What would happen to an intelligent, sighted inhabitant of Earth marooned on a planet inhabited by an unsighted people with a technology equal or superior to his? Further, let us suppose that this man heads a world organization that controls the now expanding field of tests and testing—Mr. Test himself. How would he fare on this PLANET OF THE BLIND? This is the story of Dr. Thur Stone in just such a situation.
I’m not entirely sure, I’d have to take a look at how many posts I’ve made that weren’t reviews, but I’m pretty certain that this is my one hundredth review. I am very pleased by this.
To cap it off, this review is right on the heels of me becoming a Day-Before-Thanksgiving statistic. I was in a car accident on Wednesday. Everybody’s fine. It skinned my forehead up pretty good and my roommate is stiff and sore, but that’s the worst of it. That kind of thing grants a little perspective, though, doesn’t it? Something new to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday. I hope yours was good!
Anyway, this book. In a way, it’s all about perspective and reminds us of something else to be thankful for, namely eyeballs. It’s not an especially deep or original tale, but it was actually written pretty well. Sometimes.
That cover! Let us be thankful we have eyes to see this cover! I just don’t know what to make of it. It reminds me of Cirque du Soleil, which is not an especially good thing. On the other hand, it’s evocative as all heck and does a pretty good job of setting up the story. I wonder if maybe it’s supposed to depict how the eyeless people in this book perceive the world? I just thought of that. The book doesn’t back up that idea, but let’s run with it for fun.
So our hero has a pretty dumb name. Dr. Thur Stone. Thur? That’s the name you’re going with, author? Am I supposed to think that maybe his ancestor was named Thurston and that it got shortened over time, like that Superman comic where we find out that, via time travel, Superman’s ancestor is actually Lex Luthor? (See, the “Luthor” got shortened to “L” over the generations, and that’s why Supes’s Kryptonian name is Kal-El. It was a good comic, Red Son, but that part always bothered me.)
Anyway, Dr. Thur Stone runs the testing division of the Earth government. We’re told right at the start of the book that tests run the world now. A person is issued their lot in life based on their test scores. Sound a little familiar? I guess we can credit Paul Corey with the prediction of Common Core and No Child Left Behind, in a way. Heck, even back when I was in school there was a lot of importance placed on things like the ACT and the SAT. I vividly remember thinking that if I did poorly on one or both of those tests I’d be doomed to living out the rest of my life in rural Tennessee on government handouts while the town died around me.
Yet another thing to be thankful for!
Dr. Stone has a daughter, Karen (weirdly normal name), who has fallen in love with some schmo who did poorly on the tests. This guy claims, however, that the tests are biased in such a way that the creative sorts of the world are discriminated against. He might fall down on knowing what sort of stuff has already happened, but he’s brilliant at figuring out things for the future. He’s basically the college student your own daughter will bring home one day for Thanksgiving break whose political ideas are so hilariously naïve and outspoken that you will want to drown him in the cranberry sauce.
That’s not something that has happened to me but I kind of look forward to it one day.
Dr. Stone sends this dope off to the mines on Mars while his daughter gets all uppity about it. She packs off herself and goes with the guy, leaving Thur to mope about losing his beloved daughter.
Okay, so Dr. Stone’s relationship with his daughter is, to put it lightly, messed the hell up. He just keeps going on and on about how beautiful and lovely and wonderful this girl is. Sure, yeah, I bet everybody loves their daughter, but the way this guy puts it is about one step away from admitting he lusts after her. I am not exaggerating this in the least bit. Shades of Humbert Humbert but with an extra aftertaste of incest to cap it all off.
Dr. Stone’s attitude toward women is a recurring feature of this book. It’s always disgusting and disturbing.
So he decides that the thing to do is go on vacation. Since interstellar travel is a thing, he hops on board his starship and sets out for nowhere in particular. It’s a nice way of getting some solitude since the universe is 99.999% emptiness. This little sabbatical is ended prematurely, however, when he stumbles upon the .001%.
This planet manages to grab him in some sort of tractor beam and bring him down. At first the inhabitants are all right. They’re humanoid except that they have purple hair and no eyes. They have a skin covering over where eyes would be. Dr. Stone spends a lot of this part of the book thinking about how he’s gonna just own faces all over the place since he’s the dude with vision. He’s quickly proven wrong.
The blind people don’t realize this at first. They learned his language while he was coming down—proof of their extraordinary mental capabilities, I guess—except for words like “see” and “color” and “look.” They point out that they want to run some tests on him, completely noninvasive and scientific, and then let him go again. As a man of science himself, Dr. Stone agrees.
During the tests they discover that he has eyes. They are horrified.
That’s a pretty good Twilight Zone-y twist. These guys, the Grendans, go on about how they used to have eyes in the past, but now only animals on their planet have them. As a result, they decide that Stone himself is an animal and have him confined for further testing.
He figures these tests will help him prove his intelligence and sapience. In a twist that was probably only surprising because I’m nursing a head wound right now, it turns out that he fails the tests because he lacks the sensory capabilities possessed by all of the Grendans.
It is now page 60 and Dr. Stone has a revelation about his daughter and her dumb boyfriend: the dumb boyfriend was right. When the results of the tests are defined by what the testers are capable of and find important, the tests will be biased and miss such important faculties such as being able to see things.
I would have been satisfied if this had been a longish novella and ended right there with a nice little Richard Matheson twist. Alas, there are still a hundred pages to go and they drag on.
The other main thing about this book is Ello. She’s one of the Grendans, a daughter of one of the chief scientists, and Stone falls head-over-heels in love with her the moment he sees her. So a great number of pages describe his feelings toward the way she fills out a sweater or the wiggle she has when she walks. What’s possibly worst is the part where he goes “She’d be even prettier if she had eyes” and coerces her into letting him paint some on. Sure enough, she’s a pretty one, all right.
Case in point, one of the first things he says to her is
“On Earth,” I said, “you would be called a ‘cute chick’.”
I dare you to walk up to a grown woman and say that. I double-dog dare you.
Ello, of course, giggles at this.
As you probably expect, Ello and Stone grow closer and closer. She still thinks of him as an animal for a lot of the story, which is pretty funny, because she says that the best outcome she can hope for is that she gets to keep him as a pet.
There’s a big debate over Stone’s status amongst the government and scientists of Grenda. It is eventually decided to send him to a farm with all the other animals.
The thing about the Grendan’s dislike of things with eyes is a bit weird. I mean, I guess it’s supposed to be weird because this is a science fiction story about an alien culture, but it just doesn’t make any sense however I look at it. They are offended by things that can see because seeing is an “invasion of privacy.” This phrase gets thrown around a lot. The Grendans have transparent buildings, for one thing, so Stone is able to see everything that goes on around him. Still, the idea that seeing something is an invasion of privacy while whatever sense these folks use isn’t just fails to connect somewhere in my brain.
I’m going with the “prejudice isn’t rational” argument. The book even says that something like humans’ prejudices toward people based on skin color wouldn’t make any sense to a Grendan, and not just because they couldn’t actually see the difference.
Stone stays on this farm for a few days and makes friends with a cat, whom he names Cat. Cat is actually about ninety pounds and the size of a doberman. Still, it looks and acts just like a housecat. The author describes the comings and goings of this cat (“goings” being a nice way of saying “poops”) in a way that makes me think whenever he got stuck for something to write he’d look over at his own cat and describe what it was doing (or pooing). Cat does prove to be a valuable friend for Stone, keeping him company and actually helping him out in situations. Cat brings him food occasionally, for one, and eventually helps him escape.
Stone and Cat flee to the wilderness, where at one point they come across a group of Grendans who have eyes. They are obviously mutants of some sort. The eyes don’t always work quite right. Some of them only have one eye, for instance, or if they do have both they’re cross-eyed or something along those lines. Stone gets chased away by them almost immediately.
Ello finds him and takes him back to civilization where his fate will be decided.
At one point there’s a thunderstorm that knocks out the power across the city. These thunderstorms are pretty common, as is that particular effect. Stone mentions the idea of using lightning rods to somebody and they are just baffled. It turns out that the Grendans have little or no metal on their planet and have no concept of electricity. Lightning is a mystery to them despite their advanced technologies. When Stone asks them what they use to power their civilization, they just say something like “energy.” This is a weird detail in the book that, like several others, just left me confused.
Oh, I forgot to mention that at one point earlier in the book Stone created a device that allows Grendans to see. It’s made out of a camera and sunglasses. I kid you not. Ello uses it first and, in a pretty revealing bit of sixties sexism, immediately begins to preen. This device gets taken away, but it comes up again right about…now.
Stone and Ello are makin’ out in Stone’s cell. They might even be doin’ it, I’m not sure. One of the Grendans, a guy named Zinzer, happens to be using these artificial eyes nearby and sees them. He sets off an alarm: Ello is committing bestiality, a crime punishable by death.
There’s this big trial scene where Stone manages to convince the people of Grenda that he’s actually an intelligent being. I’ll be honest: I’m not entirely sure how he managed it. It involved giving the artificial eyes to the judges and getting them to look at him. I think maybe part of it was that no animal would be able to create such a device. Or maybe it just involved getting the judges to see that Stone had a basic humanoid shape, which is weird because they explicitly have other senses that stand in the place of vision and they should have been able to get some idea of his outline with that. I don’t know.
The upshot is that they decide he’s not an animal and that, if they want, Ello and he can get married. They are overjoyed at this at first, but then they drop the hammer. They can get married only if Stone’s eyes get removed so he can’t invade people’s privacy. Yikes.
Stone doesn’t like this. He tries to figure out how he can avoid it when one of the big Grendan storms happens and knock the power out again. He realizes that whatever force is keeping his ship from taking off would be disabled as well, so he, Cat, and Ello flee to said ship and take off and go back to Earth. On the way there he gets a call that says “Hey I hope we can be friends” and he says yeah, that’s a good idea. He also calls Earth and tells them to let his daughter’s dumb boyfriend go. The end.
Okay, so this was an interesting one. It’s yet another one of those books where I enjoyed it while I was reading it but then when I start thinking about it I find a lot that I shouldn’t like. This is part of the reason I enjoy doing reviews so much. It gives me a chance to put down my thoughts and shape them in my head and think critically about them so that things I previously liked I can now dislike. It’s a good skill to have.
Stone was an unlikeable character throughout the thing but I’ll say this: nobody deserves to have their eyes cut out. I’m just horrified by the idea. I like my eyes. I use them a lot.
The book’s main flaw, I think, is that it just went on too long. This was Paul Corey’s only novel, but he wrote a lot of short fiction. I think the story would have worked better as a short one. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still feel like a lot of it was padding. I wonder if maybe his agent or the publisher gave him a deal and he just couldn’t break away from the flow of a short story. I can understand that.
The constant moralizing was a flaw. By that I mean Stone would, every couple of pages, remember how wrong he was to send his daughter’s boyfriend to Mars for having abilities that Stone didn’t or couldn’t test for. It really hammered that idea home. Yeah, it’s a pretty good moral, but c’mon, author, maybe a little subtlety? Or save that revelation for the end? Something. Maybe just don’t mention it so often.
And the Grendans were just not as interesting as I thought they might be. They were inconsistent in what they could and couldn’t do with their abilities. They were able to lash out with some kind of energy every so often, and I think that was supposed to be the same energy they used to power things and sense with, but there was no inkling of where it came from or what its nature is supposed to be. They are also able to talk to animals (not just humans), but that only comes up once or twice in the story.
Really, the cat was the most interesting character, just because he was a cat who did cat things. Sometimes he’d play with Stone’s shoe or something and I’d be all like awwwwww.
Authors, let that be a lesson to you. Cute kitties, even ninety pound ones, might just save your story.