Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews : archive

Standard introduction for Postscripts to the Belated Reviews

Belated Reviews PS#8: Doris Piserchia

I'm going to sneak in another minor author of minor books whose work I've enjoyed. Doris Piserchia's work seems to be to some readers' tastes and not to others: I've enjoyed it, but I know many people who have read her books and have not cared for them. Fair warning.

Most of Piserchia's books appeared in the seventies -- a couple in the early eighties. Her typical protagonist is a highly (or super-) capable teenaged girl with a bad attitude, or at least what people around her consider to be a bad attitude. Her typical setting is squalid, surreal, sometimes both. The supporting characters vary widely in terms of sanity. Sometimes this mix works, sometimes it doesn't. Among her better works:

"Spaceling" (***) is my personal favorite. There are invisible rings floating through the air, and people who can see them -- a recent mutation -- can step through them to other worlds in other dimensions. (If the world is too far from Earth-normal, they are transformed into creatures adapted to that world.) Despite the possibilities of these worlds, things are fairly grim on Earth -- social breakdown, resource depletion, a mysterious rise in the incidence of earthquakes -- though most of the problems remain in the background.

In the foreground, we have Daryl, whose abilities -- exceptional control of the rings and exceptional physical adaptations -- extend well beyond those of the standard mutation. She also has amnesia. In the course of one of her unauthorized vacations from the school where she is being kept, she is kidnapped and sold to a team of agents whose investigation turns out to be related to the earthquakes. The problem of the earthquakes begins to converge with that of her lost past -- and neither seems to make much sense. As I said, I had fun with this book. It's unrealistic, even on its own terms -- the enemies Daryl faces are Keystone-Kop-level inept -- but the character of the protagonist and the style of the narration make the book enjoyable.

"Mister Justice" (***-) is Piserchia's first novel, and her strangest. The early twenty-first century is a time of social breakdown, and the breakdown is being fought (or abetted -- it's not clear) by an uncatchable vigilante who calls himself Mr. Justice. Sometimes he leaves criminals bound and gagged at police stations, with proofs of their crimes. (The proofs are typically in the form of photographs of the crimes being committed, although there were no witnesses.) Sometimes he exacts his own retribution. Finally, the Secret Service opts for a long-term solution to the problem: They recruit a twelve-year-old boy with exceptional potential, put him in a school which can enable him to realize that potential, and aim him at Mr. Justice. Years pass, during which Daniel Jordan grows up and starts his hunt, and during which society continues to break down. It's an early work, raw and imaginative, and the one portraying the most squalid of Piserchia's worlds. Of her better novels, it's also the one readers are most likely to dislike.

"A Billion Days of Earth" (**+) is placed, as the title might suggest, about three million years in the future. It's an Earth on which humans have evolved to the level of gods, and some animals -- notably the descendents of rats -- have evolved to the level of humans. One day something new evolves, or is born, a...soul eater, and it begins seducing people (of various sorts) into becoming part of it. It's a strange book, one that reads more like a fable than like a science fiction novel, but also a book with an odd charm.

"Earthchild" (***-) is also strange -- hardly a distinction for one of Piserchia's books. Four-year-old Reee is the last human on Earth when she is saved by an...elemental?...who calls herself Emeroo. The third...inhabitant, if you will...of Earth is another elemental (?), Indigo, who is in the process of eating the rest of the world. The rest of humanity has fled Indigo and retreated to Mars, where it gets along well enough until someone makes the mistake of rescuing Reee (against her will) and bringing *her* to Mars. She turns out to have brought an elemental (?) with her.

Some of Piserchia's books are simply bad. "The Fluger" (*) and "The Spinner" (*) come to mind. For the most part, her books are a strange combination of charm and ugliness. Her characters move through a dangerous world, collecting bruises, but rarely taking serious harm. Their antagonists are powerful or intelligent or vicious, but rarely all three. Despite what I said about there being such thing as a typical Piserchia novel, each of those I reviewed is quite different. If you're inclined to try her novels, I'd suggest "Spaceling" or "Earthchild" for a start.

Dani Zweig