Saturday, August 17, 2013

Inside - Dan Morgan

I haven't read a lot of science fiction since I was a teenager, and most of that was classic pulp by the big names in the business: Asimov, Heinlein and their contemporaries. I had a brief Philip K. Dick period in the early 80's when it was easy to find paperback copies of his novels in just about any bookstore. Unfortunately, I no longer have those paperbacks. On the few occasions I run across them in used bookstores the prices asked are eye-popping and more than I'm interested in shelling out.

Recently I've picked up a handful of "vintage" science fiction paperbacks by authors I'm not familiar with. My selection process is an easy one; if it's got a cool cover and low cost, I'll take it. That's pretty much how I ended up with Inside, by Dan Morgan.

Berkley Madallion Books, December 1974
I don't know who the cover artist is, but I liked it immediately. The description on the back didn't really give much of an idea of what the book was about, but there wasn't a hint of the dragons and wizards that seemed to invade a lot of 70's science fiction, so I took it.

The story focuses on three main characters: Gerry Clyne, Laura Frayne and Michael Davidson. Laura and Michael are psychologists, in charge of monitoring and "programming" inmates of an asylum, known as Inside, on the planet Mars. The asylum is a domed city where the inmates have undergone a reconditioning of sorts, leaving them to believe that they're survivors of a nuclear holocaust living within a protected dome on Earth. For reasons never particularly clear (at least not at first) the head chief in charge of Inside, a character by the single name of Moule, has decided that the inhabitants of the asylum be programmed to maintain a state of mutual warfare with each other, much like the cold war ideologies we all grew up with here on good old Earth. A small faction of the overseers who report to Moule, including Michael and Laura, have decided that Moule's ideas are reckless and harmful to the inmates of Inside. They hatch a scheme to insert a gadfly of sorts, and this is where Clyne comes in, to overthrow the status quo of Inside, thereby proving the failure of Moule's philosophies. Clyne is one of those renegade types who respect no authority but they're own, which is why he's getting his ass shipped into the Inside from Earth. But Michael sees in Clyne the perfect tool to program for his own purposes of disrupting the cold war stalemate that Moule has designed for Inside. But wait...things may not be as they appear to Michael and Laura, and just when you think you see the men behind the curtain pulling the levers, another curtain opens, turning your preconceived notions of what's real and what's not, upside-down.

It's a bit confusing at first, but Morgan has a capable manner of pulling the reader into the plot, often through narrative summary, and through alternating chapters delivered through the three main characters' points of view. There is a ton of head games, through programming, brainwashing, erasing, and even murder, that gives a fellow a distinctly creepy feeling that, given the opportunity, the same powers that be here and now would go for in a hot instant. Spying, surveillance, and telling one who their enemies should be, have an uncomfortable ring of familiarity, given the current mindset our world powers display today.

In that respect, the novel succeeds in what it sets out to do. That is, question our loyalties and our beliefs, particularly when they're provided to us in comfortable little packages. Driving around most cities in America today, one can make not to far of a leap and imagine little domes of warfare dotting the landscape, serving no purpose but to maintain a status-quo for the few controllers pulling the strings.

But you don't have to believe me...I'm just a guy who likes old books with cool covers.


  1. The artist is probably the single most famous SF artist out there -- Richard Powers. If you're curious about art when it's not credited check out (Internet speculative fiction database) -- that's how I check for all the art credits on my blog. And you can search by artist.....

    I've wanted to read Inside for a while -- sounds exactly my cup of tea.

    1. Thanks for the info on the artists. Much appreciated. I'll be sure to check out that site for these covers.