Syn (Belmont Science Fiction, B60-1018) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1969
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Syn was originally published in 1969, but to me it reads more like a story from the “pulp era” or the early “golden age” – assuming we define “pulp era” as the 1920s and 1930s and “golden age” as the 1940s. (That is a sure way to start an argument or at least a spirited discussion at an SF convention.) I also find it hard to see the Jones I know from Son of the Stars, Planet of Light, This Island Earth, and The Year When Stardust Fell in Syn. If I didn’t see Jones’ name on the title page I might suspect Syn of being an early Van Vogt work. It’s impossible not to see similarity, even identity, between Jones’ Syns, machine-created variants of the human species that are hunted down and immediately killed upon identification; and Van Vogt’s Slans, machine-created variants of the human species that are hunted down and immediately killed upon identification.
There is interstellar travel and a HAL 9000-like sentient supercomputer in Syn, but daily life bears more resemblance to Chicago circa 1930 (or at least how I imagine daily life in Chicago was in 1930). There’s violence in the streets, people travel in cars on battered roads, and live in apparently conventional but often dilapidated houses. There was a nuclear war, but even after three generations there seems to have been little rebuilding. The principal protagonist, Arthur Zoran, returns from a two-year interstellar business trip to find that things have gone from bad to worse on Earth during his absence. It’s all because of the Syns – allegedly synthetic copies of human beings produced in an unknown location by an unknown machine – who are dedicated to taking over the world and exterminating “real” human beings, who are, in turn, dedicated to exterminating the Syns.
Zoran has a history with Eddie, the self-aware supercomputer. In fact, Zoran and Eddie were good buddies back in the day, so he’s assigned to work with Eddie on the Syn problem. Part of the solution Eddie devises is for Zoran to be declared a Syn, escape from omnipresent security, and make his way into the Syn underground. Plenty of deception, violence, death, and destruction ensue before the final grand reveal of the true nature of the Syns.
Syn was written during the height of the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s, so some may see the story as an allegory on the times. Or some may not. On a purely technical basis I don't think this is a four-star book, but the definition of four stars is "I like it" and since I enjoyed reading it, four stars it is. Syn is far from Jones' best work, but it's a fun enough read for those who hold fond memories of Thrilling Wonder Stories.