The Rainbow Cadenza
by J. Neil Schulman

Reviewed by Monique MacNaughton

The tradition of incorporating ideas and food for thought along with the technological trappings of SF has sadly become increasingly exceptional of late. The general run of media tie-ins and endless trilogies quite often uses different modes of society as a backdrop and perhaps couches some character motivation within it, but making the story and characters a logical result of the society they live in is a challenge that many new writers often choose to forgo, if they give it any thought at all. They might as well be writing the latest TV tie-in for all the difference it makes.

Therefore, I have always been very selective in what I choose to take home and spend my time reading. I may not have the largest collection of books in my circle of friends, but a healthy percentage of the better authors are there. Note that I said "better," not neccessarily "most famous," "most popular" or "most awarded" for that matter. Many of them are presently out of print and must be sought within the shadowy confines of the used book stores in the low-rent section of town, or at conventions. At the second annual Kingcon convention in Saint John, N.B., I was scanning several rows of older paperbacks in varying degrees of disrepair, doing the manual equivalent of a "power search," i.e., lifting out several books at once and reading the back covers. On my next-to-last sortie I happened to spot a book with a theme I found generally appealing and set it aside, although both the title and author were unfamiliar to me. This was The Rainbow Cadenza.

I read the book that night, gradually getting taken in by the progress of the characters through their culture, interactions and identities. Having often engaged in the sport of world-building, I could easily appreciate the work that went into making a credible bridge from the culture-of-now to the culture-of-then. In the world inhabited by the principal female characters - aspiring lasegraphy artist Joan Darris, her mother Eleanor and Eleanor's parthenogenic "twin" daughter Vera, Christianity has been eclipsed by Wicca, adults of all races and both sexes are equal, the world is at peace and prosperous, marijuana is legal and socially acceptable and homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate, respectable and powerful state of being, with straight "commen," gay "andromen" and women getting each their own political representation in a democratically elected world government. But something has to stink in this paradise of political correctness, right? Hmmm...what was that pink-uniformed service that Vera just left in the beginning? Why are there seven men to every woman in the world's population? Why were little Joanie's twin brothers calling each other "dirty Touchables"? J. Neil Schulman throws us these initial details, then begins taking us down to the bedrock of this future society until it is apparent that sexual politics and issues are not cake-icing in his storyline but the very basis of its pretext.

We are broken into its reality when Joan witnesses a brutal rape and murder at the age of five, which colours her memory and dogs every step of her progress as she learns the art of lasegraphy, contends with her mother's near-fatal accident and subsequent cryogenic suspension and undergoes the tribulations of keeping her dream alive when her half-sister, frustrated in her ability to find herself and finding only her mother's face staring back at her, turns her wrath on Joan, who is no one's mirror. Vera uses her position in the judiciary to get Joan prematurely drafted into the "Peace Corps," which in that time is an all-female body styled along military lines which requires each woman to give three years of her life in service to the state...supplying sexual comfort to every comman who enters her suite at the "Dicteria." You can see where one of the catches is now...due to a long-term war in the past, sex-selective birth control had been encouraged by the governments of the previous era to provide males as soldiers - "the victory of the cradle" - and as that disparity of numbers became institutionalized as the 'normal' state of affairs, the pandemic incidence of sexual assaults resulted in the rationing of sexual contacts between men and women, which evolved into the Peace Corps. i.e., prostitutes for the state. The irony here is "Why rape her in the dark alley when you can have her legally in the clean surroundings of the Dicteriat and she won't even scream unless you want her to.."...'nuff said. And if that poor lass gets any ideas about draft evasion or desertion, she could be branded a "Touchable," one legally marked as game to be hunted by "Marnies" for the more violent kind of sexual sport between the hours of sunset and sunrise. She should not look to her older sisters in society to help her; their status as Peace Corps veterans incorporates them into the ruling class and they'll most likely cheer the Marnies on if they aren't Marnies themselves. Not a pretty picture.

As Joan struggles to develop the full extent of her performing talents, she must eventually lash out and break every rule of her society to preserve her own spirit, aided by Wolfgang Jaeger, the lasegraphic maestro who sees the talent in her even as he wonders about her trips to the 'sensational' of the art form and Hill Bromley, the Christian missionary who comes to love her, although sharing that passion leads him against everything he believes in and puts him at the ultimate risk in the face of that society. Between Joan and Hill and the freedom and safety of the space habitats are the hostage position of Joan's mother, the self-destructive Vera and Burke Filcher, a senior comman politician who desires Joan as a plaything and a canvas for his own dark tendencies. Joan's and Hill's comebacks to their jailers are madly inspired, raw of nerve and mordantly hilarious - the court and bedroom scenes alone will have your lips smacking - eerie how a book that came out in the mid-80's foretold the sort of media-obsessed pandering on the part of the justice system that we recently witnessed in the O.J. Simpson trial and other overblown courtroom delights. They hold up a mirror to the blasts of Vera and Burke, who for all intents and purposes do themselves in quite nicely. Joan's triumphant performance in the St.Clive habitat is the culimnation of her original, innocent childhood dream to "tell the colours how to make a rainbow."

Joan Darris' chosen artform is no less a foundation of the novel than the social and sexual themes; the art of lasegraphy and its chromatic rythyms and harmonies have come to rival the sonic form of music in her time and place. The laser and its 'fire gems' are the locus and the public wellspring of all that is going on in her mind, possessing their own beauty, their own challenge, their own physical and psychological dangers and their own redemption. Indeed, the overriding structure of the novel itself is based on the coloratura of the natural spectrum. The author developed the technical and creative details with the collaboration of experts and artists who are already exploring the possibilities of this medium and have been doing so since the 1970's. The Pulpless.Comtm HTML edition includes a portfolio of laser light images produced by Laserium, a long-standing venture which at one point put on a show based on the lasegraphy portrayed in The Rainbow Cadenza. This worthwhile pot-sweetener offers some of the most enchanting and stunning chromatic visions that have ever been produced in the form.

This is also an intellectually demanding work; the largest socio-political focus of the storyline encompasses the philosophies of libertarianism, objectivism and the perspective on Judeo-Christian sensibility promoted by C.S. Lewis, and how the author manages to find and illuminate the common points of interest in all three of these schools of thought makes for a very engaging and rewarding discussion in the later half of the book. The libertarian theme wends its way through the other material with this proposal: If drafting women for forced prostitution is horrifying in and of itself, then so is any other form of coercion. We have such a system in various parts of the world today, it's called conscription. Conscription is based on the precept of "If you are young and male, the Government owns your hairy little butt and can do anything it wants with it!" Conversely, if the governments of the here and now can compel men to do their bidding, and can dictate to women that once they have a pregnancy they must carry it, nothing stops them from shoving anything else down one's throat. The extremes of forced sexual activity are some of the most emotionally charged and controversial passages in this book, one of the reasons that the hardcover and paperback editions of this novel are now a rarity and a fortuitious find if discovered - there were not as many reprints as there would be with a less contentious work. I'm not letting that paperback out of my sight, that's for sure.

Recently J.Neil Schulman and Pulpless.Comtm made The Rainbow Cadenza available for sale over the Internet in an HTML edition which includes commentary essays by other authorities and a glossary as well as the aforementioned Laserium portfolio. The 925k .zip file can be had for $2.95 U.S. by credit card or by 'ecash' from Pulpless.Comtm, as well as other works by Schulman, including Alongside Night and several other titles. The web site itself makes for an interesting visit, with short stories, articles and a general attitude of 'no respect for tyrants.' Persons interested in libertarian and freedom-related issues will find a supportive atmosphere reflected in these pages. The site itself can be acessed at -- the freebies are worth reading; the material and poetry will have you nodding your head at some of the systemic and cultural absurdities already beseiging us.

--Monique MacNaughton

Go to Monique MacNaughton's Home Page

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Go to Online Sampler of The Rainbow Cadenza

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Go to Pulpless.Comtm Catalog of Paperless Books

Go to The World According to J. Neil Schulman