Scop — Barry N. Malzberg (1976)


Publisher: Pyramid Books

First Pyramid Edition, 1976

Cover Art: Stephen Fabian

Plot Synopsis (of cover): JFK is staring at you. He doesn’t judge you for your voyeurism as the bullet zooms towards his head. The incense burner conjures an anemic picture of your future self (whom you know to be yourself though it doesn’t look a thing like you) screaming “Duck!” as you dissolve into mist. You wonder how you’ve come to be here, and JFK is staring at you. He floats without body above the cracked Martian soil, his head made whole and untarnished by your recollections.The bullet moves too slow, camouflaged amongst the fireflies, unnoticed or unacknowledged. JFK is staring at you, and, in his eyes, there lurks a subtle thanks marred with pity, as though he knows that you are suffering with sympathy and he thanks you for it. You wonder how you came to be here, as you stare into the screen behind JFK, who is staring at you. The ghastly shadow, his glowing green gut sickness radiating from his body in four bilious light-tumors, clenches at his bowels as he wanders among the flames. He is also you (whom you know to be yourself though it doesn’t look a thing like you), a ghost from your past, and you realize that it isn’t a television you’re looking into, but a microwave, and you become lucid, and you remember, and you wake up. Shaking the mist from your head, you chastise yourself for the four microwaveable burritos and twelve cans of PBR, and vow never again to fall asleep watching The History Channel.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Oh, boy. After two weeks of relatively lame pulp, this was a brilliant whiff of madness. Time travel and the psychedelic elan are so rarely married this successfully—though not time travel exactly, the comparable work to catch the atmosphere would be the Peter Milligan run on Shade, The Changing Man, which I love. Malzberg however… this fellow is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. The other of his I reviewed, The Men Inside, was similarly trippy, unforgettable, and excellent. I would warn those uninitiated that Malzberg’s style is unique and, at times, can be off-putting. He rejoices in wordplay and repetition that, if one isn’t acclimated to the aforementioned weird atmosphere, may cause one to choke. He’s also fond of visceral, often disgusting, sexual imagery (nails clawing at flaccid penis, anyone?). But if you can get into his world, he crafts it so well. Malzberg, granting his protagonist (who, in both novels I’ve reviewed of his, turns out to be kind of a shit, which I hope is a pattern that continues) the relative freedom of the fourth dimension, stifles that by making it a burden upon a broken, sick, human spirit. To put a bow on it, this is the sort of wonderful misery that makes reading fun.

Rating: 9.8 Backhands to Zapruder’s Stupid Face

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

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2 thoughts on “Scop — Barry N. Malzberg (1976)

  1. Cover line (“winner of the 1972 JWC AWARD FOR BEST SF NOVEL”) deliberately misleading. The author’s BEYOND APOLLO was the “winner” at issue; SCOP is a later work by said author. No truth in packaging.

    Liked by 1 person

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