Of Men and Monsters; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Over at Science Fiction Ruminations, Joachim Boaz mentioned William Tenn.

I like Tenn but see I’ve never posted about any of his titles. So, since I’m still catching on reviewing my reading of the past few months, I thought I’d give you this. The parallax is, of course, provided by Boaz.

Raw Feed (1998): Of Men and Monsters, William Tenn, 1968.

Cover by Boris Vallejo

I enjoyed this famous Tenn novel about men living in the walls of the “Monster” alien race that conquered Earth. (I have not read Tenn’s “The Men in the Walls” which the novel expanded.)

Tenn’s story is humorous and almost savage in parts. 

The title comes from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, but the inspiration and structure of the novel seems to come from the Brobdingnag section of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

The plot starts as a variation on that favored by many stories and films featuring primitive or post-holocaust primitives:  a young man finds himself on the wrong side of tribal politics and questioning a religious taboo

Here the heresy is man’s Ancestor-Science is not as efficacious in battling the Monsters as advertised. After all, as the uncle who initiates hero Eric the Only into the heresy points out, it didn’t do humanity much good in resisting the Monsters. 

But Alien-Science turns out to be, in part, a scheme by Eric’s uncle to become Chief, a scheme that leads to a brutally suppressed uprising. 

Eric takes up with the more advanced “back burrowers” only to find their technology and knowledge of Monsters impressive but their military skills lacking. Eventually, he meets, marries, and mates with a woman of the Aaron People (after a funny scene where he tries to act dignified while assessing his mate’s physical wiles). 

In a way, this is one of those conceptual breakthrough stories. Eric learns that the tribal society he was born in was based partly on fraud: rigged visions used in naming initiate warriors and “enemy” chiefs who will band together to quell heretic Alien Sciencers. 

He also learns that not front or back burrower, Ancestor Science or Alien Science is a total solution, that other points of view have merit, that man lives in the walls of Monster houses and that a whole universe exists outside the Monster house, a universe which renders Monsters as inconsequential as man. (The whole novel is set in one Monster house before man leaves for the stars),  

My favorite moments are when Tenn defies the clichés of this sort of plot. There is no claim that last human science can ever defeat the monsters or bring humanity lordship of the Earth. 

In a discussion about why some ancients saw the Monsters as divine judgement, Rachel, Eric’s mate, remarks man was always guilty about he treated other animals. How, she asks, can we judge the Monsters brutal for their actions when man historically, even in the course of this book, does just as brutal things to each other. (Some of the book depicts experiments on humans in an alien Pest Control Lab)  

And my favorite moment of all was when Eric, told of the Aaron People’s plan to hop on a Monster starship and infest Monster dwellings throughout the universe, bitterly retorts they can’t expect man to become vermin. The Aaron replies that he already is a vermin of a most superior (like the rat and cockroach) kind.  This is a condition Eric and everybody else cheerfully accepts at story’s end. 

I also liked human women evolving to give birth to litters. Singleton births like Eric are despised.

5 thoughts on “Of Men and Monsters; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

  1. I just reread Of Men and Monsters because I saw that you had reviewed in response to Joachim’s review. Luckily, I didn’t read all of y’alls reviews beforehand. I feel you gave away too much of the story, including the ending. Even though I was rereading the book, the first time was fifty years ago, I didn’t remember much, so I enjoyed finding out many of the facts you mention above. You might not worry about that in your reviews, but you might want to put a spoiler warning. I never know how much to tell about a story when discussing it.

    1. As always, thanks for being a reader.

      You’re probably right. I think when I started doing the “Raw Feed” reviews, I noted they had spoilers because they are just my lightly edited notes on a book. I didn’t even include all of them for this one since it wasn’t clear to me what I meant in 1998.

      To complicate things, my reviews of weird fiction are always filled with spoilers since they exist to help me organize my thoughts. Oddly no one complains about them, and they are strangely popular. However, I have had authors complain.

      More conscientious notices will follow!

      I

      1. Well, if they are just logs of your reading, then that’s different. I’ve always had a problem of wanting to talk about the details of the story versus trying to get people to read a story. Plus, I sometimes want my blog just to be a record of my memory. I haven’t figured out a consistent approach.

      2. I agree. Figuring out how much plot to reveal is difficult at times. Sometimes, I just want to talk about a story and find recounting the plot tedious. I want to do themes and motifs, relate it to other other works.

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