Ian Watsonís Mockymen is both interesting and offbeat, and youíre likely to enjoy it. It begins in Watsonís own England, where a young couple in the business of making specialty jigsaw puzzles is approached by an elderly Norwegian, Knut Alver, to visit the Vigelund sculpture park in Oslo, photograph themselves pressed nude against the statues, and make puzzles of the photos. A thoroughly curious gig, but money is money, even if it does turn out to have a lot to do with Nazis, magic, and induced reincarnation.
The puzzle-makers are out of the story by page 72, when Watson leaps into a future some years after aliens have reached Earth with gifts to bail folks out of ecological and economic crises. Food factories now churn out pap for the masses, and a new drug ಌ Bliss ಌ is available to all, though some of those who take it lose their minds after a year. But thatís okay, because the aliens need mindless folks to accept downloads. They also need masochists to ride the interstellar transmitter as couriers, carrying in their heads the downloads safely protected from transmission agony.
Meet Anna Sharman, an intelligence analyst who is among the few who suspects the aliens may be up to no good. Jamie Taylor comes to her attention when, after his year on Bliss, he seems to lose his mind ಌ but then he wakes up, just fine, thank you. Heís a serious anomaly. Turns out he was born to the female half of the jigsaw duo, tortured while still a baby for "the number," and taken away for adoption.
The number? Remember Knut Alver and the notion of induced reincarnation. Maybe a Swiss bank account? Hmm . . .
The poor boy didnít have a clue, not as a baby and not later. But when an alien shows up with a gadget which, if you stare into it, awakens memories . . . The alien also has a story that amply confirms all suspicions of nefarious secret agendas. The next step is a risky attempt to learn more, and then to find a solution, preferably one that keeps the benefits the aliens brought with them while warding off any possible disaster.
The biggest problem with the book is that Watson here mixes some very disparate elements from science fiction and fantasy. Some readers may feel that the mix just does not work. I admit that it strains the famous "suspension of disbelief," but the tale has enough momentum and Watson is an old hand at bringing the unlikely to life. Overall, he makes it work very nicely.
— Tom Easton, "The Reference Library," Analog Science Fiction and Fact
"The Reference Library" copyright © 2004, Tom Easton