The Unreasoning Mask by Philip José Farmer

by hetzer

This will be more of a stream-of-thought review, because I’m still strugging with how to describe this book, and frankly with whether or not I like it.  On one hand, Farmer has obviously poured a lot of creativity into this novel, something that usually earns brownie points with me and can make up for shortcomings in the plot or dialog, but it doesn’t help so much here.  It could be because, after so recently reading The Ice Schooner and The Scar, and gearing up for China Miéville’s new Railsea, I’m burned out on Moby Dick homages (although I’ve since read, and enjoyed, Railsea.  More on that later.)

I think, boiled down, my biggest problem here is that the captain won’t shut up.

Ramstan (he has a first name, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered to page through again to find out what it is) is captain of al-Buraq, a living ship with a revolutionary new instantaneous drive. Mankind is most decidedly not alone in this universe, and Ramstan is on the run from another alien race from whom he has stolen their god when he learns that planet after planet is being completely annihilated by forces unknown, and he is is the only one who can put a stop to it.  It’s an interesting plot that touches on religion and the fuzzy line between obsession and compulsion, but it is continually undermined by Ramstan and his inability to stop complaining and take some damn responsibility.  And then, when he finally grows a pair and starts to confess to his crew about what he’s done and why they’ve been running, he launches into uninterrupted monologue (granted, it’s over shipwide loudspeaker, but still) that just seems to go on, and on, and on.  Frankly, nobody actually talks like that, and it breaks a lot of the verisimilitude that Farmer had otherwise skilfully established.

The Unreasoning Mask is not a bad book; its concepts are sound and their consequences logical and well-explored.  It’s just not a particularly good book either.  If you can get past the general clunkiness of the dialogue, you’ll likely enjoy the read.  I simply didn’t.