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The Man Who Melted
 


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The Man Who Melted


  “A powerful and fascinating book, a dance of Life and Death in the streets of a swaying Pompeii. Written with grace, subtlety and intense character insight, it is almost hypnotic in the hold it takes upon the reader. I recommend it highly.”

  —Roger Zelazny

  “The Man Who Melted is that rare book in science fiction, a book about something…. This is a deeply felt, intense, finally cathartic book.”

  —Washington Post Book World

  “Stunning; a dreamlike sinking odyssey of love and redemption that takes the reader through progressive levels of revelation and leaves him at last—as any fundamental work of art must—confronting, almost unbearably, himself…. As apparatus and vision, this novel is climactic.”

  —Barry N. Malzberg

  “This is the kind of novel still all too rare in science fiction, one in which we feel intimate with the characters and involved with the reality of their situation.”

  —Cleveland Plain Dealer

  “The Man Who Melted is a fierce, unrelenting, enormously powerful view of the future….”

  —Robert Silverberg

  Published 2007 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

  The Man Who Melted. Copyright © 1984 by Jack Dann. Introduction by Robert Silverberg. Copyright © 2007 by Pyr. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Portions of this book have appeared as short stories in the following:

  “Amnesia” © 1981 by Jack Dann, appeared in Berkley Showcase, volume 3, edited by Victoria Schochet and John Siibersaçk. “Going Under” appeared in OMNI magazine, September 1981. “Screamers” appeared in OUI magazine, October 1982. “Blind She” appeared in OMNI magazine, April 1983.

  Cover illustration © Nick Stathopoulos

  Inquiries should be addressed to

  Pyr

  Editorial Department

  Prometheus Books

  59 John Glenn Drive

  Amherst, New York 14228–2197

  VOICE: 716–691–0133, ext. 207

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  11 10 09 08 07 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Dann, Jack.

  The man who melted / Jack Dann.

  p. cm.

  Originally published: New York : Bluejay Books, Inc., 1984

  ISBN-13: 978–1–59102–487–3 (alk. paper)

  ISBN 978–1–61592–508–7 (ebook)

  I. Title.

  PS3554.A574M3 2007

  813'.54—dc22

  2006032618

  Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The author would like to thank the following people whose support, aid, and inspiration were invaluable:

  Jeanne Van Buren Dann, Lorne Dann, Murray and Edith Dann, Ellen Datlow, Richard H. Dekmejian and Margaret J. Wyszomirski, Joseph Elder, James Frenkel, Perry Knowlton, Dr. Bon Yung Koo, Howard Lessnick, Barry Malzberg, the members of the Philford Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, Dr. Richard Normile, William Pizante, Victoria Schochet, John Silbersack, Robert Silverberg, Robert Sheckley, the staff of the Vestal Public Library and the Binghamton Public Library, Michael Swanwick and Marianne Porter, Susan Casper, Albert White, Roger Zelazny, and special thanks to Gardner Dozois, to whom this book is dedicated.

  The characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

  INTRODUCTION

  ROBERT SILVERBERG

  One thing that we all try to do, when we write science fiction, one thing out of many, is to see into the future: that is, to see the unseeable. But we do it in various ways. One way is to invent it by extrapolating out of our own knowledge of the present-day world, our stock of information about technological advances already in the early developmental stages, thus presenting the writer's view of how things are most likely to occur in the years ahead. Another way is to use one's innate intuitive sense, not necessarily founded in knowledge or probability or even logic, of how things might occur in the future in the particular story one wants to tell. Let us say that the first method is the engineer's method and the second the poet's method. Neither is superior to the other; each has produced some of the greatest work in the genre.

  Every science fiction writer, after all, is attempting to create, to invent, to imagine, to pull right out of thin air, a world that does not yet exist, and to make it plausible to his readers. But there are many different means of going about that task, just as there are many different kinds of plausibility. Some writers, the engineers—Robert A. Heinlein is the prime example, but there have been plenty of others, writers such as Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, David Brin, Larry Niven, Kim Stanley Robinson, to name just a few—strive with particular care to devise visions of the future that are solid and convincing down to the smallest technological and political detail, so that in the aggregate they amount to writing a history of the future. The term “Future History” is one that Heinlein explicitly applied to many of the books that he wrote in his prime period in the 1940s, which follow a chart of events covering several centuries to come that he had constructed a priori, and those books are full of remarkable foretellings of late twentieth-century reality.

  Then there are the poets—Ray Bradbury is the exemplar here, but Harlan Ellison and Cordwainer Smith also come quickly to mind—who are concerned primarily with the future as a visionary construct, almost as a dream, rather than as a tangible reality, and give us vivid and dramatic vignettes of futures that may be more or less possible but are not necessarily very likely except in the context of the particular work of fiction that embodies it. They are stories, pure and not so simple, that happen to take place in a dreamworld that is labeled, for convenience's sake, “the future.”

  Most of us function between these extremes. For writers of the Heinleinian school—I'm referring to their literary technique, not to their ideological views—it is vital that the technological underpinnings of their stories should be a linear outgrowth of concepts already in existence in our own time. They want to show us a world of the future that they believe may someday exist, for better or (usually) for worse. The modern-day Bradburians move in the other direction, aiming for intensity and power of vision without feeling any need to have their stories also serve as predictive blueprints which depict a world that they regard as particularly likely to come into being. But the preponderance of science fiction today moves freely between these polarities, now reaching for visionary force, now buttressing the visions with nuts-and-bolts predictive extrapolation that serves to create the essential suspension of disbelief without which all other narrative strategies fail.

  Which brings me to Jack Dann's strange, haunting novel The Man Who Melted, a book like no other science fiction novel you have read, which provides us with breathtaking oscillations from one pole of science fiction to another. Dann, American-born, a resident of Melbourne, Australia, for the past ten years or so, has been a considerable figure in science fiction, as a novelist, a short story writer, and an anthology editor, since the 1970s. His first novel, Starhiker (1977), immediately displayed his flair for vivid imagery; he followed it in 1981 with Junction, which took a further step toward the visionary, into a kind of feverish surrealism; and in 1984 came the remarkable The Man Who Melted, which is a melding and expansion of four powerful short stories published between 1981 and 1983, and which encom
passes both the wildest sort of poetic vision and the most tight-focused sort of extrapolative thought.

  Heinleinian predictive touches are here in abundance, though it is important to bear in mind that this is a book that was written some twenty-five years ago, give or take a year or two, and much of what was predictive then in this book is everyday reality today. For instance, we find in it something called “the Net,” a computer linkage that everybody uses routinely for communication and information gathering, and even for such mundane tasks as ordering groceries. Someone reading the book today who is unaware that it is several decades old will go right by those references to “the Net” without even noticing them, let alone applauding their prescience, since in our twenty-first-century world the Internet is simply part of the texture of everyday life, like automobiles, credit cards, and push-button phones. When we encounter a character in a recent story who pulls out his Visa card in a restaurant or taps out a telephone number on buttons instead of using a circular dial, there's no reason for us to praise the writer's Heinleinesque ability to peer into the future, because what he is doing is simply transcribing details of his daily mundane reality, not brilliantly imagining things to come. But Jack Dann, back there in 1982 or 1983, has one of his characters talk about having forgotten to send out for groceries on the Net, as happens late in The Man Who Melted; and those of us who are aware that there was no such thing as the Internet in 1982, let alone companies that would take Internet orders for grocery deliveries, feel that sort of shiver of surprise at the author's gift of clairvoyance that readers of sixty-year-old Heinlein novels experience again and again as they find him describing the world of his near future—our recent past—with amazing accuracy.

  There are such prescient touches all through The Man Who Melted. Some of them, like the grocery ordering, are right on the mark. One good example is the episode in which, in a few brief strokes, Dann conjures up a fanatic jihadi who calls himself the Mahdi, operating his holy war out of Afghanistan, and gives us a perfect prevision of the Taliban. And sometimes his invented future is just a trifle off, as when he refers again and again to something called a “fax,” by which he means not the device for document transmission that we all have somewhere near our desks, but a means of instantaneous news dissemination of the sort we get from the Internet today. Be that as it may, the future that is portrayed in The Man Who Melted is very much a lived-in future, clearly and solidly envisioned, and shown to us by means of the technique Robert Heinlein pioneered, through implication rather than exposition, as a multitude of small background touches rather than in the form of straightforward lectures about the function of this or that gadget.

  Dann has studied his Heinlein, yes. I think it might be possible to trace the ancestry of some of Dann's themes back to such early Heinlein classics as Methuselah's Children, Beyond This Horizon, and If This Goes On—, and there are touches here also of the later, wilder Heinlein of Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil. But Heinlein at his wildest was always a supremely rational writer, and here is where Jack Dann parts company from him. Inventing a plausible future is something that Dann sees as important in a science fiction novel, but it is plainly not of paramount importance to him. Heinlein wrote as an engineer with a yearning toward prophecy; Dann writes as a poet. What he has given us is not intended as a warning that if certain current societal trends are not checked they may lead us into some sort of disaster (which was one of Heinlein's main purposes; remember that one of his best early novels was called If This Goes On—) but as a self-contained fictional experience, a kind of hallucination in prose, a novel that takes on again and again the texture of a dream. “Dreams must explain themselves,” said Ursula K. Le Guin in another context entirely, but in fact they never do, and it is not Jack Dann's purpose to explain anything here, let alone to be warning us against anything, but only to show us the essence of what life is like in the harsh, chaotic, schizoid world of his book, a world in which its characters repeatedly move in and out of what they call “the dark places.” “Here,” he says, as all writers from Homer to Cervantes to Mann and Kafka and Joyce and Faulkner have said, “Here is a world. Live in it for a while.” And he offers us no road maps.

  In the furtherance of his goal, Dann is quite willing to allow the eerie dionysiac sweep of The Man Who Melted to transcend all normal narrative logic. The thread of events is often disturbingly nonlinear. Characters appear without foreshadowing or context, vanish unexpectedly from the story and return, even die and are resurrected. The Titanic is rebuilt and destined to sink again, with the full advance knowledge of everyone on board. Mysterious incomprehensible cults operate somewhere in the background of the story, influencing the pattern of events without directly interacting in it. From time to time the characters enter into telepathic contact with one another; at other times they seem barely able to communicate by normal means. A feverish dreamlike aura pervades everything.

  There's no indication here that Jack Dann seriously wants us to believe that the world of the twenty-second century, which is when The Man Who Melted takes place, is going to be the bewildering, apocalyptic thing that the book depicts, or even that there is any real possibility that such a world can ever take form. What he is doing is telling a story, not writing a tract: a story about one possible future, this possible future, a strange, turbulent future in which his tormented characters move back and forth across a dark, bleak landscape into which we of an earlier time must stare like uncomprehending strangers. It is the future as nightmare, science fiction as poetic vision, and that Dann manages to make us suspend our disbelief as we watch his people stagger across this hallucinatory realm toward the bare hint of awakening and redemption that is offered in the final paragraphs is an extraordinary accomplishment.

  Our society may itself have become biologically dysfunctional, and some forms of schizophrenic alienation from the alienation of society may have a sociobiological function that we have not recognized.

  —R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

  The individuals that make up the crowd are called “Screamers” or “Criers”; only when these afflicted people gather into groups of a certain number do they become telepathic and develop mass empathy or a collective consciousness. When not in a group, the individuals exhibit the various schizophrenic patterns of behavior.

  —Alain R. Lucie, The Collective Reality

  Perhaps you are the seed crystal. Perhaps you are the focus around which the masses of the living and the dead will gather. And in that moment, the world will be drawn to you and changed forever.

  —Le Symbole de Crieur (Annotated)

  PART ONE

  ONE

  Raymond Mantle took a flyer to Naples, the fallen city. It looked as grim as he felt. Nemesius, one of Mantle's many sources, said that a woman fitting Josiane's description had been located here. He couldn't be sure, of course, because his informatore had mysteriously disappeared. After all, Naples had become a dangerous place since it had fallen to the Screamers.

  But Mantle had to find his wife, Josiane. Nothing else was important.

  He had lost her during the Great Scream, when the screaming mobs tore New York City apart, leaving thousands dead and countless others roving about like the mind-deadened victims of a concentration camp. With the exception of a few childhood memories, he couldn't remember her after the Great Scream. It was as if she had been ripped from his memory. Mantle's amnesia was not total; he could summon up certain incidents and remember every detail and everyone involved except Josiane. She inhabited his memory like a shadow, an emptiness, and he was obsessed with finding her, with remembering. She held the key to his past. She was the element that had burned out, plunging his past into darkness.

  Nemesius’ man, Melzi, met Mantle in the crowded Piazza Trento e Trieste, and they walked north on the Via Roma, past a gang of sciuscias—half-naked street arabs with implanted male and female genitalia on their arms and chests. It was not yet dark, but the huge kliegs were on, ill
uminating the alleyways in harsh whites and yellows—as if bright light could prevent a Screamer attack. Police vans passed back and forth through the noisy crowds of elemosina, those on the dole. They lived in the streets and on the beltways, in gangs and clans and families. During the rush hours, this street would look like a battle zone. But even here, even now, old, familiar scenes caught Mantle's eyes: the shoeblacks and hurdy-gurdies and glowworms; the refreshment kiosks where a narcodrine could be sniffed for a few lire; the holographically projected faces of the holy saints which hung in the damp air like paper masks; and the ever-present venditores who sold talking Bibles and varied selections of religious memorabilia blessed by the Pope and sanctioned by the Vatican Collective which ruled the country. There were still strings of lemons hanging in shop windows; and lemon ices were being sold, as were jettatura charms, the coral horns and little bones everyone used to wear to ward off the evil eye. Now they were worn as protections from Screamers.

  Here beat the heart of Naples, along the narrow, broken streets and crowded piazzas. Not far from here, though, small bands of Screamers still roamed, the last remnants of the mobs that had almost destroyed the city.

  “We're going into the Old Spacca Quarter,” Melzi said. He was a small man with thinning gray hair and a very clean-shaven face; he looked more like a clerk than a bodyguard. Most of the other men and women Mantle had to contact in the past were more obviously sleazy; they had the psychic smell of the streets all over them. “The woman who may be your wife is near Gesu Nuovo, off the Via Capitelli. Not a safe neighborhood. But we should not have any trouble finding the building. It is the only one that is not burned on the outside.”

  “Another one of Nemesius’ whorehouses?” Mantle asked.

  “We might as well walk,” Melzi said, ignoring Mantle's sarcasm. “The beltways are not in good condition hereabouts, and we won't find a cab that will take us into Spacca.”

 
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