to emulate a writing style more like Philip Dick who even in his earlier, less ridiculous work, never seemed to take his writing too seriously and and was never scared to let the originality of his idea overshadow everything else.  Jonathan Lethem's 'Gun, with Occasional Music,' would be a modern idea of this, where the author never demands that we take the novel too seriously, and is therefore able to command our attention through a good story.

Remaking is an interesting novel that gets points for originality.  It's just what the reader should be looking for in a Nebula nominee from the early eighties.  Flawed but original, I'm sure every review for the novel was bound to say 'something new' somewhere in it, which this book definitely is.  Though 'The Remaking of Sigmund Freud' never really had a chance to win any awards, it was published in the same year as 'Ender's Game' and 'Blood Music' after all, but it's more than deserving of a nomination, and I'm glad it was.  Otherwise it might be totally forgotten by now.

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