Imago

This is one of the first review copies I got through LibraryThing.

Ms. Casil is associated with Book View Café, a publishing co-operative that includes some fairly well known authors across several genres.

Her website is worth at least one look given that she covers topics not found on a lot of other authors’ sites.

A retro review from January 3, 2012.

Review: Imago, Amy Sterling Casil, 2001.Imago

In the future of this 2002 work, the vast corporate giant DisLex, provider of entertainment and utilities and some government services, and its psychopathic CEO, Harman Jacques, not only round up victims of the Human Mutational Virus (HMV) and put them in de facto work camps but have also developed a vast, miniaturized simulacra of the world. In this PerfectTown, duplicated living and historical personages, the imagoes of the title, exist including Harman and his secret assistant, a little side project in complex personality simulation – one Richard M. Nixon, Harman’s personal hero.

I feared, initially, that we were in the world of implausibly rationalized fable and another tired tract on the evils of the white man and his power structure. After all, HMV is a biologically improbable disease which renders most of its victims human-animal chimeras or, in rare cases, clown-like figures complete with huge noses. Also, Casil is not the most consistent in the prophylactic measures needed to prevent infections. These “freaks” are seemingly not only inspired by early fears of AIDS victims but are stand-ins for all kinds of social outsiders. And they are oppressed by white, powerful Harman. And Harman has a bizarre, creepy plan to infect his new assistant, Julie Curtez, with the disease. Her and husband Frank, who, as a district attorney, is trying to nail DisLex on drug trafficking charges, look suited to be our non-white heroes.

And the fantastic trappings aren’t that new either. Communities simulated for nefarious ends go back to at least Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World” and Andrew D. Weiner’s “The News from D Street”. Simulacra of historical personalities go back to at least Philip K. Dick’s We Can Build You and were popular in the 1980s with Robert Silverberg’s shared world Time Gate. And the logic of how these characters interact with their cyber environment is even shakier than that series. The nature of the struggle between the characters that mainly takes place in PerfectTown in the book’s final third reminded me of one of those dream worlds where people symbolically fight in some person’s unconsciousness.

Yet, the book has one great strength, the only thing that kept me reading besides a mild curiosity about Julie’s fate: Richard Nixon. Casil spends so much time with him, seamlessly drops in so many details about his life, gives us so much of the thoughts of this flawed but, if not truly decent, not hopelessly flawed man, that his fate, his journey kept me reading. Like the above Time Gate series or some of Harry Turtledove’s alternate histories, I got the sense of coming into contact with some version of a real, historical person.

The constantly shifting viewpoint characters with their detailed thoughts reminded me, as did the presence of an Abraham Lincoln simulacra (a character in We Can Build You), of Dick. But the similarities are more stylistic than thematic and, frankly, this novel is plotted better than a lot of Dick’s novels were.

In short, read this for Casil’s style and her great achievement in Nixon, not for the technological trappings or story novelty.

It should also be noted that this is the third and final installment in the story of Gyla, a wolf-woman victim of HMV.

 

More reviews of science fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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