So after the almost not quite where is this going what is she trying to say with this I don’t quite get the point faffery in The Best of All Possible Worlds, it’s something of a relief to read a book with some plain, simple, honest-to-goodness eugenics at its core. ‘Cos if you’re going to treat people as breeding stock you may as well do it with Nazis, eh?
This all gets revealed about two-thirds of the way though, but just look at that cover and tell me that’s not a pretty clear hint right there (also, the blurb, the publicity, and just everything else used to flog the book). I also don’t feel all that bad about giving it away like this because I’m claiming this as SF and the cloning aspect is the only SFnal part of the book; otherwise it’s a pretty taught little thriller. The genetic engineering stuff is, to be honest, a Macguffin and while I can definitely see that knowing the ‘puzzle’ aspect of the story robs the big reveal of a certain shock factor, this is really about the two leads – Mengele and the ageing Nazi hunter Yakov Libermann (loosely based on Simon Wiesenthal) – and knowing why the plot is in action doesn’t detract from the tension or drama of the final confrontation. In fact, knowing that in actuality Mengele got off scot free and died at liberty in South America only adds to the need to find out how Levin is going to wrap it all up credibly.
I know how things panned out in real life because I looked it up on Google (obviously). It’s not happy reading. This is the second book in the past few months that I’ve read with Mengele as a significant character and I do have to wonder at the ethics of fictionalizing real figures who’ve been responsible for genuine atrocities. Hitler, somehow, is fine. He’s such an outlier that he’s in a category of one, but using the lesser (‘lesser’, Jesus wept) villains as narrative hooks makes me feel incredibly uneasy. Real people died in horrific ways and while the passage of time salves all wounds, this stuff is still in living memory territory and was even more so in 1976.
I’m not sure what I’m saying here. It’s good that there is still that power to appal, and if fictional accounts mean that remains then it’s all to the good. But when you spend most of a novel thinking about a Wikipedia page it prompted you to read it’s hard to know how to take it.
So that second badge is for, obviously enough, The Vintage SF Month hosted over at the Little Red Reviewer. She was kind enough to let me witter on for a bit about the passage of time and change and suchlike in a manner which I doubt you lot over here would tolerate. Nevertheless, if you do fancy a look here it is - The Future Was Now