Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: The Messiah Stone, by Martin Caidin

New York: Baen, 1986, pp. 407.

It seems that once again I am reviewing a novelist who was once a Big Name but has since slipped into obscurity--Martin Caidin. His novel Marooned, about a stranded astronaut who must be rescued (sound familiar?) became a feature film in 1969, while his 1972 book Cyborg was the basis for the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, and its spin-off The Bionic Woman. Today, however, his novels are out of print, his name just about never mentioned--especially when one is not making specific reference to the media spin-offs from his books.

As it happens, the tale's protagonist is a familiar enough type. Doug Stavers not only displays a more-than-human physical strength, courage and ruthlessness, but possesses every conceivable combat, investigative and mechanical skill that a commando-mercenary-spy might possibly need in the field, honed to perfection--Stavers a survival expert who can live off the land indefinitely in any and every environment, a fluent speaker of just about every language, a pilot who has mastered every flying trick, and all the rest. As if all that were not enough, his alertness is equivalent to clairvoyance, his foresight to precognition. And all this vast prowess has been demonstrated in secret wars beyond counting waged in every corner of the globe, in which he killed lots and lots and lots of people and (while admittedly picking up a good many scars) lived to tell the tale.

Naturally he has picked up a good many not-quite-as-good-but-still-preposterously-capable friends along the way, on whose help Stavers can call on those occasions when even he cannot do it all himself. All of these friends also have the virtue of comprising a considerable cheering section, endlessly testifying to just how extraordinary he is--as do his equally admiring clients and enemies, and the women in all these categories (and also those women in none of them) who find all this completely irresistible.

Such Gary Stu figures (there, I said it) are the stock-in-trade of the action thriller genre--and as my roster of books, articles and blog posts ought to make clear, I have enjoyed my fair share of works in that genre. Still, Caidin took it so far in Stavers' case (think that other Caidin creation Steve Austin, times twenty), and was so verbose in doing so, that he made me repeatedly laugh out loud while I read the book.

Indeed, taking it all as parody would be defensible--the more so given that the same sensibility informs the wider narrative. The book's title, after all, refers to the tale's more than usually hokey MacGuffin, a piece of meteorite which endows its possessor with an almost inhuman charisma and power over others in their presence. Naturally it is much sought after by innumerable parties (the CIA, the KGB, the Catholic Church and all the other usual suspects), including one private group that enlists Stavers to track it down and deliver it to them. All this offers plenty of occasion for the superman Stavers to display not only his ridiculous ultracompetence, but a contempt for human life to which no string of epithets can do justice, and which makes for an adventure so astonishingly dark and demented by even today's standards (I dare not spoil it by saying more) that one would have thought this by itself sufficient to give the book the cult following it does not seem to enjoy.

If this intrigues you, you might be interested in knowing that Caidin published a sequel, 1990's Dark Messiah. I haven't read it, but the two reviews of the book at Goodreads, in their very different ways, seem rather plausible to me after my experience of the first Doug Stavers novel.

Ian Fleming's 007 as Gary Stu
Of Mary Sue and Gary Stu

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