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
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,
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 www.pulpless.com -- the freebies are
worth reading; the material and poetry will have you nodding
your head at some of the systemic and cultural absurdities already