Doris Piserchia Weblog

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The following posts include (1) "footnotes" for The Doris Piserchia Website (link at left), (2) texts-in-process that will eventually appear there, (3) texts from other websites, and (we hope) (4) stimulating discussion threads. The picture to the left is the back cover of The Spinner (book club edition), depicting a citizen of Eastland "hanging out" while Ekler the cop and Rune the idiot-superman look on.

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Mister Justice, 1973

Doris Piserchia's rather amazing first book encapsulates everything right and wrong about her writing. There is the cranky, Old School prose that bodes no good, the sometimes stilted attempt at a breezy noir-ish style that doesn't always ring true. But Mister Justice rapidly becomes a living narrative that, in the end, is one of the most profound time travel stories of the last fifty years. A garden variety weird revenge story grapples with the inherent paradoxes that silly up most time travel stories, and creates a time travel without instrumentality tale every bit as interesting as the recently deceased Jerry Yulsman's Elleander Morning.

Mister Justice is a monster of a narrative, flying hither and yon through layers of themes before bringing it all Home. The corruption of modern consumer capitalism, the criminality lying beneath the surface of civil society, and the lack of justice in a hackneyed legal system form a dystopic P.O.V. that is only the setting for a complex tale of a temporal Vigilante trying to save the world. And the tale is the juice of a time travel vision of great subtlety and innovation. No clunky Time Machines, no shiny tech rationale, but an interior time voyage through the infinite worlds of a mysterious multiverse. Reviewing the plot cannot begin to do justice this interesting book, so we quote a passage that Speaks to us.

Time was a series of corridors with each moment having its own corridor.


Time was the clocked motion of matter. As such, it became an abstract, not real and not there, merely a convenience created by minds.


Time was a portrait of whatever existed. Like an oil painting, time--reality, space, matter--lay sprawling everywhere, and each atom of pigment represented a minutia of thing, state, being. No change took place in the portrait for it was a still life, a great gob of paint hurled onto canvas. Change? Nonexistent, abstract. The atom that lay after the one before it had a different state of being. Reality was motionless. Everything on the painting was in a static condition. To comprehend change here, one had to have senses keen enough to perceive an atom and at the same time perceive the next atom and the next.

Perhaps time was more like a cartoon than a painting. The show was finished if the hand stopped drawing. Each slide died after its showing, or it was arrested and never moved again. A leg raised and stayed forever raised unless the next slide came to show it descending: a scattering of motion, blurred movement, nothing at all unless one happened to be the owner of the leg.

To travel in time, one had to walk across the portrait, tramp over the atoms representing yesterdays. Along the way, such a traveler would pass his selves or his replicas who had served to bring him to the present. The replicas were as real or as unreal as he. A sense of space wasn't needed if one wished to travel over the painting. What was necessary was the unusual ability to know where today was in relationship to yesterday. The normal person related tomorrow with today more easily than he did today with yesterday. What was gone must be let go of, while what was yet to come still had to be reckoned with. The time traveller first needed a piece of today in order to orient himself, then he fastened himself to the piece, and his mind moved, and now his body was in a different position in reality. The building of a hundred years ago still existed, the scream heard by someone a month before still rang, the past tide flowed without being perceived. What had gone into stillness was real to the time traveler because he knew where it was. Not when, but where.

--from Strange Words

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- tom moody 3-10-2002 5:41 am [link] [1 ref] [add a comment]

I, Zombie, 1982

It is supremely ironic that Doris Piserchia closed out her career the way many sci fi writers begin theirs, writing a zombie novel under a pseudonym. But what a zombie novel it is. I, Zombie (DAW, 1982), as written by Curt Selby, puts a modernist economic/political twist on the wheezing tale of the Undead among the living. A future spacefaring society has developed wetware that can be installed in the heads of the recently Dead, allowing them to be used as slave laborers in the hellholes of extraterrestrial colonization. And not just any of the Dead, but the formerly insane, the suicides, the trash that no one cares for or about. This is cast as an economic decision, as a cost saving alternative to expensive robot labor. I, Zombie is one of those books that seems to be screaming with hidden agendas, its story a thinly disguised metaphor for any of a number of societal criticisms. But this is a Piserchia book, and the reader is tempted to accept that the perceived metaphor is merely a lush setting from the author's wild imagination. This is one of the most maddening things about Piserchia's books. There are so many "almosts" in them; almost great writing, almost unique conceptualizations, almost "message" stories. It is hard to tell what exactly is going on. I, Zombie's slave laborers are mostly female, which, if it were any other book of the early 1980s, would raise an immediate red flag of feminist agenda. But this doesn't seem to be the case. Nor does the obvious political question of the institution of slavery, or the class issues of using the shells of the cast off and unprotected as human construction equipment. Piserchia seems to have used a thoroughly loaded concept in an unloaded way, as story element rather than flagpole.

But the hint of meaningful metaphor is still there, so maddeningly close to conceptualization that the reader keeps waiting for the expositive narration that will Explain All. It never comes. In a way, I, Zombie is a twist on the Robot morality story. The question of the ethics of producing a sentient laboring machine is sharply drawn, using the gimmick of not using metal and processers to produce a robot, but the cold flesh of human corpses. The ultimate twist is that the narrator, a zombie worker, is, through an incompetent accident at the Zombie factory, still alive. Not a reactivated cadaver, but a barely alive person trapped in the zombie lifestyle. This is a reflection of the primary point of robot stories stretching back to Gernsbeck and Asimov, that the Robot is redeemed and set free by the tiny flash of Humaness bestowed by intelligence. This anthropomorphic and cockeyed idea of Humanity being something that evolves at a high order of intelligence and complexity is hoakum straight out of colonialism and the White Man's Burden. Piserchia makes this idea work by having the spark of redeeming humanity be the tiny remnants of a Life destroyed. This shift of focus allows the narrative to explore the stubborn survivability of Human-ness, the ability of the Human spark to carry on within a hellish world order whose Horror knows no bounds.

I, Zombie is a peculiar coda to a peculiar career. Doris Piserchia wrote a pile of good science fiction, but never quite broke through to the popular imagination. It is almost as if the glimmer of feminine viewpoint that permeates her writing, as hard to discern as it is, was enough to scare off the pimply army of Fanboys who supply the money to keep the Baloney Factory churning out product. With an injection of overt Agenda, I, Zombie could have been a milestone book in feminist sci fi, but it was not to be. For the reader who enjoys building political meaning into their reading on their own, this book is a rich source of thought-provoking material. And who knows, maybe Piserchia wanted to make a point without beating the reader over the head, though the politics of I, Zombie are understated to the point of virtual invisibility. Whatever it is, I, Zombie is an appropriately ambiguous headstone for a completely ambiguous writing career.

--from Strange Words

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- tom moody 3-10-2002 5:35 am [link] [1 ref] [add a comment]

The Deadly Sky, 1983

Ashlin, a teenage boy in a the utopian city of Emera, starts to wonder why so many people are deciding to join that weird cult where you cut off your arms and legs to eventually become a cyber-person, a brain in a robot body. And why doesn't anyone want to talk about those strange birds circling the top of Emera's highest mountain? I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but maybe Emera's benign suburban facade is hiding something strange and frightening.

Not particularly focused on feminist issues, but the female characters are interesting, well-rounded, and brave. Minor romance between Grena and Ashlin, on the level of going to have an ice cream soda and then--off again to ride telepathic vultures and battle the alien threat together.

All in all The Deadly Sky is entertaining and light hearted, considering that the whole world is in grave danger. A suburban type of kid learns about war and about responsibility, and saves the world.

Uncomplicated and fun.

--Liz Henry, 1995, from Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Utopia.

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- tom moody 3-10-2002 5:23 am [link] [1 ref] [add a comment]

The Fluger, 1980

A dystopian novel where another invulnerable monster from somewhere mysterious threatens the gleaming perfect city. Under pressure, Olympus City reveals its flaws; because of the Fluger and its enigmatic opponent, Kam Shar, perhaps humanity is forced to become a little more aware of itself and the squalid world outside the floating cities.

Corrodado, the monster, is even cooler than Mordak from The Spinner. He hates the humans intensely, and maybe it's just my bloodthirstiness but most of the people he kills are so obnoxious and worthless, I'm cheering for the monster most of the time.

None of the major characters are female. Gender isn't really a focus of this book either, so if you are looking for something more feminist, go read Star Rider.

--Liz Henry, 1995, from Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Utopia.

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- tom moody 3-10-2002 5:21 am [link] [1 ref] [add a comment]

The Spinner, 1980

Another study of humans under pressure. Society breaks down under the threat of the alien monster--as good as reading about accounts of the Great Plague, if you like that sort of thing.

Mordak, a nasty, web-spinning, invulnerable creature, threatens a large city in our not too distant future. He accidentally comes through a rift in space created by a new mining tool called the Rumson Bore. Another monster who manages to be charming even as he is dribbling gobbets of human flesh out of his fanged mouth. You know he's laughing at the pathetic scurrying of the humans. Fit prey for his young, when they hatch!

Meanwhile a bunch of wraithlike old people are living in a system of caves underneath the city. Most of them seem to have escaped from a horribly oppressive nursing home. Numerous other characters are sketched out, very quickly, but in depth; they are destined to either die rather pointlessly or to help in the great escape from the webbed-in city.

I wouldn't say that there's anything particularly "feminist" about Spinner, though it can provide fine material for a feminist slanted reading. Everyone is equally loathsome, which in my book is perfectly feminist and more realistic than the Mary Daly "cult of natural womanhood".

The picture of Rumson and his girlfriend Olivia was incredibly amusing to me. Rumson, an archetypal mad scientist with a bad case of agoraphobia, is a figure of pity here. Piserchia has something to say here about scientists who are out of touch with the world, who never know or particularly care what effects their inventions will have on society. His head is in the sand 100 percent, though you feel sorry for him even after his ultimate treatment of Olivia.

Olivia gets pretty much equally claustrophobic hanging out in Rumson's closet-like, windowless home. She comes and goes as she pleases; she has a job in some distant city. But then he drops valium in her coffee, ostensibly to save her from being caught in the web. Again the picture of a wife being drugged into complacency with her lot. It makes me wonder what Seconal or Valium horrors lie in Piserchia's past; maybe she saw this sort of thing happen to her friends. Anyway, the amusing part (but I'm pretty sick) is when Olivia stuffs his corpse in the deep freeze. She's only slightly disturbed later when she opens the freezer, days later. . . to find that maybe he hadn't been dead after all. Somehow it still makes me giggle. She barely gives it a thought. How horrid!

--Liz Henry, 1995, from Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Utopia.

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- tom moody 3-10-2002 5:20 am [link] [1 ref] [add a comment]