The Müller-Fokker Effect - John Sladek (1971)

Satire is a tricky business, and it tends not to age well. Some satire, like Dr. Strangelove or M.A.S.H., transcends the genre in some sense and remains enjoyable far beyond the usual satirical sell-by date. Most however starts to look dated pretty quickly, as soon as the social situation that is being commented on changes, and while it can be interesting as a period piece it is no longer the biting comedic tour de force that it once was. Such is the case of The Müller-Fokker Effect.

Don't get me wrong, there are parts of the book that I like pretty well and parts that remain funny nearly forty years after it was published, but the structure and episodes simply haven't worn well. The book is attempting to be a zany, spinning out of control, over-the-top weirdness fest, like some of Terry Southern's work in the same time period (such as The Magic Christian), with darkly comic elements like you find in some Vonnegut or Jules Feiffer, but the set pieces just don't hold up.

The plot, in short, is that an attempt is being made to digitize a human being, but the tapes containing the encoding are lost and dispersed. A variety of factions go hunting for them, but that's merely the mcguffin to allow a variety of eccentric characters to run all over the place engaging in bizarre behaviour. The book ultimately ends in more-or-less full blown race war.

Sladek is good writer, and some of his later work, books and stories not quite so pointedly satiric in tone, are still engaging and worth reading. The Müller-Fokker Effect, however, is only for completists or students of the time.

Overall Grade: D

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