Monday, July 14, 2014

The Big Brain #1: The Aardvark Affair

The Big Brain #1: The Aardvark Affair, by Gary Brandner
February, 1975  Zebra Books

A few years before he hit it big with The Howling, Gary Brandner turned out this three-volume series for Zebra Books. As Marty McKee notes, this first volume is basically a mystery, and a sort of watered-down one at that. There is nothing particularly exciting or memorable about The Aardvark Affair -- certainly nothing to live up to the crazy cover.

Our titular protagonist is Colin Garrett, a 30 year-old supergenius whose skull is, unfortunately, not transparent. However the cover painting is correct in that Colin’s eyes glow, but only when he’s concentrating on some problem. Brandner devotes a lot of the narrative to Colin’s backstory. We learn that he was raised by academic professionals who decided before he was even born that their child was going to be a genius. So instead of a regular childhood Colin Garrett was focused on academia and learning, to the point where he was well advanced beyond the norm in many fields before he was even five years old.

However this intense study had side-effects, such as the glowing eyes deal. His concerned parents learned that Colin was applying himself too much, but before they could do much to righten this they were killed in a car wreck. Colin was then raised by his less-intelligent uncle, who at least got Colin into sports, so the boy could learn to use his body as well as his mind. Colin, picked on by the other kids and taunted as “Big Brain,” learned how to shut off “circuits” in his mind until he could operate on a normal level. Now, as an adult, he only turns on these circuits, sort of ratcheting himself up to supergenius status, when necessary. 

Colin served briefly in the Army and is contacted now by his former Colonel, Jefferson “JJ” Judd. Judd is no longer in the military and says he works for an ultra-secret intelligence outfit called Agency Zero, which doesn’t officially resist. Colin, despite having issues with Judd’s story, still decides to take off to Seattle with him, Colin leaving his poor girlfriend Fran in the lurch. In Seattle Colin learns about the Aardvark Project, which takes place about fifty miles from the city and apparently involves using lasers and ultrasonics to make infertile soil fertile.

The problem is, three of the people working on this project have all lost their senses. The government wants to keep all this hush-hush, and so has hired Agency Zero to figure out what happened. Colin looks over the brain-addled victims, quickly deducing that one of them is faking it. But the faker, a dude named Dempster, takes off. Judd calls in someone to help Colin; this turns out to be Beverley “Beano” Rocker, a muscle-bound agency vet who quickly teaches Colin how to shoot firearms, our protagonist never having handled a gun before, and for that matter nervous about this whole affair.

After a quick trip to Hawaii, in which they discover Dempster’s corpse, the duo flies back to Washington, where Colin learns that the Aardvark Project was really a top-secret weapons initiative. Brandner doles out heaps of characters, among them Russians who, due to détente, are now trying to tour Aardvark for the UN, and Judd is certain of course they’re spies. Meanwhile Colin manages to hook up with hotbod Valerie Lewis, an employee of CLEEN, a Seattle-based eco group. Brandner however fades immediately to black in the ensuing scene, and the novel is not explicit in the least; this includes the handful of action scenes.

In fact, The Aardvark Affair just kind of plods on and on. Colin Garrett is definitely more of a “realistic” sort of men’s adventure protagonist – but then, a protagonist with incredible intelligence whose eyes glow when he focuses on something. Brandner does do a good job of delivering a believable genius protagonist, with Colin busting out information and quickly figuring things out. He does fall to the usual men’s adventure protagonist mistake, though, leaving his girlfriend unprotected; there follows a part where Fran is abducted, and after receiving a ransom call, Colin, scanning his memory of the brief phone conversation, deduces that the abductors are in Mexico!

This is one of the novel’s few action scenes, though “The Big Brain” gets caught, and is subjected to watching as the Mexican abductors are about to rape Fran. Beano arrives to save the day, though, which leads us into the homestretch, as Colin figures out a Russian plot behind everything. Here a lot of briefly-introduced characters are revealed to be spies and, in the novel’s one memorable touch, one of them turns out to be a very-unexpected traitor. But again, all of it is relayed without the blood, guts, and sex I demand in my ‘70s men’s adventure novels. Brandner’s writing is fine, particularly with the dialog, but the book comes off as very padded and tepid.

The Aaardvark Affair ends with Colin turning down Judd’s offer to fully join Agency Zero, preferring to return to his “normal” life in Los Angeles. But given that there are two more volumes to go, I’m guessing he eventually changed his mind.


FreeLiverFree said...

How exactly did he serve in the Army without learning to use fire arms?

Joe Kenney said...

That's a good question -- one I don't recall the answer to. If it was explained, I'm thinking it's because he forgot or something? At any rate, there is a part where he gets a crash course in how to use firearms.

Zbu said...

Given his abilities to use his intelligence, maybe he pushed off to shuffle paper or program a computer system or two?