One of the best things that’s happened to me recently is discovering the writing of Walter Tevis. I’ve lost count of the number of fantastic authors I’ve read over the years but Tevis has to come near the top of the list of Best Writers.
Born in 1928, Tevis was an American novelist and short story writer. Even though I didn’t realise, I’ve been familiar with his work since I saw the David Bowie film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Tevis was the author of the novel on which the film is based.
When I saw The Queen’s Gambit advertised on Netflix I encountered Tevis’ writing again. I’ve read The Color of Money and The Queen’s Gambit and recently finished Mockingbird which is also a fantastic novel.
Mockingbird is another character lead novel and the plot evolves from the choices made by the main characters. Paul Bentley is a university teacher who comes to New York one summer seeking to offer a new course to the university which he thinks will prove popular. He meets Mary Lou at the city zoo and they quickly start an affair. Bob Spofforth, the dean of the university, is also attracted to Mary Lou and arranges for Paul to be arrested and imprisoned so that he can progress a relationship with Mary Lou himself.
So far, so what, you might say. But Bob is actually a robot. Paul is a teacher in a world where no-one except him can read. And the snakes in the zoo where Mary Lou hangs out are all robots too.
Yes, this is the world of the twenty fifth century.
Now it’s all robots. Robots and the pleasure principle. Everybody’s head is a cheap movie show.Paul Bentley in Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
This amazing dystopian novel describes a world where the human population is doped up to the eyeballs all the time; doesn’t need to work as the robots do everything; and don’t even know how to read. Brainwashed from birth with soporific mantras, bizarre junk food (monkey bacon!!) and drugs for everything, humans are perpetual student drop-outs.
Don’t ask – RelaxMockingbird by Walter Tevis
There are resonances of classic dystopian fiction in Mockingbird. Books exist but no-one (except Paul) can read them hints at Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel, Farenheit 451. The drug induced pleasure state references Aldous Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World. And the oppressive governmental style of the Detectors in Mockingbird hints at Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1949 Nineteen Eighty Four (1984). Mockingbird is more than good enough to sit alongside these superb novels.
Paul’s gradual awakening to the realities of his life
When literacy died, so had history.Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
and the importance of his evolving relationship with Mary Lou is the framework for a brilliant novel. To say more would be to reveal too much. A stunning must-read for everyone who worries about the future!
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