Beyond the Sealed World by Rena Vale
Paperback Library, 1965
Price I paid: none
“DALY 1444 IS AN ATAVIST. CAST HIM OUT OF THE SEALED WORLD INTO THE WASTELAND TO DIE.”
Thus ordered the masters of Science, the ruling body of the Glasteel Civilization. And so Daly 1444, convicted of primitive longings to be a man instead of a number, was forced to become an Opener—a fearful voyager into the dangerous world of natural sun and light outside his antiseptic culture.
To his great surprise, Daly found not one but several worlds—each at a different level of achievement, each incomplete without the other, each desperate to rule supreme. At first he struggled only for his own life amidst conditions for which his test-tube life had ill-equipped him. But soon he realized that not only his future was at stake, but the future of all the worlds of Earth—and he was the one man who could save the Universe!
I’ve read a lot of bullshit book covers before but this one takes the cake. I’m gonna take this one sentence by sentence.
DALY 1444 IS AN ATAVIST. CAST HIM OUT OF THE SEALED WORLD INTO THE WASTELAND TO DIE.
This part is about half-true. Daly 1444, our main character, is accused of being an atavist at one point. Specifically, the culture in which he lives has (go ahead and get a shot ready) rigid control over people in terms of what they do and how they feel. Every person has some kind of sensor that registers their emotions at any given time, and a person who passes a threshold is destroyed. Sent to the ovens. Ba-doosh. So you can understand how this kind of Brave New World ripoff can be happening.
But the thing is, Daly 1444 wasn’t cast out because he was an atavist. He was cast out because his job was rendered obsolete, making him useless to society. The thing is, that’s a pretty decent way to start a story. It sets a good tone for a dystopic society. Why the publisher felt the need to lie about it is beyond me.
Thus ordered the masters of Science, the ruling body of the Glasteel Civilization.
Mostly true. People in Daly’s civilization do worship “science.” Like, they have prayers to it and stuff. They call themselves “Men of Science.” Basically, we’ve got that kind of sterile, heartless civilization that people who don’t understand science think that science will create. I, for one, look forward to the kind of civilization that people like Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan would create, even if I have to look foward to it in vain.
However, the civilization is not and never was referred to as the “Glasteel Civilization.” Glasteel is a thing. It’s what the walls are made of. One gets the impression that it’s some kind of very hard but transparent material, but not one worth naming a society after.
And so Daly 1444, convicted of primitive longings to be a man instead of a number, was forced to become an Opener—a fearful voyager into the dangerous world of natural sun and light outside his antiseptic culture.
Okay, so Daly 1444 isn’t kicked out due to primitive longings. I think we’ve been over that. He never once desires “to be a man instead of a number.” In fact, here’s how he gets kicked out:
So I mentioned that he loses his job. Daly is a flavor technologist, or something along those lines. He works in food supplies where he helps make things taste good. In fact, Daly is the inventor of “fragarian flavor,” which is a means by which nutrition sticks can taste like strawberries and cream.
He loses his job when the governing body of this civilization decides that the flavor department is overstaffed. There’s a round of layoffs, which in this civilization means that the people who lose their jobs get killed.
Enter some guy. I think his name was Marlowe, but that might have been somebody else. Let’s run with it. Marlowe is the real atavist in this story. He wants this society to crumble because he thinks it’s gotten corrupt and stagnant. He has a point. His goal is to open the doors so that the rest of the world can share in the glories of Science. Meanwhile, a free flow of ideas and genetic material might help the people of Civilization grow a little bit.
So he talks to Daly. Daly would normally be baked to death for losing his job, but Marlowe has found an old piece of law that says that any person sentenced to death can request to be exiled into the wasteland instead, which usually amounts to the same thing. Marlowe sees something special in Daly, though, and thinks he might be able to rally together the wild people of the wastes and get the job done.
Daly really doesn’t want to do it, but he wants to die less, so he goes along with the plan.
This sentence makes it sound like “opener” is some kind of title, like a messiah or something, but it’s not really. Someone calls him that, like, once.
To his great surprise, Daly found not one but several worlds—each at a different level of achievement, each incomplete without the other, each desperate to rule supreme.
So Daly meets up with some people. They’re farmers, mostly. They call themselves the People of Hope. It’s a small village of Christians who look after each other and welcome him in as one of their own quite readily. He takes the name Daly Ouverture Brown.
Over the course of the book he meets some other little groups, all of whom are at just around the same “level of achievement.” That is to say, herders, nomads, and other words we typically associate with stereotypes of First Peoples.
At first he struggled only for his own life amidst conditions for which his test-tube life had ill-equipped him.
Sure, for like two pages. Then he gets taken in and helped out by some very nice people. He also meets a nice young lady whom he beds down with for a while and marries. They have a son, but it later turns out that she put one over on him and the kid isn’t his. He still loves the boy, though, and does as much to take care of him as he does to advance the plot, which is NOTHING
Okay, so Daly’s main motivation throughout most of the book is to get a mirror. He wants it because he can use it to communicate with a friend of his back in the bubble dome, a guy named Nicolai 1321. They grew up together and developed a secret language based on light flashes. I say they developed it but I think it also just came out of one of the “forbidden texts” that are a landmark of every single freaking piece of dystopian literature.
Daly wants to communicate with Nicolai, but not for Nicolai’s sake. See, before he got sent away, Daly was in love with a woman named Calinda 1066, who is apparently the most gorgeous woman in all of Civilization. It’s not just Daly who thinks so. Calinda’s job was to appear on TV every morning and shake her tits and butt around for some reason. For one reason or another, she picked Daly to be her mate. Daly’s goal in the book is to get back to Calinda, presumably without actually having to ever do anything, because that’s the kind of character he is.
But soon he realized that not only his future was at stake, but the future of all the worlds of Earth—and he was the one man who could save the Universe!
NO NO NO NO NO
I have absolutely no idea where that sentence came from. Who wrote this synopsis? The Devil? I’m thinking it was the Devil.
So the only thing that actually represents a threat to anybody in this book happens at the end. The entire rest of the book is just Daly sitting around wondering what he’s going to do, feeling alternately despondent and guilty.
He meets up with a guy named El Brugo, who more than anything has delusions of grandeur. He runs a harsh civilization loosely modeled on the Aztecs, which basically just means that there’s a lot of killing. What’s important to Daly is that El Brugo has a mirror. He wants that mirror so he can communicate with Nicolai. Daly enters into a deal with El Brugo for the mirror: he can get it if he uses it to open up the gates to his former civilization and let El Brugo take over. Daly, being brilliant, accepts this offer.
Meanwhile, a guy named Yu Shen meets up with El Brugo’s doctor, Flandes, and they concoct an evil scheme. Yu Shen is a pretty standard Yellow Peril-type villain. He even worships the Buddha in a way that comes across as evil.
Here’s some background that might bring things into perspective:
According to Wikipedia, author Rena Vale was a member of the American Communist Party for a while before she completely flip-flopped and worked as a secretary for the California State Assembly Committee on Un-American Activities, where she named a lot of names. Either she grew very disillusioned with Communism or she was an opportunist. Either way, she fits well into the picture of someone who would write books with evil Chinese people in them.
Although it’s also interesting that in the text, Yu Shen comments upon his own home country’s evil Communist past, so I’m not sure what’s up there.
Yu Shen and Flandes come up with a biological agent that they insert into the walled city after using Daly’s mirror to communicate with Nicolai against Daly’s will. The disease kills a lot of people, after which they say that they’ll give the Men of Science the cure if they open the doors.
Daly receives a visit from Nicolai and Marlow. The doors are open, the cure is being administered, and Daly can come back home. He does, only to find that Thomas Wolfe was right. He has a pretty typical negative reaction to the things he was trying desperately to return to earlier in the book. Even Calinda isn’t especially appealing to him anymore.
El Brugo’s men enter the walls and start wreaking havoc. Nicolai is killed. Daly and Marlowe grab a transportation module (some kind of flying dealie) and make for Incaland, which is apparently a paradise in Mexico.
The book ends there.
So the main takeaway in this book is just how boring it was. Long swaths of nothing happening took up the majority of this 192 page paperback. I fell asleep so many times. There’s a reason I’m somewhat late with this review today, and it’s not Christmas.
(Merry Christmas, by the way, if that’s your thing.)
And some asshole decided that it was a good idea to compare this book to Childhood’s End and The Green Hills of Earth on the front cover. Open it up and there’s more praise, saying that Rena Vale is an amazing novelist who will one day join the ranks of “Clarke, Heinlein, Dick, and van Vogt.”
(How do you pronounce van Vogt, anyway?)
I guess it’s technically true that she joined their ranks, so long as you define “their ranks” as “people who wrote some books.” Beyond that, there’s no comparison to anybody who had any talent at making a decent story with something to say. This book was little more than a rehash of Brave New World that failed to bring any kind of message to the table beyond “oh no what hath science wrought.”
And sometimes that’s an okay message, if it’s done right. In this case, it was not done right. It didn’t offer up any alternatives. It just had a guy who lives with people for a while, getting into some shenanigans—mainly against his will—and then discovering that the one thing his technologically advanced home couldn’t give him was love. Or something.
Joachim Boaz sent me this book and told me it was one of the worst he’d read. I’ll admit that for the first half of the book or so I was questioning that judgement. It wasn’t that the book was good, obviously, but I felt like I’d read worse. I stand by that. I’ve certainly read worse books. But those book were usually worse because the author thought he’d spread his faux religion or because the main character was a heroic rapist. And there are, of course, the three Star Quest books I just read that will forever rank highly in the annals of awfulness.
But as Beyond the Sealed World came to a close, I began to see Joachim’s point. This book is just pretentious trash that tries really hard to do something—I don’t know what—and fails miserably. It doesn’t teach a lesson. It doesn’t raise awareness of anything. And it completely fails to entertain.