(Pyr, $25.00, 359 pages; hardcover, published in July 2005.)
Michael Blumlein's third novel, The Healer, is set in the far future on a colonized planet where humanity has split into Grotesques, who are treated as chattel and servants, and "normal" humans, who are dominant.
Grotesques possess a hideous cranial deformity and an extra orifice, the meli; some Grotesques develop the gift of healing. They can psychically isolate ailments, extract them from their patients by osmosis, and then expel them through their meli, a process that is disturbingly analogous to birthing. The expelled illness, called a Concretion, acquires life and is potentially dangerous. The meli itself resembles a vulva, while the act of healing is quite sexual.
Healers are slaves, forced to service their human masters, and then discarded once "the Drain" -- a malady common to healers, who are forbidden to heal each other -- has exhausted their gift.
The healers are an obvious metaphor for the plight of women, healing standing in for fecundity, the Drain for menopause, the human/Grotesque hierarchy for patriarchy, etc.
The Healer is filled with intense moments and powerful imagery, but it's also a mess. It feels like a text that has been struggled with, reworked and reshaped and tweaked until the author finally had enough and decided to push it out of his own creative meli and, come what may, let it acquire life.
The plot involves the travails of a healer whose talents may forever change the social order, but long sections are tangential, even superfluous, and essential details are carelessly skimmed over, while the concluding chapters suffer from a jarring shift in tone.
Page by page, The Healer is compelling and fascinating, and certainly a novel worth reading, but it's a savage creature that the author failed to rein in, much like the healers cannot control their Concretions.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 11 March 2005, 22 July 2006