Repeated assurances that he had been some kind of Anti-Christ in his former existence were beginning to have a bludgeoning effect on him. He wished Toogood would drop the subject and let him forget that he had nothing to remember.
|Note the serious cover painting.|
I was pretty surprised and disappointed when I realized that Who Goes Here? was one big joke. Or maybe I should say a collection of many jokes--there seem to be multiple gags and puns on each of the novel's 214 pages. (The print is large, so in fact the book is not particularly long.)
It is the future, the year 2386! A treatment is available for people suffering psychological problems that erases a portion of their memories, relieving them of feelings of guilt. In return for this treatment, recipients are enlisted in the Space Legion for an unspecified, open-ended period of service which, in practice, lasts until they are killed. As the novel opens we meet such a recruit, a man with the unusual name of "Warren Peace." For some reason, his entire memory has been erased--he can't recall a single component of his past! A recurring joke is his fellow recruits remarking that, if his entire memory has been erased, he must have been a monster whose entire life was steeped in villainy.
|This cover better reflects the tone and|
subject matter of the novel
Who Goes Here? brought to mind Harry Harrison: much of the novel feels like an homage to Bill the Galactic Hero and Deathworld. One section seemed like an homage to Hollywood cartoons--Warren Peace is chased through a city by huge golden nude men called Oscars, and flees into a factory owned by the Acme Raincoat Company.
Some of the jokes, especially the satire of the military, feel like jokes you have heard before; e.g., the officers are all stupid or corrupt, the soldiers are issued equipment that doesn't operate properly, the Earth is the hypocritical capitalist imperialist instigator of the wars, etc. Other jokes are extrapolations or responses to SF ideas, like the hypnosis used on the soldiers and the Legion's method of space travel. Some of the gags are obvious or childish, like the officers punishing soldiers by making them twist their own nipples, and the recruit who doesn't know that "Terra" is a synonym for "Earth" and is perpetually confused by references to a place he's never heard of being what he is fighting for.
Orbitsville and Night Walk) was a bit of a letdown.
While a disappointment to me, I have to give Who Goes Here? a positive review; it is a good specimen of what it is trying to be. Shaw is a good writer; he has a good style and he also is good at structuring a book, fitting all the pieces together smoothly. There aren't any boring or gratuitous sections, and he doesn't bog you down with unnecessary details, the book is just rapid fire jokes and a streamlined adventure plot, and I did actually laugh at some of the jokes. Some elements of the novel show a high level of cleverness (a movie theater in which a children's film and a porno are projected simultaneously, and viewers are issued age-specific special spectacles to decipher the image) and creativity (a long list of strange monsters.) There's even a traditional sensawunda ending in which it is hinted that our main character, with new found powers, is going to play a role in a radical change to galactic society that will bring peace and prosperity. I can see why Who Goes Here? would be popular, and why a sequel would be published in 1993.
If you are looking for a silly jokey science fiction book, you should check Who Goes Here? out; it is certainly one of the better ones.