Locus Magazine Review

Mockymen, Ian Watson (Golden Gryphon 1-930846-21-5, $26.95, 324pp, hc) October 2003. Cover by Steve Montiglio.

Ian Watson has an impressive history as one of the most intellectually complex of those SF writers who emerged from the tail end of the New Wave, but the two-part narrative of Mockyme may disorient even readers who have come to relish being disoriented by Watson. Although the novel eventually involves the intervention of aliens in a post-breakdown Earth and returns to some of Watson's familiar themes of consciousness and communication, it begins with such SF appurtenances nowhere in sight, but rather as an occult novella (originally published in Interzone in 1997) about a pair of custom jigsaw puzzle designers, Chrissy and Steve, who accept a bizarre commission from a shadowy Norwegian to photograph themselves nude, performing an apparent ritual involving statues in an old park in Oslo, then to turn the photos into jigsaw puzzles and send them to their client back in England — who promptly disappears. This in turn leads to the couple's discovery of the hidden Nazi history of Norway — a history that involves a complete revisioning of the famous traitor Quisling. Tibetan mysticism, and a Nazi plan which includes not only reincarnation but the construction of a kind of psychic barrier around Norway itself, intended to serve as a refuge for the remains of the Reich after the war. They learn much of this from a drunk they meet in Oslo, who also assaults an oddly compliant [Chrissy] in a tomb once used by Nazis for blood sacrifices and impregnates her with a child named Jamie, and who may be the reincarnation of their original client, as part of his bizarre scheme to immortalize himself through those Nazi occult rituals. As a novella. this works spookily enough. even though some elements of it (such as several digressions about Hugh Ellison, a cult religious leader who rents space to the couple in England) seem to suggest that there's more to the narrative than meets the eye. And, of course, there is. Way more.

I don't know if Watson had the entirety of Mockymen men in mind when he wrote this novella, but it's apparent from his interviews that the novel has been around for three or four years, suffering a succession of bad breaks with English publishers before finally being picked up by Golden Gryphon, which also published Watson's eclectic story collection The Great Escape (reviewed here in May 2002). Still, the connections between the opening novella and the main narrative, which is set several years later, seem fairly arbitrary. In 2010, a worldwide social and economic collapse is barely averted by the arrival of friendly aliens with a technological bail-out package including fusion, desalinization, and food factories. These "Mockymen," so named because they inhabit the bodies of flatlined humans — many of whom have burned themselves out on an alien-introduced drug called Bliss — have apparently settled a number of worlds in this manner, and their only real opposition is an outsider movement calling itself Human Patriots. The initial connection between this main part of the story and the earlier novella involves a government intelligence analyst named Anna Sharman, who is trying to uncover the background of the now-teenage Jamie, who has gained notoriety as the first of the flatlined "dummies" to spontaneously regain consciousness, and who seems to have memories that cannot possibly be his own.

Anna's investigation into Jamie's childhood — his parents have long since separated and disappeared, and he was raised in a foster home — creates a nice counterpoint to the opening novella, as what the reader knows to be a bizarre occult plot now emerges as a kind of social-work mystery: Why, for example, was Jamie apparently tortured as a baby, his birth mother repeatedly asking him for "the number" even though he couldn't possibly talk? But as the investigation progresses, the tale begins to expand, almost fractally, in several other directions, involving everything from Anna's relationship with her father to the "couriers" who work with the Mockymen (two of whom play host to Jamie after his resurrection) to the secret, possibly apocalyptic plans of the Mockmen themselves, which may involve a mysterious jewel-like artifact. Eventually, we even get a glimpse of the Mockymen's home planet. And through it all, characters endlessly debate Cartesian questions of mind-body dualism, of the possibility of disembodied minds, and of the nature of consciousness itself. By now, we're back in familiar Watson territory, full of provocative ideas and unexpected turns of thought, but in order to get here we've had to worm our way through some pretty strange ideas of narrative coherence and thematic unity. As an intellectual construct, Mockymen is vintage Watson: as a novel, it's — well, it's an intellectual construct.

— Gary K. Wolfe, Locus, October 2003


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