Jack the Bodiless, Julian May

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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April 1, 2013

Jack the Bodiless, Julian May

Jack the Bodiless, Julian May

And we’re heading into the homestretch of the Julian May re-read I started back in September! I might end up drawing this out long than one book a week, mainly because I think I’ll be sad when I’m done.

Jack the Bodiless is the first in the Galactic Milieu trilogy and it’s one hell of a ride.  Taking place nearly 40 years after the events of Intervention, it again focuses on the Remillard family and is told, in part, as a memoir written by Rogatien Remillard. And, as in the Intervention duology, drunk Uncle Rogi is the best.

And he plays a slightly more active role in this book, too.

There’s a few things going on in this book–we learn more about the different alien races and I have to admit, it amuses me that the Krondaku are tentacle monsters and that the Simbiari are slimy green humanoids. May is not-so-gently poking fun at these particularly hoary tropes of SF (I especially love the scene in the Krondaku settlement at the Galactic settlement).

The heart of this book, though, is taken up with the clandestine pregnancy of Teresa Kendall, the birth of Jon (Jack) Remillard, the adolescence of Marc Remillard, and the birth and growth of Fury and Hydra.

One of the conditions of being accepting into the Galactic Milieu was the imposition of reproductive restrictions that I think most people would find onerous and oppressive–basically, if you have a defective genome (as decided by the Simbiari), no kids for you. And if you’re an operant and have an illegal pregnancy and then an illegal baby (never mind that no person is illegal), then it’s death penalty time. Also death penalty time for anyone who helps you out. It is seriously draconian and there’s really no good reason for it except for the fact that May needed to have some narrative tension around Teresa’s pregnancy with Jack. Teresa, after having four children and a number of stillbirths and then forced abortions has become secretly pregnant after being prohibited from future pregnancies by the Simbiari. For whatever reason, she feels she needs to have one last child and becomes pregnant with Jack and when she is found out, she’s informed by her family that they will terminate the pregnancy.  She has metapsychically called to Marc–her oldest son but still a kid at 14 years old–for help.

Anyhow, Marc figures out an incredibly complicated plan to spirit Teresa and Rogi away to the wilds of Canada, in the middle of a Sasquatch reserve. Because Bigfoot apparently exists. This really is a charming and readable section–we get to have lots of scenes with Rogi and Teresa (who is more or less an actual character and not just a baby-making vessel like so many of the other women married to Remillard men–at least until her narrative purpose is exhausted and May’s done with her) and we come to understand how extraordinary her fetus is and why she was willing to flout the law on his behalf. There is also a fairly explicit in terms of gore childbirth scene which is not something I’ve seen in a whole lot of SF books and while not something I’d want to encounter all the time it was nice to see it presented as a very, ah, organic process.

So there’s that going on and then there’s the Fury/Hydra plot going on, too. It’s a bit confusing in places but by the end of the book it’s clear who Hydra is and looking at this after knowing where this story line is going, it’s fairly clear who Fury is, too.  I don’t think it’s possible to really know for sure that it is this person on the first read through, though.

There’s also a lot about suffering in this book–this book is, in may ways, very religious. There is definitely a mystical component to Jack’s condition and as he is self-aware in utero, the birth experience is presented as something that will cause him pain and suffering but which will also allow him to grow. As we recall from the Pliocene Exile books, pain is one way in which metapsychics achieve latency–it is apparently one way in which they can also increase their abilities.  Jack’s suffering and eventual transformation into little more than a disembodied floating brain (srsly) is cast in religious terms.

Something else I noticed about this book is the way the Remillards know they have tons of privilege and see it as their due and rightful inheritance. They all get appointed to big deal positions in the Galactic Milieu, they’re celebrities, they can literally get away with murder. It’s quite troubling, to be honest, especially when you see that all the other characters are basically tokens and foils to show how awesome the Remillards are–even when they’re being assholes, they’re still awesome in the narrative. I can’t say it was comfortable reading them skirt around laws and knowing that they can get away with pretty much whatever they wanted because of who they are–but then again, that’s often how privilege works.

I also enjoy the many times Atoning Unifex shows up in the book, especially when he’s there to boss around Marc. It’s delightful. And Unifex feels less distant in this book than he did in Intervention, which is also a good thing. I also really liked noticing that the seeds of the Metapsychic Rebellion were independent of Marc’s rivalry with Jack and that the concept of Mental Man and the imagery of the Angel of the Abyss isn’t derived from that rivalry, either and that even the faceless (so far) entity known as Fury has a role to play in the upcoming tragedy. For it is a tragedy that will be happening over the next two books.

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