Friday, November 5, 2010

The Book of Stier

The Book of Stier, by Robin Sanborn
June, 1971 Berkley Medallion

Here's another primo slice of psychedelic science fiction. Actually, it's not exactly science fiction, even though Berkley labelled it as such; The Book of Stier takes place in the "future" of 1979, but it's pretty much the same world as 1971. The war in Vietnam still rages and hippies still roam the streets. The sci-fi element doesn't arise until over halfway through, when the novel takes on a sort of Illuminatus!-in-miniature vibe.

Our "hero" is Paul Odeon, a leading agent at an advertising firm (just like Darrin in Bewitched!). Odeon is assigned a new account: a music revolution has taken over Canada, all of it in the name of one Richard Steir. Steir's music is sort of a pagan/tribal/opera thing, something so unique that those who hear it are immediately enthralled. Steir's about to break in the United States, and Odeon is assigned to write some copy for the back of the LPs, introducing the singer and his beliefs to the country. And Steir is a man of many beliefs -- on the war, on nature, on sex, on how one should live.

Odeon takes the job and finds himself completely at odds with Steir's world. Odeon at 31 is older than the kids who flock to Steir, and would prefer to drink booze or smoke a little pot than inhale the mysterious, narcotic clay the "Snowchildren" of Stier always have with them. But as Odeon works the account he sees Steirmusic invading the minds of America's youth; they band together in covens with rigid hierarchies and wear nothing but white, the sole color which pleases their guru Richard Stier.

It's at this point we realize The Book of Stier is a satire on the entire counterculture/hippie movement (as if Odeon's sarcasm wasn't clue enough). For the Snowchildren shun drugs, instead preferring to sniff that mysterious clay, and do little to mess with the system, doing their own thing without rocking the boat. And, unlike the scraggly hippies, they wear uniform, pristine white, keeping themselves and their homes clean -- indeed, they're such clean-freaks that they gather together and clean the streets and alleys of America's cities.

Odeon finds himself further pulled into the mysterious mind of the still-unseen Richard Stier; the albums keep coming, the world's youth continues to change themselves in his image, but the man himself remains a shadow, only glimpsed in occasional publicity photos, where he appears as a white-clothed youth with golden blonde hair. As Odeon watches the world change he becomes consumed with finding out who Stier is. However, it soon arises that Stier himself has plans for Odeon.

Here the novel takes on a definite Illuminatus! vibe; Odeon is "initiated" by a handful of Stier's "high priestesses." Women who teach Odeon via dancing and sex the secrets of history, how the modern world was spawned from the ruin of Atlantis. Things continue to spiral out of control and soon Odeon is seen as an agent provocateur, with the US government shadowing him -- there follows a few hilarious bits with a gay CIA agent who accosts him. Now a man on the run, Odeon escapes to Canada, where he's determined to find the man behind the myth. As the novel rushes for its climax it becomes increasingly surreal, and when Odeon achieves his goal he finds the last thing he ever could have expected.

The Book of Stier is all about the search for a gifted artist who might not even exist; the same could be said of author Robin Sanborn. Who was this person? He (though of course it could be she) is a fantastic writer, delivering great dialog, narrative, and plot. Paul Odeon in particular is a wonderful creation -- he's one of the most cynical, sarcastic, and asinine "heroes" I've ever had the pleasure to encounter, delivering smart-ass lines with aplomb. Many sequences had me laughing out loud, something that's difficult for any novel to achieve. What I'm saying is, there's no way such a talented writer could churn out only one novel and then disappear -- doing some research I've found that only one other book was published under the name Robin Sanborn: Mohammed Wong Spouts, a 56-page book published in 1979 by Exposition Press which "explains that whales have brains more developed than those of humans."

There's no rule that says psuedonymous authors can only publish one book, so I really suspect that "Robin Sanborn" is a guise. If I'm correct I'd love to know who he/she was. The caustic tone and pitch-perfect comedic timing make me suspect someone like Michael O'Donoghue, but that's just guesswork. At any rate this is an enjoyable novel, one that pokes fun at the hippie movement while still retaining a funky-freaky vibe of its own, and it's definitely recommended to those who prefer their science fiction a bit trippy.

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