The Mind Brothers

The Mind Brothers by Peter HeathThe Mind Brothers front
Prestige Books, 1967
Price I paid: 90¢

Jason Starr, genius, found himself the focal point of a complex Communist plot against America…and as a thoroughly discredited scientist, there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.

Not until he was joined by Adam Cyber, that is. Adam Cyber: last man—or superman—to survive in that bleak future; and Jason Starr’s Mind Brother. Cyber returned through millenia to try to change Earth’s course. And when the Mind Brothers met, computers went crazy, all predictions were worthless—and a new kind of spy was born!

Okay, contrary to what I was hoping at first, The Mind Brothers is not about a group of Harlem intellectuals. And if that’s the most racist thing you read today, then obviously you didn’t read this book.

First things first, though. Despite the awfulness that permeated every wood fiber of every page of this book, I kind of like the cover. I particularly like that weird robot thing in the lower right. It doesn’t appear in the book.

Jason Starr is, as the back of the book tells us, a genius. When the book kicks off he’s working for the government, via the RAND Corporation, trying to win the war in Vietnam. Starr, it seems, has invented what amounts to a mind control device, except slightly less elaborate than that, I suppose. In reality, it’s supposed to instill pants-crapping terror into the enemy, causing them to run away or, presumably, be more easily shot at. The weapon’s first test on human subjects goes poorly, however, when the plane carrying it and Starr gets shot down over enemy territory.

Starr basically dies at this point but then has an experience of being rebuilt by some futuristic technology and being told that he won’t remember that experience after it’s all over, but that he’ll be needed in the future.

He convalesces a bit and plays grab-ass with a nurse. Starr’s effect on women, it seems, is his strongest trait. Every woman he meets eventually tries to have sex with him. Did I mention that not only is he a genius, but he’s also in glorious physical shape?

Upon his release from the hospital Starr finds out that the cleanup crew found only empty boxes at the crash site, meaning that Starr was a fraud all along and he faked his research and is a discredit to his country. Or at least that’s what the CIA tells him, and then gives him a rather considerable amount of hush money for reasons I couldn’t exactly fathom, other than simply to progress the plot.

Starr takes his hush money and gets a house in Beverly Hills, where he spends his time embarassing tennis instructors. I’m serious, that’s the first thing we see him doing. He challenges tennis instructors to a game of tennis in front of the people they’re supposed to be teaching and just wrecks them. Presumably he has sex with somebody afterward. Again, genius and superb shape.

About this time Starr meets his MIND BROTHER. It’s really pretty anticlimactic. This guy just shows up one day, at a cocktail party or something, and starts telling Starr all about himself. The guy is tall and almost hairless and, of course, strikingly handsome. This guy is just basically “Mr. Starr I need to tell you something WITH MY MIND” and Starr is like “Okay.” We then get some exposition at, presumably, a much slower pace than Jason Starr does.

This guy is from the future. Really far in the future. Like 50,000 years or something, a point where man has given up on war and bad things like that and just sits around and thinks all day. Man, at some point, invented intelligent robots, and in this guy’s time the robots do all the work. Eventually man decided they’d had enough of corporeal existence and just climbed into a tiny box. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a typical “upload our minds into the mainframe” situation. Instead, the entire genetic code of the entire human race was crammed into a cube about one inch on a side. One person, however, decided that after a while he’d come back out and see how the robots had treated old mother Earth.

What he saw was that the robots had essentially replaced Earth with a plastic version that was completely perfect in every way. The narrative focused heavily on how even the blades of grass were perfectly formed pieces of plastic. Our future hero decides that this is some kind of travesty and invents a time machine to go back and stop this kind of thing from happening.

I’m still not really sure why he does this. I suppose this is some kind of commentary on “fakeness.” The author sees a natural, imperfect world as somehow better than an artificial, perfect one. I suppose I can see that argument. It’s basically the same argument that got Kirk to come out of the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations.

Yeah, I went there.

There’s also a parallel to be drawn with Jason Starr’s new life in Bevery Hills with the plastic fantastic Earth of 50,000 AD, I suppose. Thing is, that’s not really dwelled upon, and the grim future he has to stop is never really mentioned again.

This future guy names himself Adam Cyber, which is just a hilarious name. I’d go so far as to say that name is way ahead of its time. When I read the back of this book and saw that name, I was totally certain this book was written in the eighties or possibly early nineties. It’s just such an eighties name. A name that screams at you from the cover of a book in big neon letters.

But no, this book is from the sixties and the name is really kind of dumb. Adam picks that name himself, figuring that since he was the last man on Earth, Adam was appropriate. I suppose I can see that logic but it’s pretty stupid. Cyber comes from cybernetics, of course, since Adam…actually this part didn’t make a lot of sense. Adam points out that in his future, most humans don’t use their original bodies anymore. They have interchangable robot bodies that’ll do whatever they need them to do. Okay, I can dig that. The name makes sense there, except Adam explains to Jason that this body is a fully organic one because only organic material can pass through the time vortex or whatever. So Adam’s not a cyborg.

What’s the deal with the limitation on organic matter and time travel, anyway? Is that a bigger trope than this book and The Terminator, where it really didn’t make a damn lick of sense because the Terminator is a (*#$*($#*(& ROBOT. I know they just wanted to show off Arnie’s abs, but come on. There are better technobabbly explanations for that. Just say that people end up naked when they time travel because in the future, people are naked. Boom, solved. Cut me a check.

Aaaaanyway, back to The Mind Brothers. I want to point out that Adam based his physical body on, of course, Jason Starr, and also they are MIND BROTHERS. The book doesn’t actually tell us what that means, other than that Adam copied parts of Jason’s brain into his own so that he’d have a working knowledge of the 20th century once he got there.

Why did he choose Jason? Adam actually gives us an explanation of that, too. You see, throughout history there have been geniuses. People like Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, and of course, Jason Starr. Jason’s mind-control device is, apparently, to become the basis of fifty millenia of technological advancement.

It’s at this point in the story when all the science fiction stops. I mean it, the book just becomes an international spy thriller. It seems that after the plane crashed, some Chinese people stole the device and now they’re going to use it for their own insidious ends.

Jason and Adam’s researches take them first to India. And here’s where all the racism starts.

I haven’t seen India treated this way since I read Kipling. This book just totally trashes on Indians all around. The first person they meet is a cab driver who talks about which caste he belongs to in an attempt to ingratiate himself to the American travellers. Not long after they get in his cab, he runs over a boy and jumps out of the cab, saying that it was all the fault of the Americans and inciting a riot.

So we’re to believe at this point that Indians are devious and gullible. Oh! And I should point out that the book uses the words Hindu and Indian interchangably. I mean, I don’t know a lot about Indian culture, but part of me thinks that if you just go around saying every Indian is a Hindu, even if you’re right a lot of the time, you’re being a bit racist. Maybe you can look at an Indian and immediately tell whether or not he or she is a Hindu as well, and Jason Starr knows that method.

They catch up to this insidious cab driver and find out why he tried to frame them for running over a kid. They get the information out of him, but not before Jason holds a gun to the guy’s head and threatens to “blow you straight to Nirvana without any detours.”

I would expect Jason Starr, genius, to have at least a small understanding of the fact that Nirvana isn’t a place.

This guy apparently works for a group called The Brotherhood, because all the less cliché names were taken, apparently. The goal of The Brotherhood is world domination because, again, all the less cliché plans were taken.

What does any of this have to do with the grim and bleak future of Adam Cyber? We never find out.

The Brotherhood is run by a guy named Otto Krupt, who is a Nazi, because all the less cliché world-domination clichés were taken.

Oh, before they go after Krupt Jason has a brief fling with a chick whose well-shaped body “says a lot for the Indians as a race.” So yeah.

Our heroes crash a party/orgy being thrown by Krupt as he welcomes Dr. Fu-Manchu Hsin Lau, the Chinese guy who is apparently using Starr’s device to duplicate the technology for the benefit of the PRC. Krupt and Lau don’t partake in the orgy, but are found in the bowels of Krupt’s stronghold doing torture things for apparently no reason. At one point Krupt uses a very rare “spitting snake” to blind the cab driver we saw earlier in the book, and we find Dr. Lau doing tortures on the woman Jason had funtimes with like two minutes ago. In a scene that could be considered daring in its stupidity, Jason and Adam release an elephant and a tiger from their cages, which immediately start doing the kinds of things you’d expect elephants and tigers to do in these situations. They are probably the most consistent characters in the book.

Jason and Adam find out the location of the Brotherhood’s secret base, high in the mountains of Tibet, because all the less blah blah you get it.

The base is manned by members of the Chinese army, and here we get our second dose of racism. Our author is not at all generous to the Chinese. For one thing, the plan is to give them “a heavenly display of the wrath of the gods calculated to make their superstitious eyeballs pop out.” I’m surprised he didn’t refer to their eyeballs as slanty.

They set off some bombs, in the meantime killing Dr. Lau, but Krupt escapes so that there can be a sequel. Oh, and at one point we get what is, in my opinion, the most offensive racist statement in the book. I’ll just quote it for you:

The Chinese were bad disciplinarians all the way around, he thought. First they don’t convince their troops that Communism is a better form of religion than devil worship; second, they allow their troops to fall asleep on guard duty.

DEVIL WORSHIP. He straight up calls native Chinese religion DEVIL WORSHIP. Where did that come from?

This is coming from the inner monologue of Jason Starr, genius. He’s a man who knows DEVIL WORSHIP when he sees it. I mean, come on! Who says that anymore? Even in 1967?

The rest of the book is pretty simple. Jason and Adam escape and when they get back to the States they find out that the head of the CIA is also a member of the Brotherhood because apparently the conspiracy goes to all sorts of places. The CIA guy tries to escape and gets shot down over the Atlantic, and Jason is offered his job back at the RAND Corporation, which he turns down because he’s discovered the awesome life of an international secret agent or whatever. The book ends when Jason mentions to Adam that it should be about time for Adam to go back to his own time and see how all this worked out (even though the plot had little to say on why, exactly, this was supposed to save the future), when Adam tells him that the trip was one-way and he’s stuck in the 20th century for the rest of his life.

Sooooo, yeah. This book hardly qualifies as science fiction for about half of the book. Future guy shows up and barely acts like he’s from the future at all. He really doesn’t do all that much, either. Jason does a lot of the dirty work, and Adam shows up to get him out of jams when the action gets too heavy.

The book would have been perfectly serviceable, albeit stupid and racist, without Adam having come from the future at all. He could have just been some kind of sidekick, a Man Friday, because that’s all he really was for most of the book. He doesn’t use any kind of future technology to save the day, he just happens to be buff and agile when it counts. All of the computer hacking and explosives and science come from Jason.

And then there’s the racism. Looking back on this post it seems kind of tame compared to what it could have been, aside from the ridiculous aside on the matter of Chinese religion. Oh wait, I was flipping through it again and hit upon another real gem. At one point the CIA chief, after he’s revealed to be a Chinese person in disguise somehow, is talking about the merits of his people. Jason counters by calling them

A bunch of torturers and murderers working on a long-term contract to dominate the human race.

Yeah, this book really has it out for the Chinese. It’s not quite as ridiculous as a Fu-Manchu novel, but the idea of the Yellow Peril is definitely ingrained in this book.

A bit of more insidious racism, though, is the fact that the Chinese take all the credit for being murderous and evil, whereas not thirty pages ago we got the big reveal that this whole scheme was under the watchful eye of Otto Krupt, the ex-Nazi. So yeah, the book tells us in so many words that the Chinese are devious and megalomaniacal and devil worshippers, but they’re not competent enough to get a real scheme going unless they have a white man in charge.

Everything about this book gets under my skin. Jason Starr is supposed to be a genius and yet he’s a bigoted womanizer. Adam Cyber is from the future and doesn’t do much in the way of proving that fact. He’s barely in half of the book and only shows up to be a deus ex machina. The story is half-baked, starting out as a science fiction novel about mind control and time travel and turning into an international spy story that doesn’t even work all that well, because basically our super-spy just shows up and starts killing people and insulting their millenia-old cultures.

The story, both in its sci-fi and spy thriller elements, isn’t even all that interesting. A guy comes back from the future to change the future away from something that didn’t seem all that bad in the first place because it was so ill-described. A mind-control device is stolen by the Red Chinese and they have to be stopped before they turn it on the rest of the world. Also there’s an international conspiracy somewhere in there that didn’t actually tie into that plot much at all. This book is unoriginal and flat-out insulting. Maybe this wasn’t the case in 1967, but I like to think things were a little bit more progressive back then than this book would represent, at least among people reading and writing science fiction.

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