Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
They'd Rather Be Right

Though only available here through specialist dealers, the Starblaze line of books is an interesting experiment: handsomely produced large-format (trade) paperbacks with an offbeat coverage ranging from very good to horrid. They'd Rather be Right is a historical curiosity of SF; it won the second Hugo ever presented for a novel (1955) yet hasn't been reprinted since the heavily cut paperback retitled The Forever Machine (1957). Completists and historians should give three cheers.

Unfortunately, though it contains an interesting idea, the book seems an implausible award-winner. It's fine -- and at the time it was novel -- to postulate a machine giving immortality, youth and a perfect complexion to those and only those who can cast aside preconceptions and prejudices, who can allow their minds to be computer-rebuilt on a newer and more cosmic scale. The idea, though, is flattened into the ground by the authors' reluctance to do the work which would make it convincing. They tell us the points they want to make, in long lectures full of flat rhetoric; they fail to show us these things through their effects on the characters. What does the nice old prostitute suffer as she allows half her mental furniture to be thrown out as the price of youth? The authors merely assure us that she has passed through the fire: we never learn what she felt about it. The book devolves into maddening descriptions of public reaction to 'the forever machine', with paragraph after paragraph of stuff like 'the public licked its lips in anticipation' and never an individual character in sight. Finally there's a familiar gimmick solution and a truly dreadful speech which takes pages to say, roughly, 'The Universe -- or nothingness? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?'

The good points are that lamentably undeveloped Idea, the incidental evocation of a sinister McCarthyist America, and the flashes of promise which remind us that while Frank Riley wisely wrote no more SF, Mark Clifton is responsible for some enjoyable stories and two novels much better than this one. They didn't win Hugos, but that's life.