THE ZEN GUN
By Barrington Bayley
Barrington Bayley’s SF is the kind of writing that would appeal to both a taste for old-fashioned action-oriented Space Opera and New Wave mind-trips that border on the surreal. The Zen Gun is a tale of galactic rebellion with Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader replaced by eccentric hippies and talking animals. They are living in a universe where there are lots of Forces, not all of them benign.
The galactic empire ruled by planet Diadem has grown decadent. Admiral Archier of the elite Ten-Fleet is a mere youth because of the declining birth-rate, children age fast because adults are scarce. The robots have been on strike for a few centuries, so genetically modified animals and human-animal hybrids have stepped in to fill the gap. The colonies are taxed of scientists and artists to help prop up imperial culture. Both the animals and the colonies have their own agendas, which makes for interesting times.
If that isn’t complex enough, a mentally defective hybrid called Pout has escaped from a secret lab and stolen an ancient weapon of mysterious, but immense power. He crosses paths with a futuristic samurai and Hesper, a shipwrecked rebel. And the universe is coming apart at the seams.
Bayley’s novels, the Zen Gun in particular are difficult to describe, thanks to the complex multi-sided struggles, the swiftly moving and varied crises, and the large cast of characters. What is wonderful to see is how colorfully the characters stand out, how deftly Bayley keeps his plot moving, and how vivid are the settings. Even more astonishing is that the whole thing runs about 160 pages. There is not an ounce of fat in the novel, nor does Bayley pull punches when it comes to looking at the underside of a decadent culture.
The Zen Gun is a mind-boggling little tour de force. If we could still get SF this well written in the 21st century, the future of the genre would be assured.