by Frederik Pohl
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Man Plus won the Nebula in 1977, and was also a finalist for the Hugo, Locus, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards. It's been at least forty years since I had read it, and I didn't remember much of it beyond the bare bones of the plot. Didn't like it as much as I recall either. The core story is interesting, although illogical in several particulars, but it could have been told in a short story, or novelette at the most. All of the personal drama is stilted and uninteresting. Some of the political and social speculations were perceptive, some far from the mark. No date is given, but it has to be the late '90s, twenty years beyond when it was published, since the President mentions he's #42. No later than the early 2000s, and that only if each President after Carter had served two full terms. Yet the technology described is way beyond what we've been able to achieve now, much less twenty years ago.
The Man Plus project's goal was to bio-engineer a man into a cybernetic organism to withstand the harsh conditions on the surface of Mars without a vacuum suit. The President is adamant about the project moving forward no matter the costs or hardships, since he is the kind of politician who dictates policy based on poll trends. World conditions are bad, poverty, fuel shortages, drought and famine, increasing tensions between countries which threaten war. The polls tell him a Mars colony will alter world opinions and lessen the tensions, and the Man Plus program is thought to be the best chance for success. None of this makes sense. There had already been at least six previous manned Mars landings by different countries, so why is this launch any different. Why would the world champion a mission that features a crew member who isn't really human anymore? Especially when the mission is solely an American one. If the cyborg is so special, why does the mission also include three regular astronauts, and other proposed colonists being regular humans too? The cyborg can't even mate and reproduce with another cyborg since his sexual organs have been amputated.
If this had been a shorter story, without all the personal and political machinations, it would have been more effective. When it concentrates on the new perceptions and abilities of the cyborg it is interesting, beyond that it's boring. My reading tastes have obviously changed over the years, so I'm wondering how many times my reactions to other older novels will be this negative. I'm planning on reading Pohl's Gateway later this month, which I also remember liking, so we'll see how it goes. Man Plus, however, is not recommended.
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