Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: SUPERMIND by Mark Phillips

(Pseudonym for Laurence Janifer and Randall Garrett)

book cover Original Publication Date: 1963

Genre: Proto-urban fantasy

Topics: Conspiracy, government, control, extrasensory perception, "the future"

Review by heidenkind:

FBI agent Kenneth Malone lives in a world where "psionic" powers such as telepathy and teleportation exist. In fact, Malone himself is able to teleport, a skill that makes him a valuable asset in the FBI's super-secret psionics division. When the director of the FBI, Andrew J. "don't call me Chief" Burris, asks Malone to look into a series of puzzling mistakes in government processing, Malone predicts his investigation will lead nowhere. It's the government, after all, they make mistakes all the time. But as Malone learns more about these mistakes, which aren't really mistakes, things become increasingly inexplicable, and Malone begins to suspect there's a cabal organization of super-powerful psionics influencing the country for their own ends.

I enjoyed Supermind quite a bit. It reminded me of a novel in a modern urban fantasy series, something along the lines of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books or Simon Green's Secret History series. Perhaps a bit predictable by today's standards, but still fun and entertaining.

There's an underlying tone of sardonic, wry humor running through the book from the very beginning, when Malone and Burris make fun of the government's inefficiency. I enjoyed Malone's voice and appreciated him as an everyman character, but what really made Supermind stand out were the secondary characters. You've got your obligatory lovable geek who likes technology more than people ('"Any man who would give false data to a perfectly innocent computer," Fred said savagely, "would—would—" For a second he was apparently lost for comparisons. Then he finished: "Would kill his own mother." He paused a second and added, in an even more savage voice, "And then lie about it!"'), a woman who believes she's Queen Elizabeth I, a sarcastic femme fatale who's always giving Malone a hard time, a snooty expert on psionics, and the most clueless spy in history, just to name a few.

Her Highness Queen Elizabeth I is by far my favorite character in the novel, not just because she's entertaining but because she's so useful and the way Janifer and Garrett employ her is so clever. See, Her Highness spent most of her life in an asylum–not just because she thinks she's Queen Elizabeth, but because she's telepathic and most of the world doesn't know psionics exist. Malone rescued her from the asylum in a previous book, and now he's one of her "knights." When they're interrogating people all Malone has to do is pick up a phone, think his question, and she can tell him whether the suspect is being honest or not without him saying a word or letting the suspect know what's going on. So clever.

Supermind doesn't really pick up steam until the middle of the book, when Malone and company travel to Russia to see if they're behind the US's lack of inefficiency and mistakes. The way Russians were portrayed in this Cold War-era novel was really interesting, I thought, and very evocative of a culture. I'm sure if it's Russia's actual culture the authors were evoking or one of their own imagination, but it read like a bizarro travelogue with just enough hijinks to keep Malone on his toes (and Malone requires plenty of hijinks). It's also after Russia that the story starts twisting into something more complex and Malone realizes he can TRUST NO ONE. Except maybe the Queen.

trust no one

I'd definitely recommend Supermind if you're into paranormal thrillers or tongue-in-cheek urban fantasy. It's definitely not edgy, but it's entertaining and a good way to pass a few hours. I'm kind of sad I read the last book in the series (there are two previous books in the Kenneth Malone series prior to this one) before reading the others, but I might get around to reading the others at some point.

Download Supermind by Mark Phillips at Project Gutenberg|Librivox