Saturday, February 20, 2016

Croyd by Ian Wallace

"Listen, Greta.  This is going to sound crazy, but accept it until you understand.  You have a visitor.  I am a mind named Croyd who has lost his brain, and--well.  I'll just have to use yours until I can get mine back."

The cover painting of the Berkley 1968 edition of Ian Wallace's 1967 Croyd, by Paul Lehr, took my breath away.  The color, the hideous eye-like structures, the lightning bolts, and especially those disturbing faces depicting people in the extremes of emotion... I couldn't stop looking at it!  It is becoming one of my favorite SF covers.

But is the 184 page novel any good?  I don't think I've read anything by Ian Wallace before, and preeminent science-fiction blogger Joachim Boaz didn't exactly endorse my purchase of the novel after I announced the acquisition on twitter.  But the book is covered with praise from various newspapers ("fast-moving," "highly readable," "a must," etc.)  Well, when we think at all here at MPorcius Fiction Log, we think for ourselves!  Let's see what Croyd is all about!

Praise for Croyd from now-defunct newspapers
Croyd is the best secret agent of the future (one of those admiring blurbs compares him to James Bond) when humanity has colonized three dozen systems across the galaxy and is faced by extragalactic enemies. Croyd is so indispensable, so elite, that in the first scene of the novel he receives instructions from the President of the Galaxy himself at an undercover meeting in a New York bar!

In the same bar Croyd meets an attractive woman who is down on her luck and looks a little strung out.  She sets out to seduce Croyd, but she's no ordinary horny chick--her brain is occupied by one of those hostile extragalactic aliens, Princess Lurla of the "gnurl," a caste-bound race from Large Magellanic Cloud!  Lurla succeeds in invading Croyd's brain, taking over his body, and shifting Croyd's mind into the brain of the depressed human woman, whose name is Greta.  In Croyd's superior body Lurla is in a position to wreak all kinds of havoc, while poor Croyd is stuck in an ordinary woman's body!

1967 hardcover edition
This novel is full to the brim with both conventional and unusual SF ideas. Wallace describes, brusquely and as needed (and sometimes when not needed): psychic powers, Croyd's half-alien parentage, the solution to the mind-body problem that allows his crazy plot to function, anti-gravity and artificial gravity devices, teleporters, interstellar space flight, a system of government based on mercenary managers (the President of the Galaxy is elected by the people but most government work is handled by a private firm; I guess this is like how some U. S. cities are run by a professional city manager appointed by elected officials) and more.  As trumpeted on the front cover, an important element of Croyd is time travel, to the past ("uptiming") and the future ("downtiming.")  Croyd is the only character who can accomplish this feat, and besides doing the kind of thing that Alfred Bester did in The Stars My Destination (Croyd sees a fleeting and mysterious image of a future version of himself early in the novel and later learns its identity), Wallace uses time travel to explode materialism and determinism.  (Alas, I remain a materialist and determinist.)

The novel is also brimming over with sexual overtones; on the first page we learn that in the future waitresses in bars do their work in the nude, and it is hinted that they act as prostitutes.  Croyd's being "inside" Greta is obviously metaphorically like sex, and Wallace mines this for lots of his material.  At first, Greta is uncomfortable about having Croyd inside her, but then Croyd marries them ("A galactic agent can officiate at his own marriage.  No witness necessary....") and she not only accepts their weird relationship but thrives under Croyd's influence. Croyd, as a human-alien hybrid with precise control over his body and all kinds of psychic powers, is able to radically improve Greta's physical health, even to (making the sex angle glaringly explicit) restore her virginity!

In the first half of the novel, while Croyd and Greta develop a modus vivendi inside Greta's skull, Lurla, in Croyd's body, pursues a mission for the human government--she wants them to think she is the real Croyd.  Rebels have seized Ceres and, by installing forcefield generators and propulsion units on the dwarf planet, have turned it into a huge bomb and aimed it at Nereid, the moon of Neptune where the firm that manages the human space empire has its HQ!  While Wallace describes the gnurl and Lurla in some detail, these rebels he simply dismisses as "beatniks" and we learn nothing of their motivations or character; I think they represent a limp effort at satirizing the counterculture of the 1950s and '60s.

Right after Lurla disposes of the beatnik threat, Croyd and Greta catch up with her, and Croyd tries to transfer his mind back into his own body and eject Lurla.  But he fails, and instead his mind comes to occupy a computer many light years away--this is because Lurla was thinking about this computer!  The computer in question is being used to coordinate the gnurls' Plan B in case Lurla fails to infiltrate and enslave humanity with her psychic powers.  Plan B is to detonate a planet the gnurls have turned into a bomb (yes, Wallace, uses this gag twice in the same book) at the star-rich core of the Milky Way--the blast will exterminate all life in our galaxy!

Things work out fine in the end, however. Princess Lurla has never inhabited a male brain before, nor ever dominated a brain for such a great length of time, and she begins to lose control of Croyd's, which inhibits her effort to hypnotize the government of the human race. More importantly, close contact with Croyd, humanity's finest specimen, has not only improved Lurla's opinion of humans (whom most gnurls consider little better than animals)--she has fallen in love with him!  She joins forces with Croyd, Greta, and the human space navy and together they defuse the planet-sized bomb at the galaxy's core.  The second half of the novel also features a love triangle plot--Greta has also fallen in love with Croyd, while Croyd has fallen in love with both of them!  In the end our hero chooses Greta (but only after some flirtatious low-gee dirty dancing with Lurla in her genuine gnurl body, all eight furry feet of it!)

Croyd is not great, but it is entertaining.  Things happen very quickly, with new ideas and characters coming out of nowhere frequently, so the book never drags.  I love stories in which people switch brains, or minds, or share a body, or whatever, so I was in the book's corner from the get go.  On the negative side the style is a little weak, with feeble jokes and "snappy" dialogue which make your eyes roll.  Croyd himself is a boring goody goody superhero character; Princess Lurla and Greta, who are changed by their relationships with Croyd, however, are somewhat more interesting. The conservative/old-fashioned attitude of the book (pro-marriage and pro-virginity, anti-beatnik, anti-Stalin, anti-materialism, anti-determinism) may put some people off.

Croyd reminded me of van Vogt stories (the superman with mental powers, the breakneck pace with all the crazy twists and turns) and Heinlein's super secret agent stories like Friday and Methuselah's Children, and of course I Will Fear No Evil, in which two personalities, one male, one female, inhabit a single body.


Joachim Boaz, in the summer of 2013, reviewed Croyd and gave it a score of 2.5 out of 5--"Bad."  Check out his review at the link.  I'd give it a mild recommendation, myself.  While Joachim deplores its kitchen-sink approach (he says that Wallace "revels in arbitrary excess") I found the inclusion of dozens of crazy ideas, however undeveloped, to be fun.  Who knows, I might even purchase one of the sequels!  


  1. What Croyd reminds you of -- Van Vogt, Heinlein's later period, etc is the exact reason I hated the book... ;)

  2. Try Doctor Orpheus; another great Lehr cover & more typical Wallace pyrotechnics, but with a much tighter plot.