Saturday, July 31, 2004

Doris Piserchia

Doris Piserchia started publishing around 1972. She published 13 novels from 1973 to 1983. That was it. For some reason (from what I've found on the 'Net, a severe family illness might be the answer), she stopped writing in 1973. When she started again a few years ago, nobody would buy her stuff. She seems to have been pretty successful during her productive years, and her short fiction appeared in some prestigious publications. She was to have a story in LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS, but apparently we'll never see that one.

I got interested in Piserchia because of a review of MR. JUSTICE, which I included in an earlier post. I'd read only one book hers previously, BLOOD COUNTY, a DAW book that came out under the name "Curt Selby." (Piserchia says that the pen name was adopted because Donald Wollheim published four books by her in the year that BLOOD COUNTY appeared.) It's a very unusual vampire book in which, if I'm remembering correctly, the word "vampire" is never used.

But I wanted to talk about MR. JUSTICE. This was Piserchia's first novel, and Wollheim published it as half of an Ace Double. After reading it, I have to wonder what readers must have thought in 1973. Maybe the New Wave was in full flower (or whatever waves do) then. At any rate, it's a very strange book. I'm not sure I can describe the plot, but I'll give it a try.

Mr. Justice is a vigilante who can travel in time. He witnesses murders and other crimes, but he can't do anything to affect them. He can, however, take photos. Then he accosts the criminals in "real" time and doles out justice. Naturally something has to be done about this guy, but what can you do to stop a time traveller? The government singles out one kid and sends him to a special school. He's going to be their Mr. Justice hunter. Meanwhile the government agency that's running him is still hunting on its own.

At the same time there's another time traveller, Arthur Bingle, who's decided to use his power to take over the world. (You'd think he'd take a cool name for himself, like The Mastermind, but he doesn't.)

So far, so good, except that you don't get all this in a straightforward narrative, and there's also a lot more going on. A whole lot more, including a love story and some pretty weird family stuff, much of it undeveloped or cut short. It's almost as if Piserchia wrote 200,000 words and cut it to 60,000.

Some of the book is written in a semi-pulp style (the opening section, for example), while others are, well, less readable. It makes for an odd combination. If you go into this looking for something like an old Republic serial, you're going to be very disappointed. (But it might have worked better if it had been more like one of those serials.)

Some people think of this book as an undiscovered classic. I'm not convinced. But it's certainly different.

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