Whipping Star [1970]

I am uncertain whether to continue reading the rest of Whipping Star.

I have remarked in the past that a lot of 70s SF takes a couple of interesting premises (premii? 🙂 ) and without much preamble throws you into the middle of action, exploring the what-if consequences of whatever they have in mind. I last tangled with one of these in 2008, the Sight of Proteus, which I described as an utterly bizarre story, with a world premise that takes some significant mental adjustments, characters that are arbitrary and utterly opaque and whose plot hinges on buying-in pretty heavily on all those factors which are very soft-sold.

All of which applies to Whipping Star but far moreso. The basis of the plot, gleaned from the first 10 or so pages so hardly a spoiler, is: there is a sadist multi-quintillionaire who has undergone “rehabilitation” that prevents her from being able to observe any form of pain. The only beings she can thus practice her sadism on are extra-dimensional beings whose essence allows a wormhole-based intergalactic transportation system to function. Those who travel on the network become inextricably connected to the beings who operate the network, and hence the death of these beings will result in the destruction of all intelligent life everywhere… and this is the inevitable result of her sadistic episodes.

Is your head spinning? Mine can just about cope with this; similar beings are well-used in CS Friedman’s The Madness Season, and elsewhere. And the idea that these hyper-dimensional beings become entangled with those who pass through them… okay, just about there. And a power-crazed and actually just plain crazy individual bent on fulfilling their inner sadism is right out of Ellroy and others.

The story protagonist works for the “Sabotage Bureau”, and is charged with random acts of intrigue to slow the progress of government, which is seen as invasive and totalatarian. But they do so in an entirely rule-bound way, working entirely within the over-arching system of intergalactic governance, including the proviso that private citizens, such as your average power-crazed maniac prepared to destroy all intelligent life, are outside of their jurisdiction.

And so at the point where I put it down… I actually just can’t quite wrap my head around the totality of the situation. After about 50 pages, even given the givens, what’s going on is at once laboured and severely testing my ability to suspend disbelief or to buy-in to the scenario’s particulars.

I suppose the odds are remote: but has anyone read this novel, and/or wishing to offer any reason why I should persist?

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2 Responses to Whipping Star [1970]

  1. threemonkeys says:

    I suppose the odds are remote: but has anyone read this novel, and/or wishing to offer any reason why I should persist?

    I have read it, but not sure if I can offer any reason to keep going. The “totality” you are searching for is built up across a whole bunch of Herbert short stories and by the time he got to this novel he used a rather shortened version that isn’t satisfactory if read stand-alone. Even knowing that, it isn’t exactly Herbert’s best work – his quality (and coherence) varied a lot and this is right at the wrong end of the range.

    But then, what do I know – I liked Sight of proteus!

    • mashugenah says:

      It’s not that I didn’t like Sight of Proteus, just that it asked the reader to take an awful lot on faith. When I think of the energy expended by the likes of Reynolds and Hamilton to explain the origin of their perfectly ordinary stories, weirdness like Whipping Star seems like a bridge too far.

      I think too, that Sight of Proteus, for all that it’s utterly mad, has an early place in the canon of “transhuman” and “posthuman” SF – it’s a counter to the argument that Cyberpunk is the only originating stream for that movement. For that, and other sundry reasons, it’s quite interesting, earning it a little more leeway for its madness.

      The first half of Whipping Star hasn’t really suggested the same to me; and after the absolutely laborous discussion when first meeting “Fanny Mae” and discussing the limits of a corporeal/non-corporeal interface… I can’t see it going past what I’d expect from a decent episode of TNG. Thus the call for some kind of support for it. 🙂

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