"To my knowledge, you’re the first woman who ever did it to a flower, and the first case of space madness located in the primary erogenic zone."
|Dell - November 1970|
The Pollinators of Eden by John Boyd had the goods to be way more fun than it was. Plant sex, weird experiments, a smoking hot yet frigid babe, space travel, talking tulips, and hot orchids! Right? Well…not so fast. Instead, these pulpy ingredients got stirred into a novel that, after all is said and done, more is said than done. There are some cool moments and intriguing ideas presented, and yes, there is a pretty hot space orchid-on-woman scene (the orchid’s name is Suzy, if it matters), but that comes way too late in the novel. Long past the point that many readers would have likely bailed and missed it. I didn't bail, and I sort of glad for it. But that didn't make the novel much fun getting there.
A brief rundown: In the year 2237, Dr. Freda Caron is a cystologist for the Bureau of Exotic Plants. Her fiancé, Paul Theaston, is due back from an expedition on Flora, or the Flower Planet. Instead of returning as scheduled, Paul has decided to remain on Flora and continue is studies of the plant life there. In his place, he sends back an assistant, Hal Polino, and a couple of native tulips that have some very unusual characteristics. Freda is a bit miffed at Paul’s decision and isn't too thrilled at getting an eager, smitten assistant in his place. The tulips have this weird ability to mimic sounds, including speech. They’re also single sexed, instead of having both male and female parts, that we're all supposed to have remembered learning in high school biology. Hal and Freda set up studying the plants, and do a lot of verbal teasing back and forth in the process. Freda soon learns that Paul is more than just interested in the studying the plant life on Flora. In fact, he’s gone native there, and is now living among the plants with no intention of returning. Then there is a sideline to the plot where Freda goes to Washington D.C. for a hearing on the potential colonization of Flora. By this point I lost most interest, because while everyone is talking, they’re all really starting to sound like the same person. Most dialog is delivered in a smart-alecky tone where nothing feels serious, or is to be taken seriously. Okay, maybe a book that features plant-on-human sex isn't so serious, but I at least wanted the characters to seem to care a little about the world they’re skipping around in. Ultimately we’re teased by the plot, along with the characters' endless banter, slowly learning that Freda can drink four martinis before she’s in danger of succumbing to her buried horny nature. Okay, we also learn that the procreating tulips display a lethal talent for self-preservation. Hal, and a few other unfortunates, learn this the hard way. But Freda doesn't seem so much concerned for them as she does for finagling a way to avoid getting a gig in the loony bin in Houston in lieu of a ticket to Flora to rescue Paul…remember Paul?
The other gripe I had is that for a novel that takes place in the year 2237, there seems to be very little progress, beyond interplanetary travel, since the year 1969. People still use telephones, paper, mail, film and concepts like marriage, psychology, and mental health, hasn't changed either. It creates a disassociation between the reader and the book. It’s a world that is too familiar, too old-fashioned and absent from the wonder of its themes. I almost envied the victims of “space-madness” described so poetically and wished that one of them was holding a starring role instead of Freda.
The Pollinators of Eden is really a bit too boring to recommend. I will admit that maybe I’m not the right reader for it. Maybe there were things I missed out in it by rushing to the finish. So it’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to search out for.
I will add that the cover by Paul Lehr (shown here) is terrific. I’m keeping it in my collection for the cover alone.
And…who knows, there is that hot babe-on-orchid scene that may get a dramatic reading from me at some point in the near future, when I've had four martinis to loosen my inhibitions that is.