The Diabols by R.W. Mackelworth
Paperback Library, 1969
Originally published as Firemantle, Robert Hale, 1968
Price I paid: 75¢
Their bodies were colored lights; their voices were music. But whatever they touched was incinerated!
For a moment in time their destructive powers were limited to a small portion of Earth. Yet they were determined to burn the whole planet to a crisp.
Was there no hope for man’s survival?
As a last resort Boraston is projected into a future where the Diabols have almost won. Only a few humans remain, struggling to stay alive by holding the Diabols off with skirmishes and holding actions.
Can Boraston devise a method to destroy them?
If he succeeds, Earth can plan to save itself from the Diabols.
If he fails, Earth was doomed to become nothing more than a charred and blackened cinder in the galaxy!
Some things I found more engrossing than this book:
- Trimming my fingernails
- Trimming my beard
- Drinking Coke Zero
- Reading about chakras
- Reading about chakrams
- Wondering what’s on the roof of my neighbor’s house (it was a bird)
- Staring at the ceiling
- Staring at the wall
- Trying to turn on the TV with my mind
- Taking four naps
- Thinking about giving up
- Admiring a tree
- Compiling this list
I don’t want to give you the impression that this book was boring and nonsensical. Oh no. I want to ram that knowledge right into your brain so that you’ll never, ever, not in a million years, not if you want to, especially if you want to, forget it. I want that knowledge seared into your brain so that, if you should see this book on a shelf somewhere, you will reflexively flee as though encountering a big spider, a rattling snake, or a rotting corpse with your own face staring at you.
The Richard Powers cover art is pretty sweet, though.
Probably the most notable thing about this book is that the title looks like a typo for a book in a different genre. I bet that both Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey have books called The Diablos. I’m not going to look it up. I’m just taking it for granted.
I’m not sure if the cover synopsis was inaccurate because I don’t remember an awful lot of what happened in the novel itself. I’m going to try to sum it up to you as best I can, but let this be your caveat. I’m confused by this book in a lot of ways, but I don’t care enough to try to figure anything out.
Our main character is a guy named Boraston. He doesn’t have any other names. I don’t know if that’s his given name or his surname or anything. Nobody in this book has more than one name. The only character whose name makes any sense is named Maria. Others are Crundall, Klaus, Newark, and my favorite, the short-lived Roget. Like the thesaurus, I’m assuming.
Boraston is a hard character to follow. He’s indescribably…undescribed. All we know about him is that he’s a big guy, fairly strong, and a schoolteacher of some sort. He’s probably in England, since R.W. Mackelworth was English, but that’s not definite. His main character attribute is an unshakable belief in his own ability to survive things. Yeah, it makes about as much sense as you’d think. Unfortunately, it’s also the one thing that gets him through the book.
His other attribute is mostly an artifact of bad writing. See, Boraston has this tendency to just know things. Every once in a while a word like intuition will creep in, but it’s so common that it’s unbelievable. I get that we all get feelings about things every once in a while, and that having a character do that might make them more relatable. Boraston, though, just goes around knowing whenever someone is lying to him, or telling him the truth, or whatever, and there’s no end or point to it. Probably the most interesting thing about it is that all the characters in Atlas Shrugged had that same ability, so there you go.
Boraston has these visions sometimes of a woman’s face, a monogram, and a tangle of wires. No explanation is given. He’s being “treated” by a guy named Klaus, who doesn’t seem to be doing anything helpful and who Boraston hates. It’s not clear why Boraston hates him so much, but it’s not clear why Boraston does anything at all, so I guess it’s not surprising.
We never get any kind of motivation from this guy. He just has feelings about things. He hates some stuff as soon as he sees it. Other times he hates things that he’s known about for a while. He’s angry a lot. Sometimes he hits things. I’d say he’s a desperately unhappy person, but we don’t get enough knowledge about him to know that for sure. He might as well be a slab of rock that gets mad sometimes.
Klaus shows up one day for treatment. Boraston hits him and then he has a vision like he’s been known to have, but this time he wakes up and everything is different. He’s still at the school where he teaches, but everything has gone topsy-turvy. The school is falling apart. He meets some people who call themselves “survivors.” Boraston learns that he’s immune to their lasers and there’s no explanation. Everyone just sort of takes it for granted. A guy named Crundall shows up and tells Boraston that he’s special, I guess, and that he needs to save some children and take them through the burning land.
I found myself desperately hoping for some exposition. None was forthcoming.
In other books, a sense of mystery would be welcome. It tends to keep me hooked if I’m wondering what’s going on. This book didn’t do that. For one, it didn’t have a sense of mystery. It had a nonsense of mystery.
The other thing is that Boraston barely reacted to anything. He was like that recurring Pete Davidson sketch on SNL except that Pete Davidson is endearing and Boraston is absolutely nothing at all.
We do find out that at some point some things showed up on Earth for some reason and they’re called Diabols. They’re balls of light and they set things on fire, I guess. It turns out that Boraston is immune to fire. Why? I dunno. I don’t think anyone knows, and nobody seems to care, least of all Boraston himself. Boraston is able to take the children through the burning land without much trouble. A few of them die, and that’s sad for about a page or so.
Crundall told Boraston to take the children to some people called The Corps. The Corps turn out to be bad? They meet this guy named Newark who, at first, tells Boraston that they won’t take the children, but then they do take the children and hold them hostage until Boraston does what they want him to do. Boraston just leaves and figures he knows where the children are and goes in that direction. I guess there’s supposed to be danger along the way but since Boraston is apparently just immune to the bad guys for no reason, it’s not like it’s a big deal. The only trouble he faces is when there’s this trap thing that he gets stuck in, but then he just wrenches himself free with incredible strength and he’s okay again.
He finds the children and leads them back to the place where Klaus has his hospital in the other reality or the past or whatever is supposed to be going on. I know that the back of the book says that Boraston has been flung into the future, but it’s clear that a) we’re not supposed to know that, and b) it’s probably not true. I don’t know what’s going on, and the end of the book (spoiler) makes it seem like it was all a dream anyway. Or something. For heaven’s sake I just can’t bring myself to care.
Once or twice I read Boraston has Boratson and I would chuckle and be like “hahaha my wife” and I swear the cat rolled its eyes at me at least once.
So yeah, Boraston gets the kids to the place and then it turns out that Newark is there and he shows him a thing and Boraston uses it to go back to his own time or place or reality or whatever, where he decides that he’s going to kill Klaus now, but at the last minute he doesn’t.
There’s also a rather jarring POV change to Klaus, talking to some colleagues, about how Boraston was the perfect test subject. For something. Who knows what? Was he really flung into the future? Was this all in his mind? Does any of it matter?
What we do find out is that the Diabols are real, I guess, and that Boraston embodies the kind of person who will survive the catastrophe of their arrival. His superpower isn’t being fireproof, but rather his own unconquerable belief in his own ability to survive.
So that’s that.
Here are some things that make more sense than this book:
- A cat staring at the wall even though there’s nothing there
- 7% of the universe
- Why Google Chrome takes so long to launch on my desktop
I just want to make it clear that there’s nothing redeeming about this book, and there’s barely anything for me to talk about, so the fact that I’m up to about 1600 words by this point is, frankly, astounding.
I guess you could say in the book’s favor that since there was absolutely nothing going on that there’s nothing ethically problematic about it. There’s no sexual menace, no racism, no casual misogyny. I’m not saying that books without those problems are necessarily boring and nonsensical, it’s just an observation. An attempt to find a silver lining in this 144-page cloud that nonetheless took me several days to read.
Calling it a cloud actually makes a lot of metaphorical sense. This book had a hint of substance. Before I started, there was the possibility of something being there. A story about somebody being sent to the future in an attempt to learn about a coming enemy has some meat on them bones. I wouldn’t mind reading that story.
But, like a cloud, there wasn’t anything holding it together. It broke apart into the blue sky, never to be seen again and quickly forgotten.