Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Metaphysical Science Fiction
The Unreasoning Mask
by Philip José Farmer
“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” ― Philip José Farmer
While reading The Unreasoning Mask by Philip Jose Farmer I was reminded of a science fiction novel from the preceding century, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. In Verne's novel the powerful character of Captain Nemo and his mighty submarine, The Nautilus, develop a relationship that may have been inspiration for Captain Ramstan and his living space ship, al-Buraq. I have no evidence of this connection, but Farmer's vision in creating Ramstan is on a level worthy of the comparison. It is this vision that makes The Unreasoning Mask stand above most space operas; for in addition to the Captain and his ship there is a plot that literally encompasses the nature of our universe and others as well. In the future the fate of the universe rests upon this man's shoulder -- Ramstan, a thoughtful and moral man, who becomes a fascinated yet reluctant pawn in the hands of the strange forces which rise to fight the deadly destroyer. Ultimately Ramstan is the one man who, in a fearful race against time, can stop the destruction. But what price must he pay for becoming the savior of intelligent-kind?
In this exceptional race to save the Universe the protagonist is one Hud Ramstan, Muslin captain of an extraordinary space ship known as al-Buraq. The ship is a living entity capable of changing shape and seemingly embodying affection for its master as evidenced by walls that quiver with excitement. The connection between the Captain and his ship, with its special abilities which include an instantaneous drive called alaraf, is a key aspect of one of the most exciting action sequences in the plot of the novel. However, the main action of the book is on another scale--one that is metaphysical in nature with Ramstan dealing with god through an intermediary called the glyfa which is a sentient egg-shaped object that is older than the universe. Ramstan's dealings with the glyfa, are aided by three aliens called the Vwoordha that are almost stranger than the glyfa. The imaginative nature of this metaphysical plot is beyond my descriptive capabilities and I would not spoil the story even if I could, but the plot was able to keep this reader on edge with wonder at what mysterious complications would ensue next. The story was leavened with supporting characters whose relationship with Ramstan provided depth for both his character and the nature of the world in which he was living. One of these, a Dr. Toyce, commented, "You can't turn around in this world without bumping into a question."(p 222) This could be taken in both a serious and a light-hearted way, at least until the ultimate enemy, known simply as the Bolg, appeared.
Few novels this short (less than two-hundred-fifty pages) have as many intriguing ideas, complex discussions about the fate of universes, and fascinating alien entities. There is even a mystic named Benagur who is Ramstan's bete noir and who succeeds in making his trials even more difficult. The novel combines aspects of an archetypal heroic journey with the action of a metaphysical space opera. In doing so The Unreasoning Mask becomes a masterpiece that provides both the serious and amateur interested in Science Fiction with an above average reading experience.
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