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September 2004
 
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Cloud Chamber by Howard Myers (1977)

LIKE Tom Reamy, Howard Myers (1930-1971) was a promising writer cut off too soon, member of a bountiful generation just coming of age in the wake of sf's New Wave. Writing sometimes as "Verge Foray," Myers produced a score of short stories (now available as The Creatures of Man) and one posthumously published, long-out-of-print novel, Cloud Chamber. The stories are all marvelous, but the novel is something else altogether.

The reader is immediately plunged, ŕ la van Vogt or Charles Harness, into a recomplicated, gon–zo future. In a cosmos where reincarnation is a given, our hero, Mark Keaflyn, has a date with a woman he's loved for centuries. But her rebirth timing has gotten thrown off, and Keaflyn disappointingly finds her a preadolescent. But he's soon got much more to worry about, as he learns he's been possessed by an evil "contralife" being from the negative universe that interpenetrates ours. This possession—along with a devilish "pleasure-impress" from an enemy—is steadily draining Keaflyn's intelligence and "ego-fields," and he seems doomed—unless he can find his salvation among the "Stabilities": alien artifacts of great mystery.

Tripping across the galaxy like some blithe space-hippie, Keaflyn undergoes spiritual and physical transformations that rival anything in Sheckley for both comic implausibility and surprising pathos. Add time travel to the mix and this Aquarian Odyssey gets weirder than Ian Wallace. I like to think Myers ended up on the same groovy paradise planet that Keaflyn eventually found.

—Paul Di Filippo

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