A temple to commercialism

Mallworld — Somtow Sucharitkul

mallworld

Tor published the 1984 edition of Somtow Sucharitkul’s 1 Mallworld well after the market for collections and anthologies was perceived to have imploded, thanks to the efforts of one Roger Elwood. Hence they really, really wanted readers to think that Mallworld was a novel. It isn’t. It is a collection that Tor has tried to convert into a fix-up by removing the individual titles and adding some minor linking material.

Titles lifted from William G. Contento’s Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections. I’ve used the table of contents from the 1981 Starblaze edition.

The Mallworld is a vast space station in the asteroid belt, a place where virtually anything you could want is available … for a price. That price could be money or it could be your very soul! But it’ll probably be money because it’s hard to deposit souls in a bank account.

There is one tiny fly in the ointment as far as the humans of the distant future are concerned, which is



that the highly advanced Selespridar, believing humanity too immature to be unleashed on the civilized galaxy, wrapped a force field around the solar system out to the orbit of Saturn and tipped us into an alternate (and almost entirely empty) universe.

Hey, it could have been worse! They let us keep the sun and all the planets save Uranus and Neptune! They could have just punted Earth into another universe to freeze in the dark.

A Day in Mallworld • (1979) • novelette:

A teenager fleeing her devout home colony becomes entangled with a Selespridar’s quest for the meaning of life; failure in this matter means execution for the alien. Success, on the other hand, could give the human the stars!

Comments:

This isn’t a post-scarcity world by any means. Or, going by this comment

By the B67 entrance, there’s a place where all the runaways pick up tricks.

a post-teen-hooker future either.

A certain amount of the humour in these stories is driven by the changes in community standards. People still want to be prim and proper, but the behaviours deemed such have completely changed. The hero of this story is shocked because people want her to draw attention to her body by covering it up.

Sing a Song of Mallworld • (1980) • novelette:

A spoiled rich kid does his best to save a poor girl with whom he is smitten. No matter what bribes he offers, she insists on sticking to her chosen course of action. Failure proves inspirational.

Comments:

In his defense, she was trying to kill herself.

Not only is this an economically stratified society, it is one with a ubiquitous suicide franchise, which makes me wonder if anyone connected to Futurama ever read this book.

All that this setting’s shiny new technology seems to have done for families is to provide them with new ways to be really crappy parents.

The Vampire of Mallworld • (1981) • novelette:

What dreadful secret is behind one young Mallworlder’s insatiable thirst for human blood?

Comments:

All that this setting’s shiny new technology seems to have done for families is to provide them with new ways to be really crappy parents. Yes, I know I just said that, but this story involved a different being a crappy parent method than the previous one.

Rabid in Mallworld • (1980) • novelette:

How well do the humans understand their Selespridar masters? Not well at all, as it turns out.

Comments:

At one point, a grateful Selespridar rewards humans with a gift whose creation ate up the entire mass-energy of a star. That’s an interesting unit of measurement; it also happens to be just how much energy the tachyon bubbles of Somtow’s Inquestors consumed per trip. A significant difference between the Selespridar and the Inquisitors is that the Selespridar probably killed a star without inhabited planets, whereas Inquisitors would go out of their way to burn up worlds for reasons relating to their screwed-up philosophy.

Mallworld Graffiti • (1981) • novelette:

A failed artist turned henpecked husband gets a glimpse of how much worse life under the Selespridar could have been, had the Selespridar been less compassionate and more conventionally imperialist.

Comments:

Interesting that the first reaction one Selespridar bureaucrat has to refugees is to send them back where they came from; he would rather not think about their reasons for flight. This seems like as good a time as any to say that the Selespridar don’t come off as socially superior to puny humans so much as more powerful and insanely class-conscious.

The Dark Side of Mallworld • (1981) • novelette:

Dollie Salvador, professional bogeyman, discovers a whole new side of Mallworld when attempting to repo a kid whose mortgage is in default. The operation goes sour and hijinks ensue.

Comments:

I am happy to report that repoed kids are not broken down for parts or sold to the mining industry. Which, to be honest, did seem like a very real possibility.

The Jaws of Mallworld • [Mallworld] • (1981) • novelette:

For one entrepreneur, doomsday is salvation!

Comments:

It suddenly occurs to me that if there’s any terraforming going on in this universe, there is no mention of it. But the Selespridar teleportation technology makes it easy to move large quantities of volatiles. Even inadvertently. But city-sized habitats will provide a return on investment more quickly, and this is very much a profit-oriented civilization.

General comments:

This is a comic work. I may not be the best reviewer for such jeux d’esprit, as it should be all too clear that if I were to have a sense of humour (which is far from established), it would probably be present only in homeopathic quantities. However, I do remember liking this book when I was young and sleep apnea had not bonsai’d my brain.

The Mallworld is a celebration of commercial excess, a much larger version of the West Edmonton Mall or the Mall of America. The earliest Mallworld stories predate both the West Edmonton Mall and its puny Minnesota analog, so Sucharitkul cannot have been inspired by either of those two canonical malls. Of course, inspiration could have gone in the other direction….

Sucharitkul was a fairly prolific speculative fiction writer back in the day, but sadly for science fiction, we lost him to the unsavoury world of opera. Not the good spacey kind, with rayguns and humongous FTL spaceships, but the sort with music. Why not do both at once 2 ? Inquestors: the Musical might be fun. If he insists on being serious, an eighteen-hour opera cycle recounting the Lensman saga would be inspiring. Imagine the Arisian leitmotif! Perhaps done with theramins. ].


Diplodocus Press published a thirty-fifth anniversary edition of Mallworld, and while I don’t seem to be able to find their site, that edition should be available from booksellers like Amazon.

1: A word about attribution: throughout this review I will refer to the author of this book as Somtow Sucharitkul. because that is the name the author used for this book, at least in this early edition. Later in his career, he switched to SP Somtow, and because more people are familiar with that name, that’s how I am going to file the book in the big list of authors to the right of my reviews.

2: I did ask a similar question where he could see it and he did point out that he would expect to be, you know, paid an appropriate sum for his efforts. Which is only reasonable.


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