The Unreasoning Mask by Philip José Farmer is yet an­oth­er first edi­tion hard­cov­er I picked up for 50 cents. I’d been im­pressed with his book To Your Scattered Bodies Go, so when I stum­bled across some­thing else by him, and for such a good price, I picked it up. It was al­right. I think Mr. Farmer does a much bet­ter job with char­ac­ter­i­za­tion in­stead of tale­spin­ning. Spoilers past the jump.

This is a slight­ly mys­ti­cal space tale where near-im­mor­tal Norn-like be­ings and a cre­at­ed uni­ver­sal sim­u­lacrum are each try­ing to con­trol the uni­verse. It just so hap­pens that the uni­verse, or mul­ti­ple uni­vers­es are akin to cells in a body of some­thing a bit like God. The anal­o­gy is that sen­tient be­ings are like an in­fec­tion to this some­thing a bit like God. So this creepy an­ti­body thing goes around de­stroy­ing sen­tient life on all plan­ets. Sort of like a white blood cell.

The thing is, the some­thing a bit like God is just an in­fant, and has al­ready died and been re­born twice and it needs the par­a­sitic sen­tient races to teach it and fos­ter it and let it grow up. So in­stead of un­wit­ting­ly de­stroy­ing cells in the body by us­ing ad­vanced tech­nol­o­gy, the Norns that fig­ure it out know they have to de­stroy the white blood cell thing.


The main char­ac­ter is what makes the book in­ter­est­ing. He is a moral­ly up­right Arabic for­mer Muslim that has some sort of empti­ness with­in him that makes him seem dis­tract­ed. He is al­ways search­ing for some­thing, even he does not know. He seems to prize his in­de­pen­dence, but he is poked and prod­ded and herd­ed about through the whole book by the uni­ver­sal sim­u­lacrum thinger and the Norns. He sort of re­sents this but ends up do­ing what he will nonethe­less. Since he is the cap­tain of a ship he is re­spon­si­ble for about 400 crewmem­bers, which makes his of­ten self­ish de­ci­sions gnaw at him. In the end though, his self­ish­ness eas­i­ly be­comes self­less­ness since he has been serv­ing a high­er cause all this time.

The book wasn’t fan­tas­tic, but it was en­joy­able and a quick read.