Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cabu by John Robert Russell

"Only Human?

George Piget was only human. A frail history professor with just a few months to live, he dreamed of having the power of a Caesar, the genius of a Napoleon, the ruthless cunning of a Hitler. Then one day he awoke from a deep sleep to find himself in the dark, primitive world of Cabu, where to be 'only human' was to be the highest form of life. At first he was terrified of the huge lizardlike beasts that stalked him on the vast plains, of the hairy subhuman creatures that made him one of their own. But then his memory of human history took hold, and he plotted to make his dream of world domination come true...' -From the back cover

Published 1974 by Pocket Books. 94 c cover price. 159 pages (which seems to be a theme). I picked it up for $2.75.

Another novel chosen based on a ridiculous cover (which reminded me of Altered States) that ended up falling short of its potential. Cabu could have been a pretty cool novel, but the execution was all wrong. The story does not have a very likable character in George Piget, which was apparently a deal breaker in the 1970's. The author attempted to circumvent the issue by having his main character tell his story, through dialogue to the also unsympathetic narrator. I am quite alright with main characters that I do not like, hell I have read enough Irvine Welsh to actually enjoy them, but two argumentative white professors going back and forth for 150 pages? Count me out.

The basic premise is flawed, but could have been pretty engaging if it had been pulled off. George Piget is a professor at a small college in Wisconsin, he has numerous health problems and is generally unsatisfied with his life. George starts having trouble sleeping, which he at first attributes to issues with his heart, until he has a lucid dream where he is born on another planet, to a Neanderthal-type people.

Yes, this novel clumsily begins with a deus ex machina. In this other world, which the tribe calls Cabu, George can control his other self while retaining all of his knowledge of 20th century mankind. Being a man of academia, he begins researching the stone age with the intention to better his tribe as soon as he can.

Our narrator is a fellow professor who likes to spend his free time hunting rabbits with some arrows he makes himself, so the two hit it off somewhat...and then talk for 150 fucking pages.

There are some cool parts to Cabu, all of which involved the amount of detail Russell put into his world-building. The Neanderthal tribe has an interesting primitive culture from the onset, and a lot of the flora and fauna has a nice 'semi-alien' feel to it. I particularly enjoyed when Piget's Neanderthal-self came of age sexually, and the Earth George (who was never very active in that department) began to find the 'hairy breasts and buttocks' of his tribe more appealing than your standard human female (which might have some white guilt about it).

The main scope of the book involves the main character forcing invention after invention on this docile and content tribe until everything goes to shit. With civilization comes political assassinations, jealousy, rape, and the attempted genocide of a different breed of man.
Unfortunately for Cabu's colorful and detailed stone age world, it ends up being just a vehicle for another 'civilization bad' storyline. Oh yeah, and there is a twist ending that was just as weak as the 'I starting dreaming and traveled across the universe' opening. Not recommended, friends.

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