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Passing for Human (Benaroya Chronicles) (Volume 1) Paperback – September 9, 2015
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"A riproaringly magnificent time. Passing For Human is quite unlike anything anyone else has ever done." -Neil Gaiman
"The pace of the story never lets up, yet it finds room for serious contemplation of humanity's woes. The style is easy, with an edge of noir. The central character is a bit of a tough girl which, mixed with her naivety about humans, makes for an intriguing and likeable character. ..... The humour, pace, and wry observation make this a rare and wonderful beast - a serious science fiction novel that doesn't take itself seriously."
This satire was first published in 1977, but its biting commentary still registers strongly today. Aliens trained in Western pop culture disguise themselves as well-known figures and embark on two intersecting tasks: judging humankind's readiness to join the interstellar community, and searching for a ruthless criminal. Scott carries on the tradition of Mark Twain, using outside observers to remark on society. While the treatment of women is the primary focus, other targets include consumer culture and the general human willingness to be led by the nose by a charismatic figure. The narrative drags at times, but the speculative elements are well written and give a good sense of physical and cultural differences. A light touch keeps the moralizing from getting too ham-fisted, and this cautionary tale calling for a better world is a message needed now more than ever. (Mar.)
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ByA customeron June 14, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of the most original, brilliantly written novels I've ever read. I, Vampire, along with its prequel, Passing for Human, deserve to be discovered by readers everywhere. Jody Scott may be one of the wittiest writers of our century, and I am dying for her to write more.
To begin, I emphasize that while I attempted to categorize this piece, that's just to give you an idea of how it leans—to categorize this book is, in truth, no easy task. There's not another work quite like it. It's what I would call light reading, nothing terribly realistic or "hard" in the nature of its science, as is evident from the get-go, what with the fact that the narrator is an alien dolphin that can disguise itself in any number of human forms (specifically pop culture icons) to decide whether its race should embrace or annihilate the human species to best benefit the greater galactic community.
Alright, I know, genocide doesn't sound terribly funny, but bear in mind this is undertaken through the guises of Brenda Starr, Virginia Woolf, Emma Peel, and too many Richard Nixons for my liking. No one within the book questions this fact. It's ridiculous. There's also a criminal hunt underway, because at the same time there is naturally another sort of alien looking to use mankind for the forces of EVIL.
What I'm trying to say is this: the story's light—not displeasing, but light. It tap-tap-taps at the patronizing treatment of women and undulates with commercialist values, and I think if I had to choose a most haunting quality to Passing for Human it would be the fact of how prevalent those truths still are today, but the novel does stumble over itself at times.
Comedy is used to evade any soap box sense of moralizing, but it also overwrites some of the novel's potential as well. Plot isn't so much a driving force as an incidental, and absurdist jumps propel the book from one scene to the next with little exploration or elaboration on the what, why or how such works are often based upon. Likewise, there's no great character depth here—not that sort of novel—and suspension of belief is necessary, but its commentary on the human condition still has bite, and the light nature of the work at large should appeal to younger audiences and make an entertaining change from the dystopia driven lusts of modern fiction. There's nothing like convention here. There's no worry about being remotely grounded.
And that can be refreshing for the right audience. An escape.
An alien race, the Rymesians, are observing Earth to determine whether the planet's dominant species, humans, known to Rymesians as bushmen, deserve to remain alive or not. On this quest is anthropologist Benaroya, often confusingly referred to as simply B. (lazy editing?), Brenda Starr, Brenda, Miss Star, Emma Peel, Emma, and Miss Peel, among other names. This grows more confusing when more Rymesians enter the fold and are referred interchangeably by their Rymesian name and their human body name. These Rymesians have dolphin bodies in their natural form, but a body is not truly important to them. Their souls, or consciousness, or what have you, are able to jump from body to body. Not in the sense that they can take control of any person, but they can jump into any empty body at any time. This is nothing based in any sort of science, but more of a spiritualism. Anyway.
A cliche story would take this concept and cause the alien to come to love the human race and want to save it. This is not a cliche story, but that's not to say this isn't what happens. It's very confusing, actually, what happens. Benaroya begins flying down the highway in a fancy car, being chased by police officers. Her skillful driving skills, however, cause them to crash and die. Then she provokes a frustrated woman into a race, causing her to crash and die as well. Benaroya, in her bikini Brenda Starr body, is arrested and within the hour has seduced her lawyer into having sex with her in his office and professing his love, and all the while she's just excited to have mated with a human so quickly. This may sound amusing, with a few zowies! and zoinks! thrown in for good measure, but it's actually more tiring than it sounds.
For one, Scott, or maybe just her characters, shovels venom upon the human race. It's tough to tell if Scott is the one so spiteful of the human race or just her alien characters, and it's also tough to tell exactly why she or they are so spiteful. Everything from the shape and makeup of human bodies to humanity's careless handling of Earth's resources is an object of scorn. But the scorn fails to do any true cutting because it's fired off like a five year old boy trying to aim his urine into the toilet and hitting the seat and floor instead. Somebody who agrees with her might not see a problem with some of her remarks, and I don't necessarily disagree, but the level of vitriol isn't really earned in the novel.
Scott certainly writes with a lot of manic energy, but another word I would use to describe her writing style is ephemeral. It fails to grasp anything - setting, character, satire - and the reader will have trouble grasping these things as well. The action at the beginning feels impossible. The car races through the streets seemingly without other vehicles or objects, without the limitations or noises or feelings of driving at such a speed. Characters move from area to area as though by means of teleportation. Benaroya proclaims hatred of the human species early in the book and mere chapters later somehow has a fondness of them and does not want them destroyed. I know Scott is trying to be funny and satirical, but her satire crosses some lines and teeters dangerously near to her seeming misanthropic. Scott seems to be using her Rymesians as a stand in for humans who view other humans and animal species as inferior and deserving of scorn. On the other hand, Scott also seems to be using her Rymesians as a vessel for her own dire view of humanity. While critiques of humanity are always needed, and always coming, there should be at least something constructive, not just hate.