Dr. Adder, by K. W. Jeter
Had I read this book when it was written it might have been all I talked about during my last year in high school. K. W. Jeter wrote this book in 1972, then spent twelve years trying to find a publisher. In Russia the Strugatsky brothers were censored by committees. Jeter was “self-censored” by publishing houses afraid to take on something this unusual, where the core of the book deals with sexual perversions and violence. This despite encouragements from Philip K. Dick. When the book was finally picked up in 1984 it was by a company that had never before published fiction.
I’m sad to say that all this was under my radar until Joachim Boaz at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations asked if I’d read it. Some of Jeter’s books are hard to get hands on these days. The author is still alive and well in Ecuador and has been adding his books in Kindle format to Amazon, saying that the glory of electronic publication is that authors can circumvent the publishing companies and appeal directly to readers.
So I was happy when I found this book in a Kindle version and downloaded it. I was already in the middle of another book. I took a peek inside to the first page and was immediately sucked into the whole book … much the way shotgun weddings and heroin habits happen.
I love a book that pushes into strange areas and defies convention, and this book certainly does that. It’s mentioned as an early cyberpunk book, and there are some of those elements. The action takes place on a boulevard called Interface, a blind and deaf girl is able to psychically enter her television to trace the technology cabled to it, and people’s personalities can be downloaded into computers. Had it been published sooner it might have stood out as the amazing and pioneering book it is. 1984 was a different time.
The book reads like Candide in the underworld. E. Allen Limmit is the orphaned son of an infamous CIA agent named Gass. In Phoenix Limmit now runs the egg farm he inherited, featuring giant semi-sentient chickens that lay huge eggs which are boiled and cut up into different foods. The farm also features a chicken brothel in which people pay to have sex with giant chickens. One day an old friend of his father arrives with an offer for Limmit. If he will take a briefcase to a Dr. Adder in Los Angeles he can sell it and keep the proceeds.
He flies to southern California, where Los Angeles is completely separated from Orange County. Los Angeles has become a battered and rundown city where on Interface Boulevard the street is lined with hookers. Most of these hookers have been physically modified by Dr. Adder, who uses an old CIA drug to determine what kind of perversions the hookers can accept. The most common fetish is for men interested in amputees, so many of the women are legless, armless, or both.
The street is also frequented by MFers (short for Moral Forces) under the leadership of a television evangelist named Mox. As they always wear gray they are often the target of snipers as they evangelize along the boulevard.
Through the book things come to a battle between fans of Adder and followers of Mox. Meanwhile we get to meet a group of revolutionaries trying to save the LA population; a dying alien who babbles depressing thoughts in isolation; a gypsy who lives in the sewers under LA; a group of Orange County men calling themselves the Prodigal Fathers who have lost sons to the sins of LA and now kidnap young men to return them to the Orange County lifestyle. Limmit becomes one of the kidnapped and begins to see that if he did stay there he’d be dead inside without anyone seeing it until the skin fell off his bones. Meanwhile there are frequent references to an Orange County high school called Buena Maricone (which translates as Good Fagot) and an underground radio station called radio KCID, which is a jumble of DICK in honor of P. K. Dick. (It’s also an actual radio station in Caldwell, Idaho, where I was working after school at the time the book was written.) Like Dick, Jeter is an opera fan and Alban Berg’s opera Wozzek figures into the plot as well.
It is a book with violence and strange sex fetishes, but is mostly presented through the wide-eyed perceptions of someone for whom it’s all as bizarre as it is for the reader. You can pull out deeper ideas about moral choices, conventional choices, and existential crises. As Limmit muses at one point “Life’s nothing but the beating you take before you die.”
I’m forever grateful to Boaz for introducing me to what now stands as the favorite book I’ve read in the past 12 months and in my top 10 for science fiction out of all my reading.