Another distinctive fantasy featuring a dying protagonist (as in Unicorn Mountain, 1988), this one set in the mythical southern state of Oconee and its largest city, Salonika. After cultural-snob Xavier Thaxton, Fine Arts editor of the Salonika Suburbanite, swims in a pond whose waters (unbeknownst to Xavier) are contaminated with illegally dumped radioactive waste, his life takes a strange turn. He acquires a fashion-designer girlfriend and, much less welcome, a roomie, his retropunk nephew, the Mick, a dedicated fan of UC superhero comics. Following the launch of a new comic character, Count Geiger (he acquires superpowers after exposure to radiation), Xavier and the Mick quarrel over Xavier's condemnation of comics in general and Count Geiger in particular. Soon, however, Xavier develops a strange malady: culture--opera, literature, whatever--makes him sick; the only cure is a dose of lowbrow realism...especially the Mick's comics and rock music. In the hope that constant contact might alleviate his symptoms, Xavier takes to wearing a Count Geiger suit underneath his clothes. But then Count Geiger's creator, blaming Xavier's hostile column for his firing by UC, shoots Xavier--who, far from ending up dead, finds he can expel the bullets and heal right up! Days later, he defeats four would-be subway muggers in comic-book style: somehow, he has become Count Geiger! Not only that, but Xavier now approves of comics and rock music. He starts a crusade to heighten the social awareness of Salonika's stubbornly reactionary inhabitants. Then, as another shipment of illegally dumped nuclear waste comes to light, Xavier realizes that he is dying, though he lives to see the owner of UC comics convicted for masterminding the dumping. Social-conscience-tweaker, tear-jerker, environmental- consciousness-raiser, or just plain if ponderous fun? Witty, often admirable work but with a hidden agenda that grates.