Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Serpent in Paradise

I can't remember why I bought Ed Naha's THE PARADISE PLOT. I must have read about it somewhere, but while researching the novel online in preparation to write this, I couldn't find really anything about it. What I do know is that I was motivated some months back to buy a used copy very inexpensively on Amazon, and I'm glad I did.

THE PARADISE PLOT is a 340-page mixture of science fiction and murder mystery set a space station called Island One. Ten years earlier, it had been established as a self-sufficient mining colony, and is today regarded on an overpopulated Earth as something of a utopia. With the ten-year anniversary approaching, cynical journalist Harry Porter is chosen to take part in a junket traveling to Island One to write a series of puff pieces meant to reassure the United States government to keep funding the station.

However, just before arriving at Island One, Porter stumbles upon evidence of a murder committed there. His initial investigation indicates a coverup--neither the alleged victim nor the witness seem to have ever lived at Island One, according to official records--but when someone with strong psychic powers makes an attempt on Harry's life, the bulldogged burnout digs deeper, much to the chagrin of Island One's government.

Naha is a journeyman writer who has bounced around for several decades. Anyone with an interest in science fiction and/or horror has probably encountered Naha's work during his stint writing articles for Fangoria and Starlog, his book THE FILMS OF ROGER CORMAN: BRILLIANCE ON A BUDGET (which has been on my bookshelf since the 1980s), or the Traveler paperback adventure series he and John Shirley wrote under the name "D.B. Drumm."

Naha has also penned screenplays, film novelizations, non-fiction books on film, and much more. THE PARADISE PLOT and its followup novel THE SUICIDE PLAGUE came about just after his run at Starlog and Fangoria, according to his online interview with M.J. Simpson:

The Paradise Plot was published because I was pissed off. Future Life were having a series on what life on a space station would be like, on an L5 colony. Everyone was writing these little articles: everything's going to be fine, everything's going to be perfect, we're all going to kiss and hug and play Donovan records. So when it came for me to do the chapter, I was wondering what would happen if you had a loose cannon up there, like Ed Gein. Well, I was called into the publisher's office and they skinned me alive. It was like: how dare I have such a jaded, cynical attitude, blah blah blah? So I figured, 'Ah!'

"Then I went out one day with an editor from Bantam books who worked with Fred Pohl. I knew Fred, but I didn't know this lady, so we were just talking. We got lacquered and started complaining about attitudes: when people looked to the future, they were always expecting pie in the sky. I said people are people, so she said, 'Why don't you do up a little outline?' Now, at this point, apart from Sherlock Holmes, I had never read a mystery. So I went to a book store and I said, 'I'd like $30-worth of mystery novels'! They said, 'Do you want the good stuff, or The Crap That Sells?' so I said, 'Well, how about half and half?' I read a lot of crap, and then I fell in love with people I'd never read at that point in my life: Chandler, Hammett, and at that point Elmore Leonard wasn't known as a mystery writer but for his westerns. So someone said, 'You should check out Elmore Leonard. He's starting to write mysteries.'

“So I read all that stuff and thought, 'Yes, this is cool.' So I handed in this outline and they bought the outline and I got the book out. And it did well enough - or they felt sorry for me enough; I'm not sure which - that I did the second one.


I'd certainly like to read THE SUICIDE PLAGUE now, because THE PARADISE PLOT is a fun page-turner that effectively places a standard serial-killer plot into a futuristic setting. I'm not a fan of overly techy prose, and neither is Naha, who is very good at describing Island One and its society without making it seem so otherworldly that the story gets lost within.

Harry Porter is nothing special as a character--he's basically the same wisecracking sleuth seen in many a novel or television show; I reckon Mike Connors could have played him easily--but he's appealing, likable, and someone we like to follow along with. Naha provides Porter with a well-formed supporting cast to bounce off of, which also provides a warm body count and a nice array of murder suspects.

Published in 1980 by Bantam, THE PARADISE PLOT is an excellent sci-fi sleeper. Just judging from a Google search, it doesn't seem to be remembered very well (except by used bookdealers trying to sell it), but I believe fans of both murder mysteries and character-based science fiction would enjoy it.

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