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Inhuman Beings
Jerry Jay Carroll
Ace Books, 249 pages

Inhuman Beings
Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll writes the daily "Lively Arts" column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives with his wife in San Rafael. His previous novel was the fantasy, Top Dog.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Top Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Goodwin Armstrong is a private eye down on his luck. He's recovering from a messy divorce that has stripped him not just of his family but most of his income, and he is losing his business to a new security outfit that's just moved into town. When Princess Dulay, a psychic with celebrity connections, offers him $23,000 to undertake an investigation for her, he is only too glad to accept -- even though what she's asking him to do is to dig up facts to convince the government of the United States that aliens have landed on Earth.

Aliens? Naturally, Goodwin is skeptical. He even feels a little guilty about taking Princess Dulay's money. But as he moves deeper into the investigation, things begin to add up. Two men in a blue car are following him around, and he begins to have a sense of something evil lurking just out of sight. Clairvoyants -- all of whom, like Princess Dulay, have sensed a new and possibly malign psychic force in the world -- begin to die in mysterious ways. Six public figures are murdered in a single day; others appear, inexplicably, to have undergone serious personality changes. And someone or something seems determined to stop the investigation. The flophouse where Goodwin is staying is incinerated in a flash of blue light one night when, accidentally, he isn't there. And later, when he goes down to the harbor to follow up a lead, he suffers a Hitchcockesque seagull attack, and narrowly escapes being eaten by a shark.

A believer at last, Goodwin sets out to convince the powers that be that Earth has been invaded, and, when that fails, to save the world on his own. To succeed, he must stay ahead not just of the aliens -- who have taken over a lot of Earth technology, and are able to commandeer telephones and security cameras and even spin dryers to track and injure him -- but of the FBI, which thinks he's a mass murderer. No one can be trusted: the aliens have worked out a way to inhabit human bodies, and it's nearly impossible to tell who's still human and who's been taken over. In the end, of course, and after much tribulation and adventure, Goodwin does save the day. I won't say how he manages it, only that it involves a senior citizen, a steam engine, and a nuclear device.

Inhuman Beings is published by a science fiction imprint, and doubtless will be marketed as science fiction. Really, however, it is a genre-bender, a dizzy blending of one of the most cheesy of pulp SF concepts with hardboiled shoot-em-up detective fiction. There is absolutely no reason why it should work, but it does -- wonderfully. The narrative proceeds so fast the reader doesn't have time to question what's happening, and Carroll manages to invest even his most impossible situations with a crazily consistent logic. The book's punch is aided by a tight, lean prose style that doesn't waste a word and yet at times can be surprisingly lyrical, and by Carroll's dry humor, which invests Goodwin's interior musings with a great deal of charm, and makes him much more interesting and sympathetic than the two-dimensional B-movie character he outwardly resembles.

The book does have a flaw. The first two-thirds are beautifully paced and realized, but the final third, in which Goodwin and members of the US government mount an offensive against the aliens, seems compressed and hasty, as if the novelty of the concept had worn off and Carroll were rushing to finish. Plus, I was strongly reminded of a certain recent blockbuster movie, in which the President of the USA and various brave military men and members of the public foil an alien invasion. For me, this lent the last part of the novel a disappointingly formulaic quality. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that Inhuman Beings is already optioned for the movies; it's a story that would lend itself very well to film.

Reservations aside, I can recommend Inhuman Beings to anyone looking for a well-written, entertaining, funny, and extremely offbeat read. I look forward to seeing what craziness this talented author comes up with next.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Arm of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her Web site.

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