Dr. Mark Anders was one of the government’s top physicists, working on a high priority project concerning defense. Wrapped up in his abstract world of mathematical symbols, he was ill-prepared for the messages he began to receive. They were in words of other languages…and they came from strange sources: the babblings of an epileptic in a fit; the output sheet of a new super computer on a test run.
But this was only the beginning, for he was soon to find himself transported to a different dimension, setting foot on another world, whose people had been desperately trying to contact him in order to deliver a message terrifying in its implications for the future of the human race…
Okay, I’m pretty sure the cover of this book features a picture of Kevin Murphy, and that’s great. Whatever else is going on is secondary to that.
Second, I want to talk about the back cover synopsis. Oddly enough, it’s not my usual complaint about lies and lying publishers who lie all the time. Well, it is, but in a different way. See, the synopsis of the book is largely accurate in terms of plot. The “message” isn’t especially “terrifying” but that’s a minor quibble. My complaint, if you can call it that, lies in what the synopsis left out.
Read over it real quick. Where does it sound like this book takes place? Anders works for the “government,” on a defense project. Sounds like he’s in the USA, doesn’t it? Well, he’s not. Arthur Sellings was an English writer and this book and everyone in it are English, with one exception who turns out to be Polish.
Dropping a hint in that direction wouldn’t have been entirely out of place, would it? Ah, you’d think so, but in fact I bet the publisher did that entirely deliberately. See, I bet Berkley Books thought to themselves that if potential readers saw this book and knew it was from England, they would be less likely to buy it. After all, English people use funny words like “lift” and “lorry” and write books that might actually encourage you to think a little bit. Heavens forbid anybody think this book is anything but pulp garbage.
Well, it turns out that it’s not pulp garbage. In fact, it’s pretty good.
Mark Anders, the titular uncensored man, is not a nudist. He is, in fact, a physicist of some variety working at a government laboratory just outside London. Jarwood, I believe it was called.
Mark has a lot of reservations about his job. The book never straight-up tells us what he does there, but it definitely hints that he helps develop nuclear weapons. He feels somewhat guilty about that, but he mainly feels the pressure of working on a top-secret project that he can’t tell anybody about, even his own wife who also works at Jarwood. He tries to explain his feelings but nobody seems to get it, so they basically just tell him “stiff upper lip old chum” and “Lego back to James, tally-ho.”
This book contained absolutely no Cockney rhyming slang, but I got curious about it a few days ago and felt the need to share some.
Mark decides that maybe the best bet will be to take a quick mini-vacation, so he heads out of town to visit an old college pal of his who is now a doctor.
One of the things I liked most about this book was just how human it was. Arthur Sellings had a way of inserting little details into the relationships of his characters, in-jokes and references to stories long past, that built up that relationship in the mind of the reader. It was never overdone or over-explained. When there was an explanation it was rarely more than a sentence or two long, and more often than not he’d just say that it was a joke they’d shared since college, or something like that. It was well done and left me with a strong wish to figure out exactly how he managed that.
Anyway, Mark and Dr. Friend hang around for a day or two drinking and swapping stories, when the doctor guy gets called in on a house call. Mark comes along because the patient is epileptic and has a tendency to thrash around a bit, so a little help is needed.
The situation goes along as you might expect until right at the end, when the kid sits up and starts spouting off sentences in another language. The exact language is never stated, only that it sounds sort of like German. It’s strange and there’s no explanation for it, so everybody except Mark just writes it off as “one of them things, y’know?”
Back at Jarwood, something similar happens. Mark’s brand new powerful supercomputer (this is 1964, so one can assume a cellphone could run circles around that supercomputer now) is warmed up for a test run, when it starts spouting off sheet after sheet of Greek characters. Mark is again weirded out.
He runs the sheets of paper to a nearby bookseller who Mark trusts as the guy who knows pretty much everything. He comes through again and is able to spot-translate the text for him. Well, actually he doesn’t much have to. He reads it a bit and recognizes the text and reads off the King James Authorized Version of Revelation 16:16-21.
Whenever Revelation is quoted, you know something’s up and it ain’t gonna be good. I honestly did a quick skim of the book to see if any passage, without context, could be considered not ominous, and the answer is no, there are none.
Mark is starting to fear for his own sanity by this point, so he goes to see a shrink. This psychologist, Dr. Nowatski, is an acquaintance of Mark’s from a while back. Actually, they met at a party once. Either way, Mark doesn’t want the folks at Jarwood to know he thinks he’s going insane, so he seeks this guy out and they put the kettle on.
They talk a bit and Dr. Nowastski decides that Mark is otherwise healthy, he just seems to have some issues with his job that are affecting him and he’s repressing that fact. Pretty standard Freudian stuff, but it gets wacky soon enough.
Dr. Nowatski decides on a piece of therapy he’s been dilly-dallying with recently. Normally he’d hold off on it for longer but I guess he was just curious. To get to the heart of the matter, he decides to give Mark a newfangled sort of drug that’s been making the rounds, lysergic acid diethylamide.
Yup, the doctor’s solution is that Mark should just drop some acid and enjoy the ride.
Mark does so, and things start to get a little weird.
He starts off his Magical Mystery Tour in a pretty standard fashion (or so I’ve been led to believe), seeing colors and having his time sense messed around with. Then he finds himself having an extremely detailed hallucination about being on another world. He explores it a bit, even stopping to eat a piece of strange fruit that looks like an orange but tastes like an apple. He sees some people off in the distance and starts to head that way, but he comes down before he reaches them.
All this is pretty great, thinks Mark, but when he comes back to he sees that Dr. Nowastski has gone pale. Apparently it wasn’t all in his head. Mark disappeared for the duration of the trip.
Groovy, man, groovy.
The rest of the book is mostly Mark going back and forth between this crazy acid-world and pondering with Dr. Nowatski about what exactly is going on. Meanwhile, the folks at Jarwood are wondering just where he’s gone and why he isn’t showing up to work, so he’s being hunted.
The hypotheses about what exactly is going on are numerous. The first and most amusing theory is that above the regular three dimensions that we all see and interact with is some strange fourth dimension, and that Mark has been going to visit it as a side effect of both his work at Jarwood and the acid.
Isn’t the fourth dimension time? Didn’t Einstein figure that one out? Shouldn’t Mark, a physicist, know that?
Anyway, that was only one of the explanations. Other possibilities included time travel and parallel universes. All of those turn out to be wrong.
Mark travels to this weird world at least once a day for about a half an hour at a time. After a few visits he manages to talk to some of the inhabitants, who are psychically connected and are capable of such feats as teleportation and telekinesis. They give Mark an explanation as to what’s going on, but it’s so convoluted that it takes him several visits to grasp it. It goes a little something like this:
The world Mark is visiting is somewhere between the world of imagination and the real world. It is created by the collective brainpower of the human race, but it is also real. It is in some ways similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, but again, it is an actual, physical thing. Large energy sources on both sides can affect the other (which is why the sun and stars are still visible, and are the same ones that affect our world), and up until now it has been difficult for the people on that world to contact people on ours. The only people that are actually open to experiencing this crazy parallel world are babies and the mentally handicapped, also everyone has some kind of experience of it while still a fetus.
I think that just about covers it. It took the book a lot longer than that to explain it, and I’m not sure I got all the details right, but there you go. I think I got the gist of it.
All that leaves is why, exactly, they contacted Mark at all. Well, it turns out that they are afraid of, wait for it, NUCLEAR WAR, because in the sixties that’s all there was to worry about. It’s not just that nuclear explosions are felt on their side of the divide, but also the fact that if the sum total of human creativity stopped flowing into the creation of their world, it would stagnate and eventually die out. They don’t want us to kill ourselves, basically.
And so, knowing all that, they send Mark back to our world, albeit with superpowers now. His job is to use them to stop the imminent nuclear annihilation of the human species, set up a sequel hook, and save the world. That’s where the book ends.
Man, I don’t even know. For some reason I actually liked this book, but it was really out there. It was really well written, and while it was confusing I felt like it was at least deliberately so. Unlike some books that turn out to be nonsensical and confusing, at least the protagonist was as confused about it all as I was. Up until the end, I guess. I was still confused but Mark had at least some idea what he was doing.
It was all a pretty neat idea, though. A bit mystical and really on the far reaches of what you might call “science” fiction, but it worked.
All told, I think it was a pretty great way of describing dismay and horror at the possible extinction of the human species. In its way, the book states that really the most important thing about humanity is its creativity and problem solving abilities and ways of discovering and describing the world. Essentially, Sellings is trying to say that if we kill ourselves off, we’re killing all of that potential off as well, and that’s the most disheartening thing of them all. He tells us that fact by essentially giving that creativity and intelligence a solid form and tying it to the survival of our own species.
That’s pretty great.
The title of the book, incidentally, is a reference to Freud. Dr. Nowatski brings up the fact that Freud explained the brain’s ability to censor out information, particularly when asleep. It’s that censor that lets us sleep when stuff is going on, so that every stimulus like the cat jumping on the bed and the pipes dripping doesn’t keep us up all night. Mark, the titular Uncensored Man, has managed to break through an even larger censor that keeps him from seeing this so-called world of ideas.
I think that means the ultimate moral of the story is a simple but effective “Wake the hell up, guys!”
It’s a pretty good moral to keep in mind.