Archive for April 12th, 2015

Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom – The Lazarus Effect

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

The sequel to The Jesus Incident takes place several centuries later. This is something that is not uncommon for Frank Herbert to do as he likes telling his story within a larger framework. It automatically makes The Lazarus Effect (1983), the second book of the Pandora Sequence, a relatively standalone work with a plot that could be read without knowing what went before. There are some minor references but most of the story could be told independently.

While The Jesus Incident had many of the trademarks and style of Frank Herbert, this is much less present in The Lazarus Effect. Bill Ransom is again the main writer who now handles more of the narrative flow in the traditional way. With this I mean that the scenes are less jumping from one event to the next, although perhaps it was a bit too extreme in The Jesus Incident and the two authors decided to tone things down a bit, although that would not seem very typical of the Frank Herbert in his later years. It is for that reason that one can say Ransom has taken the lead in the writing with Herbert adding spice.

Thematically the novel has a strong focus on ecology with additions of religion and terrorism. This would certainly resonate with today’s events in the world would it not be so that the terrorism is not connected to the religion at all and that religion is the victim in a certain way.

Like the previous novel the story is set on the threshold of great changes to the society of the world of Pandora. Much of the story deals with the convergence of several developments. The story is told through the eyes of several characters of which only a few have center stage. Of the others we learn little about while Ransom uses the early parts of the story to set the background of these characters. In that way the novel is set up similarly as the previous one as it only allocates time on the characters to set them up after which the plot takes over and developments follow rapidly, leaving no space to explore how the characters handle the changing situations. It has thus the same kind of unbalance. In the beginning the story seems character driven but before we get halfway it becomes plot driven.

What I am missing in this novel is exploration. Herbert and Ransom have created a unique world with several unique societies and they are only developed to their basics. The reader is very interested to see more but the plot dominates too much.

The Lazarus Effect has a far less dark and terrible atmosphere than The Jesus Incident. Humanity has created a better world, at least on the surface. The terrorism theme does hit when it does although it is not taken to any extreme. The story turns to a more positive vibe and ends in a way that closes the story. The Pandora Sequence could just have ended there. Originally there was only a setup for two novels. As the novels hold fairly standalone plots there is always room to write another story if there is success and we know Herbert and Ransom decided to do so.

The Lazarus Effect can best we described as a Ransom novel with a strong Herbert flavor. Herbert sets the themes and the course of the plot but it is Ransom who makes the journey. While I attributed the dark nature of The Jesus Incident to him I would now do the opposite and attribute the lighter nature to him in this novel. Of course I can only guess this based on the Herbert novels I have read. What struck me after I finished the novel, which I mentioned before, is that the buildup of the story is very similar to The Jesus Incident. As Ransom is foremostly a short story writer I can only assume he followed the same template for the story now that he had a greater hand in the writing. The similarity is too peculiar that it can’t be explained by something else.

So is The Lazarus Effect a better or worse novel than The Jesus Incident? It is less complex and is more enjoyable to read. Despite the similarities there is a very different flavor which makes it hard to compare them as it depends very much to what you are in the mood for. The novels are related to each other and are part of a story sequence but have to be judged on their own. So in this case I will not judge. I do will say that I left The Lazarus Effect with a better feeling although it is not bad if a novel returns a disturbing feeling once in a while and makes you think. As such I enjoyed them both in very different ways.