I'm always getting up here and urging you to buy this book, or to go see that movie. Buy a DVD or try a new author. I do it because I'm passionate about this stuff. And I swear to you that, regardless of whether you end up agreeing with me, I am always 100% honest about them.
Coming out on March 30th is what I consider to be the book of the year. It's He Walked Among Us, by Norman Spinrad. I bet it's already shipping now from Amazon.
Maybe you've read some Spinrad. Some pieces here and there. Or maybe you've been trying to make the time to read Bug Jack Barron for decades now. Or maybe you've read some of his books. My own personal favorites are Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream, Pictures at 11, Little Heroes, The Mind Game. My previous favorite was probably Norman's mainstream novel of Hollywood, Passing Through the Flame. My favorite now is He Walked Among Us.
Spinrad had trouble getting this book published and it boggles my mind. Here is not only one of the finest science fiction writers that ever published, but one of the most important writers of the modern age. I'm not kidding.
He Walked Among Us was previously published in a typically overpriced and poorly manufactured POD edition in 2004. Norman Spinrad having to put his work out in what is barely a notch above self publishing. It's criminal.
Why did he have such a difficult time getting He Walked Among Us published? For one thing, Spinrad has never been afraid to bite the hand that feeds him. He has been an acerbic critic of organized science fiction fandom for a long time. He paints the community in a harsh light in He Walked Among Us. I have the experience to tell you that his unflattering depictions of SF conventioneers is pretty damned accurate.
Also, Spinrad's career has been hard to classify in any one particular genre. He's known as a science fiction writer and many of his book fall solidly in that realm. Russian Spring, Songs From the Stars, The Void Captain's Tale, Greenhouse Summer, for examples. He has also written books that made him a popular figure in the counterculture, like The Children of Hamelin and Passing Through the Flame. There are stories that seem pulled direct from current events, such as The Mind Game and Pictures at 11. Spinrad has even done historical fiction: Mexica and The Druid King.
So what, exactly, is He Walked Among Us? Well, that's a hard one. In a way it's science fiction. It's also an acidly satiric satire of show business. The novel is screamingly funny at times. There are New Age aspects to He Walked Among Us. It's philosophical. It might deal with Quantum Physics, but I'm not exactly sure. And it also has some hardcore scenes that might make Edward Lee wince.
Jimmy Balaban is an aging, seedy, third rate show biz agent. He meets a dubious comedian named Ralf who claims to be from the future. He's here to save us from ourselves. It's an odd act, but Jimmy is a pro and the nose knows. Maybe there is a little bit of money to be made from this strange act. He takes Ralf on as a client and hires a male science fiction writer and a female New Age guru to turn Ralf into the cash cow that he always wanted. Astonishingly, it works. The question remains: Who, or what, is Ralf?
Spinrad has called He Walked Among Us his magnum opus and I definitely agree. I've been a fan of his work for a long time and I've been continually blown away by his writing. He Walked Among Us, however, is a revelation.
Naturally, a lot of people aren't going to get it. This isn't an easy, simple book. Oh, it's easy enough to read, but it's even easier to dismiss it as gimmicky fluff. Worse, readers could feel that Spinrad has a condescending attitude toward his audience. That he's laughing at them or feeling smugly superior. I don't feel that way, but a complex novel like He Walked Among Us can be interpreted in endless ways. That's part of the beauty of it.
Spinrad has always had an amazing imagination, which is augmented by his own radical sensibilities. I've always felt an element of danger in his work.
Norman Spinrad recently announced on Facebook that he has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. He had previously been told that it was inoperable, but there is greater hope now. It's still terrible news. This writer is a treasure and it's horrible to think that we may be losing him soon. Perhaps he'll pull out of it. I've always perceived Norman Spinrad as a fighter and I believe that he'll fight this battle with the courage that he is known for possessing. Hopefully he'll emerge with his health and years of productive life ahead of him. Forget the vicious lie that everything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Cancer is the worst thing in the world and it'll take its toll on him.
Thankfully we have a large body of work from Norman Spinrad to keep us astonished, entertained, and best of all, to keep us thinking. And he's never done a better work than He Walked Among Us. This writer has been neglected for far too long. He Walked Among Us deserves to be a success. And Norman Spinrad deserves more respect than he has gotten lately. A lot more respect.
Please consider buying a copy of He Walks Among Us.