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Wildsmith by Ron Goulart
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I was turned onto Goulart by my friend John Sheehan - who gave me a collection of Goulart's books. As such, I'll forever associate Goulart w/ John - & I can appreciate how their 2 peculiarities coincide. John also exposed me to 2 inventions of his own: balloon fishing & slow-bowling - but that's a story for elsewhere.

I'll probably never read anything by Goulart that I'll be able to bring myself to give more than a 3 star rating too. "Liked it" sums my response. Goulart's too much of a gimmick writer - nothing that I've read by him tries to accomplish anything beyond short books w/ recurring themes & style. NONETHELESS, I've enjoyed them all! A few obvious pseudo-critical clichés come to mind: "guilty pleasure", "book to read at the beach while on vacation", "escape fiction"..

&.. yet.. somehow I think he deserves more credit than that. His gimmick, in most, or all, of the 28 books I've read by him, is dysfunctional technology &/or technology imbued w/ human failings - elevators w/ limited artificial intelligence that have opinions about the people who ride in them, robots as racist as their inventors, shoe dispensers that don't pop out matching shoes.. that sort of thing. AND there's more to it than that. His books are satires, somewhat outspoken about sex, race, revolution..

Take "Wildsmith": an android secretly built by a publishing company to crank out best-sellers - & very successful at that. BUT, in order for the android to have the appropriate personality it's had quirks built into it - like apparent alcoholic behavior. Since the public isn't supposed to know that Wildsmith's an android, all the aberrant behavior has to be kept in check enuf by his PR man to keep this a secret - wch means preventing Wildsmith from unscrewing his hands in public & such-like.

This being not only a satire of the publishing industry but also of the political atmosphere of the time there's an apparent parody of Al Capp & his "Li'l Abner" cartoon - in this case as Joe Chuck, creator of "Tiny Boob the Hillbilly Midget". In Goulart's rendering, Chuck is a nasty stereotyping creep whose comic is banned in Mexico b/c Chuck expresses such sentiments as:

""These amusing greaseballs come from a distant planet and they landed right in Tiny Boob's hillbilly home town of Hogwallow. They resemble wax basketballs and have amusing little legs and wear sombreros. They've come to our poor, plundered portion of this planet because they've heard you can get a handout quicker here than anyplace else in the universe. If there's one prick things these greaseballs hate, it is working for a living.""

NOW, that's somewhat the way I remember Capp as being - so imagine my surprise when I skimmed thru his Wikipedia bio & found naught but praise for the guy. It's even claimed there that John Steinbeck (who I have deep respect for) "called Capp "the best writer in the world" in 1953, and even earnestly recommended him for the Nobel Prize in literature"! AND Marshall McLuhan (who I'm beginning to think was a bit of an idiot) was reputed to be a fan. Contrast that to the footage of Capp's hostility to John Lennon & Yoko Ono as presented in Paul McGrath's movie "John & Yoko's Year of Peace".

At any rate, Goulart's satire seems just as pungent & pointed as, eg, Terry Southern's "Candy" - but "Candy" was made into a movie w/ prominent stars & I don't know of any Goulart movies (wch doesn't mean that they don't exist - eg, he's somehow connected w/ "Battlestar Galactica"). In fact, "Wildsmith" is somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose" - but 13 yrs earlier - & w/ the Sci-Fi touches lacking in Allen's story. Funny, I often feel the same way about Allen's movies as I do about Goulart's books - they're clever but gimmicky - & they usually don't go far enuf.

STILL, I recommend Goulart - it only takes a few hrs to read one of these so it's easy enuf to whiz thru one - & if you don't get anything out of it there's no great waste of time. Besides, he seems worthy of recognition as a precursor to Jonathan Lethem, eg, & as a prominent figure in the shaping of the fusion of detective & science fiction. For me, the dysfunctional technology is enuf of a hoot to make it worthwhile - given that tech-heads often act like technology is some sort of perfect savior - rather than just another product of imperfect humans.

I note that Goulart has a series (?) of books w/ Groucho Marx as a "Master Detective" that I've never seen. That seems like perfect grist for Goulart's mill.
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