Red Hour Orgy
When I heard Walter Mosleyarguably one of the most gifted black writers of our generationwas tackling science fiction in his latest novel "Blue Light", I was psyched. I found "Red Death", one of his Easy Rawlins mysteries, to be nothing short of stunning. It was a perfect fusion of both Chester Himes and Raymond Chandlersort of Native Son meets The Commies (again), seen through the eyes of Mosleys iconic Private Eye. Red Death bled intelligence, insight and style.
Thus, I assumed his stab at SF would be like Coppola tackling the Harlan Ellison "I Robot" script or Woody Allen taking a crack at the "Merchants of Venus". Or maybe even Pynchon finally taking a shot at something like cyberpunk. In the hands of such deft technicians, how bad could the results be?
Well, now I know: pretty fuckin bad.
First off, it should be stated that this isnt a science fiction novel. This is clearly a work of the fantastic. I couldnt find an acceptably well thought out science fictional premise in the whole 300 pages. The Dean Devlin Godzilla film had more logical backgrounding. The vast majority of all several hundred Star Treks to date beat it cold in terms of genre execution and premise. Your basic issue of the X Men, generations old and new, features more interesting scientific speculation.
Just to synopsize the novel a bit, and its way too easy, its based on the premise that a mysterious blue light lands from the stars in the late 60s and changes a random group of people, coyotes and trees into Godlike mutantswhere their inner essences are expanded upon. Let the character interaction begin.
Heres how it works:
The blue light lands on one person and turns them into the sex god. Thats about it. The blue light lands on another person and turns them into a seer of dreams. Thats about it, again. The blue light lands on someone else and it turns them into a warrior. Another death, and so on. Personally, the Blue Light feels a lot like those cosmic rays that transformed the Fantastic Foura cutting edge topic in the early 60s mayhap, but in this era of space related bone degeneration and Hubble I dont find it compelling.
Just to offer a mock defense here, the story feels a lot like those big Clive Barker novels that Ive only had the courage to tackle in audiotape form. In fact, the novel resembles the Barker film "Nightbreed" in terms of its whole feel. What Blue Light lacks though is Barkers poetry. Ive read just about every single Barker short story and novella and his imagery is way way better. I remember walking cities made of people; I remember the Candymans torso filled with swarms of bees; I remember bloody human eyes falling out of Marilyn Monroes vagina in "Son of Celluloid", just a string of wondrously ghastly scenes Theres nothing that inspired in Blue Light.
Poetry breaks out here and there in Blue Light---most notably a scene involving giant killer butterflies--but its rare, and compared to other images of the fantastic that Ive seen, such as the aforementioned by Barker, or even Bradbury (whose soft sci fi tone Mosley may have been going after) and others, it pales by comparison.
So, in a nutshell, while Kim Stanley Robinson explores the science of Martian terraforming and the politics thereof, while Paul Defilippo hands us an equally goofy and horrific ribofunk view of genetic future shock, while Greg Egan routinely shows off his expertise in both cutting edge astro and quantum physics, theoretical far future virtual realitiesand, just for fun, neuroscience with pathways and surgical techniques intimidatingly described--Walter gives us the Blue Light that Does Stuff to people. Thanks Walt.
To sum up, if you want to enjoy a Walter Mosley book, I strongly recommend picking up "Red Death", where you can see a top talent at the top of his game. If you want the opposite of "top", then go buy "Blue Light". And if you want to read real science fiction by a black man, then pick up everything you can by Samuel "Chip" Delaney. I heartily recommend "Triton" and "Stars Like Grain " And for the record, so would Mosley, hes a big Delaney fan as well.