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John Sladek
Victor Gollancz, 176 pages

John Sladek
John Sladek was born in 1937 in the USA but lived in London, UK, from the mid-60s to 1986. His work began to appear during SF's New Wave period when Michael Moorcock was the editor of New Worlds magazine. Tik-Tok (1983) won the British SF Association Award. By 1989, he was back in Minnesota, earning his living as a technical writer. Besides SF, John Sladek explored other genres such as in his collaboration with Thomas M Disch on the thriller Black Alice (1968), a spoof Gothic novel written as Cassandra Knye, and a pair of "Golden Age" detective crime novels, Black Aura (1974) and Invisible Green (1977). He died March 10, 2000, of hereditary lung disease.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

The latest in Victor Gollancz' excellent and very welcome series of Gollancz SF Collectors' Editions is Tik-Tok, by John Sladek. It's a savage satire originally published in 1983. Sladek died last year, and rather to my shame I realized then that I had read nothing of his work, save a couple of short stories. I've been making up for that omission to some extent: since his passing I've read his fine first novel, The Reproductive System (known as Mechasm in the US), which is also available in a Gollancz SF Collector's Edition, and his quirky mystery Black Aura. What I found in Sladek was a very funny writer, and a severely satirical writer, who was perhaps not terribly interested in consistent or coherent plots. That pretty much describes Tik-Tok, as well.

The book is purportedly written by the title character, a robot, as he awaits his trial and certain execution for murder. We are quickly told of the first of Tik-Tok's crimes, the first time he realizes his "asimov" circuits must be damaged: he murders a little blind girl while his owners are away, and then covers up the bloodstains with a mural. It is the mural which provokes interest though: it is evidence that robots can be creative. The ironic linkage between creativity and murderousness should probably not be missed.

Things proceed swiftly from that point. Tik-Tok tells of his life on two tracks. One track moves forward from his first crime, as he builds a career as an artist, businessman, criminal mastermind, and, inevitably, politician, all the while killing as many people as he can, in gruesome and imaginative ways when possible, while also working for robot civil rights. The other track traces his early life, from his first job as a domestic servant at a Southern plantation (the obvious parallels are not unintentional, to say the least), through a series of subsequent assignments: in a restaurant, on a spaceship, in various scrap heaps etc.  Sladek describes the various human and robot characters with gleeful cynicism. The book is on the one hand thoroughly funny, in its very black fashion; and on the other hand a biting criticism of human failures. It isn't perfect, for a couple of reasons. One fault is the incoherent and inconsistent plot: it's more a sequence of very imaginative and funny sketches, than a logically worked out narrative. The other fault is the unrelieved cynicism: all the characters, without exception, are evil, amoral, and unlikable (Tik-Tok most certainly included). This is certainly part of the point, but it does pall on the reader: and after all, it's basically false: not all people are as bad as this book portrays them. The greatest satires (of any length, anyway) retain some feeling for humanity, in sorrow as well as anger, as it were: this book is enjoyable but falls short of greatness because at the end we don't care what happens.

Let's emphasize, however, how funny the book is at its peaks. Sladek was a maniacally inventive writer: the various murders, the various depravities, the wacky schemes of all the characters, are very entertaining. Tik-Tok is fun to read, and quite pointed as well, and it's another much appreciated rerelease from the folks at Victor Gollancz.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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