Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Philip Jose Farmer
G. P. Putnam, 1985 (my hardcover copy is a first edition)
Size: Medium (my copy has 320 pages)
Theme: Future society
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Jeff Caird
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This story takes places in the future, where overpopulation (a problem we already have today) has led society to two major and interrelated evolutions. The first was technical; the development of a kind of quantum suspended animation that works for both living things and inanimate objects, which is termed (not very fanciful, in my opinion) stoning. The second was societal, namely, each person now lives only 1 day per each 7 real time days. They spend the other 6 stoned, and do not feel any effect of time going by.

Taking place more than 1500 years from now, a new type of crime has appeared: daybreaking (refusing to obey the 1-in-7-days basic societal premise). Other major transgressions include littering, even beyond what a radical environmentalist would expect. And in this universe, a select few live outside the normal rules. Keeping in secret a drug that extends life expectancy substantially, some of them live 7 different lives, one per day. Jeff Caird is one of them, and arguably, the one where the concept of having 7 personalities has taken a greater hold. In the brink of having his secret exposed because of a couple of criminals with a personal grudge towards him, his different personalities will each have to try to act in their own days to save the day.

The novel follows Jeff Caird, in each of his roles, and each chapter of the book is a different day. Although that was surprising in the beginning, and I even had some slight doubts I would enjoy this style, it ends up working very well, as the different plot strands start intertwining and crossing each other as the plot evolves. The characters are well developed, and despite being very radically different for a single mind to have spawned them, an adequate explanation is provided. The fundamental concept itself is very innovative (in fact, I was eager to read the book), and the story is told in a unique way. It has a fast pace, with a lot of action, and reads very nicely from start to end (character development is probably the aspect I felt less happy with). The ending is quite interesting and leaves things sufficiently open for a sequel; which does exist. However, I was a bit put off by the seemingly ordinary world waiting for us in the millennia to come. Technology, aside from the stoning effect, has evolved very little, and even the society changes seem to me shallow in face of the huge time gap.

Aside from the little bit of violence and sex, I would recommend this book only for young adults since it seems to me that meaningful details of the plot, particularly the implications of such a different society on human psyche will be very difficult for someone very young to appreciate. Overall, I enjoyed the book and will likely read the others in this series.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

Even having killed Castor, his secret is discovered and he has to go on the run. Towards the end of the book, Jeff is nearly able to evade his pursuers in the tunnels below the city, but is eventually caught. The book ends as he talks with a psychicist, his personae seemingly gone. However, we are given a glimpse of his escape plan, and how he managed to hide all relevant information in a new and mysterious personality…

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