The Man who melted by Jack Dann is a detailed and disturbing portrait of a future where societal destruction is not a result of weapons or other technologies but of a severe telepathic disturbance within its ranks. The Man who melted received a nomination for a Nebula Award for best novel.
Protagonist Raymond Mantle is trying to find out what happened to his lover, Josiane (also his sister) who is either dead or has disappeared into the telepathic void of the ‘screamers’. Mantle is trapped in an emotional limbo: unable to grieve and let go of the past or to move forward with his life. The conflict sends him seeking out the ‘dark places’ in his own psyche before they consume him.
‘Screamers’ are the physical shells of human beings whose minds have been destroyed or absorbed into a conglomerate telepathic entity. In 22nd century society Screamers are seen and treated by most as dangerous and unpredictable conduits of violence and chaos. Whether the telepathy results from mutation or disease is unclear; whether it is an advantage or a dangerous deviation is explored as Mantle struggles to reconcile his past with Josiane with the future he faces.
Mantle’s search for Josiane leads him to attend a ceremony of the The Christian Criers a cult who tap into the consciousness of dead screamers for enlightenment or simply a psychic thrill. But there is a danger that his quest might lead further from sanity and deeper into the chaos of the screamers’ collective psychosis.
Dann’s novel explores, as in previous works such as Bad Medicine, the frontiers of consciousness. Drawing on the theories of Julian Jaynes who, in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
The Man who melted uses the idea of telepathic apocalypse to explore themes of love, grief, inter-connection, and redemption.
In Mantle the author has created a compelling and obsessive protagonist who struggles to deal with guilt, perhaps a result of his incestuous relationship with Josiane, or because of his conflicted emotions about his current love, Joan. Mantle’s story untangles his relationship with ‘frenemy’ Carl Pfeiffer.
Dann’s settings are believable and disturbing – the descriptions of post-Scream Naples with its decaying streets is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s occupied Vienna in The Third Man creating an atmosphere of seediness, corruption and danger to underline the uncertainties of the post-Screamer world.
The Man who melted is an exploration of the threshold of the human mind told in thriller form and as compelling and disturbing as anything by Dick or Vonnegut. It raises timely questions about mass society’s retreat from reality into the regressive certainties of fundamentalism, new age delusions and other irrationalities.
For readers and fans of Dann there is much to enjoy in this work: compelling ideas, as well as its focus on that strangest of frontiers: consciousness itself. For those new to this author’s work it is an excellent introduction to one of modern science fictions’ master storytellers.
Kevin T. Collins’ narration captures Mantle’s intensity and the complexity of Dann’s crumbling 22nd century world while maintaining the momentum of the narrative.
The Man Who Melted is available at: http://www.audible.com.au