FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE ZEN GUN by Barrington J. Bayley, DAW Books, 1983
This is the 71st in my series of Forgotten Books.
I was once at a reading by Michael Moorcock and I asked him “Who was the one writer that American audiences should know better?” His immediate response was Barry Bayley. I believe Bayley had recently died at the time and I thought that this was a tragedy.
I never read a lot of his books but I got three of his and six Jack Vance books in a recent library sale so I picked this one to be my forgotten book. I keep meaning to do a Jack Vance at some point in the near future also.
This book starts with the type of space opera that Peter Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds do so well. A magnificent empire in decline losing control of the outer areas. Humans have lost much of their identity ceded some work and authority to animal breeds including elephants, pigs, giraffes, and the like. They have also ripped a hole in the fabrics of the universe and the universe may be expanding or imploding (sometimes it is hard to tell).
Admiral Archier and the imperial Ten Fleet have been dispatched to extract overdue and unpaid taxes from recalcitrant worlds. He has the authority to destroy the worlds should they not comply. However the Oracle on board alerts him to a cosmic threat that may destroy the empire. That threat is the Zen gun which attracts the chimera Pout who wants to destroy all things human. The gun insinuates itself to him with its simple mantra “I can maim and I can kill with my Zen gun.”
Aiding Pout is the galactic samurai or kosho Ikkematsu and his nephew Sinbiane. They meet up with girl rebel Hesper. This odd crew may save the universe or destroy it. All this in the space of 158 pages! Others (including some mentioned above) might have added a extra 0 to the end of that page count number.
This book has elicited lots of strong opinions around the web. It won the Japanese Seiun Award in 1985 and was a nominee for the Philip K Dick Award for best paperback original. Yet others find it boring and obtuse. Michael Moorcock on the cover of the book calls Bayley “The most original SF writer of his generation.” I’ll side with Mike on this one. Bayley may not be for everyone but I really liked this one. Your mileage may vary.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.