The Fluger (1980) Book Review and Analysis
by Doris Piserchia
I found this novel at a used bookstore for $1! It was worth the price. It's WILD.
An oversized, extremely strong, extremely resilient, extremely angry alien creature leaves his planet as a stowaway, arriving on earth. He wreaks havoc on the supercity of Olympus, killing hundreds of people and destroying property over the course of several weeks. The mayor hires an alien hitman, Kam Shar, to defeat the creature. This person can divide his consciousness into three forms – a human-looking man with silver eyes, a winged man, and a giant jaguar-like beast. The plot also follows young street urchin, Hulian, as he hunts the animal that killed his friends, as well as small side plots about the mayor and his councillors.
The supercity is an important part of the story – it’s set up vertically as well as horizontally, clearly an expansion of New York. There are power reactors and “els” – elevators that run all over it. People don’t cook but eat at vending machine-like kitchens. If people commit a crime, they are banished to an untamed wilderness outside the gates. People are essentially locked in. They can transfer to other cities, which is part of the plot later on, but it’s not easy.
There are some fun futuristic ideas – calling Tv’s “tevs” for instance. There’s no wifi. There was a huge tidal wave in 2020. Wait ... 2020!? Come on!!
While this book sounds like a Godzilla-esque romp, it really isn’t. It’s extremely serious and at times disturbing, even for me. Deaths in big city monster movies are usually off-screen – people clearly die when building fall over, etc, but Corradado (the monster) is described as tearing people apart. Regular, normal people. Usually I don’t like regular, normal people, but the ambivalence and hatred Corradado shows towards humans is quite unsettling.
There is a part where Carradado is heading towards the sections where the children live. Thousands of people allow themselves to be ripped to shreds to divert the monster from its path. With a kid myself now, I can understand their panic. The scene sticks in your mind for weeks afterwards.
There is no clear hero in the story. Hulian is somewhat, but we don’t learn a lot about him other than he’s 13 and grew up homeless. Kam Shar, the alien, is also not the main character. We learn mild facts but nothing too deep. It’s unfortunate because he’s a super cool character. The way we’re told of his shape-jumping abilities is well done, but I wish we got more of it.
This novel is quite fascinating though. Seeing inside Corradado’s head, understanding why he does what he does, is well-done. She is able to explain his instinctual rationale clearly.
The action scenes are very well described, and the final sentence of the book is quite evocative.
There are pithy sentences like this: “Its empty windows were mouths that told of past glories” which served to heighten the serious tone of the book.
Overall, it’s an interesting, weird-as-hell sci-fi from 1980. It has this callous approach to violence, but there are untapped thematic undercurrents that unfortunately are not addressed.
3 / 5 Carradados!
Analysis - Here be Spoilers
To remind you, or tell you, Kam Shar ends up killing Corradado by sacrificing the members of the ruling council and a murderer. Without their consent, he implants Abbard, Quantro, Garly, Monkwell and Ennestro with this “tape” which, when Corradado eats it, acts like expanding foam in his gut, killing him from the inside. It has to be in a person because Corradado has developed a taste for humans. Kam Shar does implant it in himself and one of his 3 bodies does die, but he doesn’t ask these men to comply. His lack of consent is interesting – 3 of the 5 men are bad men. Garly has a young wife he treats like shit and beats up Hulian, Ennestro is an old man who is bitter and a dick, and Quantro has been killing people by selling them “astral projection” drugs which make them throw themselves off buildings. Abbard, the mayor, and Monkwell are morally neutral people. Though it’s never explained, Kam Shar could be cleaning up the city as well as killing the creature.
Insularity and Mega-Cities
Thinking about it, I wonder if the novel is showing how mega-cities and industrialization aren’t going to help us in the future. The reason they can’t killed Corradado, at least I assume, is because he’s extremely tough, but also because he’s embedded in the city. They can’t nuke or even missile him, because they would harm the city and the people in it. By creating this insulated life, they have allowed threats to feed off this insulation and grow.
They have to apply to an outside source, an alien, to kill the creature in the end. Perhaps it’s a take on xenophobia.
Race and Disability
There’s an interesting contradiction in terms of race and disability in the novel, which seems a product of its time.
The author goes out of her way to say that Hulian, who is black, is not poor because he’s black, but simply because of circumstance. And Abbard, the mayor, is also black. I suppose it’s a way to suggest racial equality in “the future” (presumably it’s around the year 2050), but it’s quite heavy-handed. Likewise, Abbard has this small scene where he discovers his ancestors were slaves, which does nothing for the plot, so I’m not sure why it’s included other than to give him something to do?
Roxey, the man who wants to adopt Hulian, is a good guy in that he goes pretty far to try and keep Hulian safe. He’s also a person with blindness, but his disability doesn’t hinder him, which was nice to read. In fact, he uses a device to help him “see”, but upon losing it he learns to accept his life with blindness. Yet, he’s consistently calling Hulian a "wetback". I had to look this slur up. What I don’t get is why Roxey, who is a person with blindness, would call Hulian this, since he can’t see what his skin tone is. Perhaps he’s simply calling him an illegal immigrant? Maybe in the 1980s they assumed this term would stick? Maybe it’s used more in other areas of the world? It was weird.
A woman doesn’t speak until 66 pages in. Which is nearly halfway through. At least the first woman to do so, Wendelar, is the mayor of Superior, the other town. Yet, while she does make a later appearance it is merely to have a conversation with Kam Shar where he makes her looks foolish. Wendelar seems tough and capable, but we don’t know anything about her and she’s useless regarding contributing to the plot.
One of Abbard’s assistants is a woman, though she doesn’t speak, and we also have Quantro’s wife for a brief half page. We have Garly’s mother-in-law (one or two sentences) and his wife Cili. These are the only women in the novel. So the novel does not pass the Bechdel test at all.
And not only that, but Cili is killed in a brutal way simply to further Garly’s plot: an 18-year-old girl is kidnapped, treated like shit, and then eaten by wolves. So feminist.
Could not one of the main councillors be women? Maybe Hulian could have been a girl?
I realize it’s the 1980s, but this is an example of why feminism mattered and was needed. If this were a movie, I bet Cili would have a larger part but would be hypersexualized and her death would have included lots of moaning and loss of clothing.
While this lack of women didn’t really affect the plot or my enjoyment of the novel as a whole, this book is terrible for women.
On an interesting note, Doris is still kicking at 90. Good for her.