Title: The Man Who Melted
Author: Jack Dann
Original Print Date: 1985
Reprint Release Date: January 2007
Mantle is looking for his wife. He lost her when the world dissolved into a giant scream, sending large amounts of the population into a group psychosis. Mantle will look for his wife not only in the dark corners of the world, but in the darkest corners of the human mind. What makes this difficult is that he has lost a significant amount of his memory, and those memories could be the clue to finding her.
Amidst Mantle’s search, the reader is treated to a strange social and physical landscape, one that would seem terrifying to our eyes. Groups of people walk around with extra genitalia implanted on their bodies in plain view, mobs of screamers with their telepathic ability could overtake you, and you could gamble playing games with your mind and lose your organs. It is hard not to feel devastated not only by Mantel’s plight, but by the world he is now living in.
For a book written in the 80s, it will also display some aspects very familiar to modern readers. Through computers essentially implanted into a person’s head, they can instantly connect to what very much seems like the Internet in the age just before Internet, and search for information on what could easily be seen as Wikipedia’s cousin. With everyone connected almost instantaneously (and some continuously) to this mental network, the fear of a psychological and telepathic mental “disease” (for lack of a better word) is still very real, even after the Big Scream.
This is a book that will demand your full attention and will, if you are anything like me, invade your thoughts even long after you have finished the last page. It explores the not-often-seen crevices of the human psyche, and examines what and who we become after complete social and psychological collapse. The story is post-apocalyptic and in some ways absolutely frightening. With Bluetooth headsets, and technology constantly getting smaller but keeping us more connected, it is easy for the reader to envision this as our own future.
The Man Who Melted is a story on many levels, and the casual reader may not have the attention span this book requires. I know I mentioned that before, but it bears repeating. On the surface this is about a man searching for the woman he loves. It is also about how that search has closed him off to the people around him who are very real, and how he cannot return those feelings. It is about the limits you will go to and break through to for one last glimmer of a final hope. It’s about the psychological destination of a culture hell-bent on finding new ways to segregate themselves from each other through technology. It’s about going to extremes and gambling the parts of us that make us human just to remind ourselves that we are human and we have something to lose.
Jack Dann’s vision is one of the most intense and thought provoking reads I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. In a time peppered with pop fiction and fads, this tale can stand the test of time. Even 25 years later, it doesn’t feel dated and inspires genuinely deep and dark emotions. What is the world going to be in the next 25 years? We are still at a point where Mantle’s future could become a reality, and that, for me, is what makes this book so mesmerizing and frightening.