Novel: Mockingbird

thank God that I can read, that I have truly touched the minds of other men.” 

Perhaps more famous for his novel turned film The Man Who Fell To Earth, Tevis is one of the few science fiction writers who can truly be said to break into the realms of literature, as opposed to simple fiction. Mockingbird was written in the years leading up to Tevis’s death from cancer and as such has a rather bleak tone, focusing on the themes of depression and heartbreak in a society in which even looking somebody in the eye is considered a gross invasion of privacy. Set in a dystopian future in which humanity is infertile, apathetic and on the slow path to extinction Mockingbird reads like an unofficial sequel to both  Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, taking the former’s theme of chemical dependency and the criminalisation of love coupled with the latter’s abhorrence of books and intellectualism in general to create possibly one of the most depressingly plausible “what-if” novels ever written . Humanity’s decline is due to the whim of those alive hundreds of years previous to the time in which the novel takes place and has been caused by the creation of robots to cater to every need, leaving the population with nothing productive to do. This leads to the the belief that it is better to take drugs and forget the world, rather than deal with the possibility of pain and boredom that accompanies lucidity.

The novel itself follows the lives of 3 characters who reject this doctrine, a  “make nine” robot named Spofforth, the most intelligent android ever created and almost human in complexity, a university professor named Bentley who commits the crime of teaching himself to read and the woman Bentley befriends and falls in love with, named Mary Lou. Alternating between the viewpoints of these 3 characters, Tevis’ novel does what any good dystopian novel strives to do, reveal something about the world we live in by taking it to its logical extreme. indeed Mockingbird seems to be a cry of despair from the author, who wrote in The Man Who Fell To Earth “The strange thing about television is that it doesn’t tell you everything.” And indeed throughout the novel it is shown that the entirety of humanity does nothing but take pills, watch television and let civilisation crumble around them, with only Bentley and Mary Lou seeming to understand the horror of their existence.

The brilliance of Mockingbird is that it taps into many readers sense of despair at the modern world without coming across as sanctimonious or pretentious, the reader is left to decide whether the pain, heartbreak and occasional depression felt by the main characters is preferable to the listless existence of the masses, and Tevis uses the alien backdrop of the society he has crafted to bring into focus the truly human relationships of these characters, giving the novel a romantic overtone that is present throughout . It takes a truly great writer to craft a character so human that one feels they can truly understand why they feel as they do, and Tevis manages this with not just 1, but 3 characters, as well as crafting a world that is truly unsettling in its plausibility, an incredible feat and one that deserves recognition.


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