Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Lazarus Effect by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom

Off the deep end: Pandora becomes a waterworld
Beyond the Dune series, the other major multi-novel arc in science fiction author Frank Herbert’s body of work is his Pandora Sequence, a.k.a. the WorShip series. The Lazarus Effect is the third novel to feature the spacecraft-turned-god known as Ship and the second novel to take place on the planet of Pandora, following Destination: Void and The Jesus Incident. Like The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect is a collaboration between Herbert and former poet Bill Ransom. In an introduction published after Herbert’s death, Ransom implies that he played a larger role in the writing of this book than the preceding novel because Herbert was busy writing The White Plague and dealing with his wife Beverly’s battle with cancer.

The Lazarus Effect takes place some unspecified centuries after The Jesus Incident, and much has changed in the interim. Pandora’s human inhabitants have extinguished the sentient kelp, which has caused sea levels to rise (the physics of that is unclear), turning the planet into a waterworld. That species’ DNA, however, still lives on in the genetic experiments of generations past. The human population has divided into two “races”: The Mermen are not fish-people like the mermen of mythology, but rather humans that live underwater through the aide of technology and some minor evolutionary adaptations. Genetically, they are more traditionally human than the Islanders who inhabit the surface and live on floating islands of organic material. The majority of the Islanders, descendants of the genetic anomalies created by the twisted experiments of Jesus Lewis in the last novel, are physically deformed in sometimes hideous but often useful ways. Though prejudices and suspicions exist between the Mermen and Islanders, they have managed to live in peace and cooperation for centuries. A faction of racist terrorists, however, threatens to destroy that peace and remake the world to their liking. Meanwhile, a spaceship full of Earth life, including thousands of human clones, continues to orbit Pandora in a state of hibernation, as it has done for centuries.

As weird as The Jesus Incident was, The Lazarus Effect is much weirder, and Herbert and Ransom drop you right in the middle of it with no orientation whatsoever. At first it is difficult for the reader to get his or her bearings, but once acclimated to this bizarre world it proves fascinating. God and religion play a smaller role in this novel than in the previous one. Ship has ostensibly left Pandora, abandoning the inhabitants to their own devices, though many still hold faithfully to the worShipful beliefs of their ancestors. Like Dune, there is also an ecological dimension to the plot that deals with planet transformation.

The culture and politics of Pandora are really interesting, but the waterworld itself doesn’t make for the most thrilling of settings. Much of the novel takes place on boats, which aren’t anywhere near as interesting as an extraterrestrial landscape. The characters are always trying to get somewhere but never seem to get there. With all the nautical encounters, embarkations, and mutinies, it is difficult to keep track of who’s on what boat, where they’re all going, and who’s holding whom prisoner.

Though this sequel is centuries removed from The Jesus Incident and thus features all new characters, the authors find clever ways to connect the story to the characters of the two preceding books. On its own, The Lazarus Effect is not an outstanding novel and would probably be so weird as to be off-putting, but as a part of the greater Pandora saga it advances the story arc in interesting ways, keeps the reader guessing, and makes one look forward to the final installment in the series, The Ascension Factor.
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