Jack Strong by Walter Mosley
Like most people, I have many faults. Some are minor, others neutral in their effect on me and my life. Among the latter is my somewhat obsessional approach to reading. If I find an author who hits the spot, I try to read all his or her work. Numbered in this select band is Walter Mosley whose work I’ve been reading for the last twenty years. Although I confess to finding some of his science fiction and more metaphorical fiction didactic and less interesting, I have persevered. Which brings me to Jack Strong (Open Road Media, 2014) This boasts the subtitle: A story of life after life. This is novella length and obviously intended as the first two chapters of a novel, which is slightly unfortunate, because unlike a formally constructed short story/novelette which reaches a natural conclusion, this stops rather arbitrarily as our titular protagonist leaves the nest of his awakening and sets off on his quest.
We’re back in the land populated by one of the fairly standard SFnal ideas. This time, we’re following along the track developed by Lois McMaster Bujold in Mirror Dance where a man not only develops multiple personalities, but gets some degree of control over which personality shall take the wheel, given the needs of the particular circumstances. Our protagonist, Jack Strong, seems to be in the same situation as Donovan in the series of Spiral Arm novels by Michael Flynn in that the multiple personalities have been induced artificially. In the first pages of this ebook, Jack dreams scenes from the lives of many people.
When he wakes, he finds himself in a fairly anonymous hotel room. When he comes down to reception, he discovers his room has been paid in advance and that his car is parked outside. As he slowly comes to full consciousness, he begins to realise he has access to the memories and abilities of many people. These are real people but they seem to be dead, i.e. we’re blurring the genre line with fantasy and supernatural elements. They represent a cross section of the community including individuals from both ends of the spectrum of good and evil. One might be a serial killer who moved around the country hitch-hiking. Another might have been a priest of rare knowledge and high spiritual morality. In between comes the mass of humanity. Some faceless and only possessing minor skills and abilities. Others were highly trained as soldiers or gamblers, grifters and criminals. In other words, Jack has a wealth of experience and abilities to call on but, if this is a democracy, getting many of these personalities to agree on any particular course of action is challenging.
The first personality to begin influencing Jack’s actions turns out to be on the hit-list of some local gangsters. Because this fact is not immediately obvious to Jack, he inadvertently finds himself in extreme danger and has to go on from there. Fortunately, he has another personality who was in the FBI and is able to make contact with a real-world person who can help out. So, for the length of this relatively short extract, we’re in fairly well-travelled territory as our hero who finds himself in the body of a crook has to extricate himself and find somewhere safe to hide. While this is playing out, he also becomes aware of a man monitoring his actions. Presumably, as the novel progresses, we will see this as representing the essential mystery to solve. Who has performed this “scientific marvel” by collecting all these people together in one body? What is their purpose? and so on. As it stands, it’s pushing all the right buttons and ends frustratingly as he leaves Las Vegas for points unknown. Hopefully, the rest of the book will be completed soon and we’ll all be able to see whether the idea develops coherently and finishes satisfactorily. So far, so good, i.e. I recommend it as vintage Mosley and, hopefully, he’ll keep away from his tendency to didacticism and stay with the action plotting.
For reviews of other books by Walter Mosley, see:
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
The Gift of Fire and On the Head of the Pin
Known To Evil
The Long Fall
Merge and Disciple
When the Thrill Is Gone