My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I like Frederik Pohl, but by his standards, this book was pretty lightweight. It’s set in the not-too-distant future where there is a “cool war” between East and West. In it, the spies merely try to irritate each other in order to sow chaos. Amusing, but just barely.
Hornswell Hake, a Unitarian minister referred to as “Horny” throughout the book, is recruited by the Team, the post-CIA spy agency, to unwittingly create chaotic events throughout the world in travels they send him on. Sadly, he’s a bit of a bumbling fool, constantly being played by either the Team or their enemies, who also try to recruit him to their side to fight the Team. There’s a great bit of irony in the book and some good laughs too, but there are just some head scratching moments. Case in point: Horny and a parishioner named Alys (who is married to two men and a woman) are searching the Middle East for one of Horny’s opposites, a woman he’s got a thing for named Leota, who has been taken captive by a Mid East sheik to be in his harem. Horny and Alys travel through the desert to this sheik’s place and spot Leota outside. There, instead of grabbing her and fleeing, Alys decides to exchange places with Leota, apparently because she thinks it a bit romantic, as well as the fact that she thinks she’s better with men. Huh? They changed clothes with each other and then Horny and Leota take off while Alys stays. Pretty hard to believe, even if it is a sci fi novel.
I won’t give away the ending, but Horny suffers through all sorts of personal turmoil to get to the end of the novel, only to have it “tied up” nicely by Pohl in just a few short pages, and frankly, rather unsatisfyingly to me. It seemed like he phoned that part of the book in. Weak ending. Still, I did generally enjoy reading it; I’m glad I did. I just can’t recommend this book as a good representation of Pohl or even good sci fi. It’s inventive, but rather mediocre.