ALTER EGO by Patrick Watson


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After a relatively strong start, this thriller collapses into a sci-fi/psychological hybrid reminiscent of, but far worse than, Paddy Chayefsky's recent dud, Altered States. Canadian physics prof John Alexander Haig has come up with a wow of a process: he can zap an object from one place to another in a millisecond--no hands. Terrific, but occasionally there's a side effect; not only does the object show up in a new place, it also remains behind, a two-for-one surprise. And that's exactly what happens when Haig tries out his process on his first human (he's already done rats and chimps with few slip-ups). The guinea pig is Haig's loyal chum Robert Nelson, but after the experiment goes awry, there are two of him--one to be called Robert, the other Nelson. The debates and heart-to-hearts that then ensue between Robert and Nelson--about their loneliness, their mistreated wife, their sex life, their morals, etc.--may be the most excruciating chapters in recent fiction. Nor is the concurrent suspense action much better: a hit-man is after Haig & Co., and the chase happens to take Robert & Nelson into the world of a religious revivalist, where some sort of conversion transfigures the one of the two clones who survives. Worst of all, the whole shebang is being told as a flashback to R&N's wife Daisy, who quivers and bleats as she bravely tries to believe this idiotic tale, saying such immortal lines as ""Something. . . something vast happened between you and. . . him. Didn't it?"" Narcissists may groove on the two-self notion (eventually Robert tells Nelson, ""I love you""), but most readers will find this just double dumb.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1979
Publisher: Viking