The Pleasure Tube

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Pleasure Tube by Robert Onopa.

Robert Onopa The Pleasure Tube

Onopa’s The Pleasure Tube moves quickly, with a lot of variety, like the space cruise that provides the novel with its title. The science fictional content is highly phildickian, though sexier and more amoral than the usual fare from the Prophet Phillip. Paranoia, visionary and ecstatic states, social and psychological manipulation, and memory failure are all central to the story. It is set in an undated future where interstellar travel is an experimental reality, and humanity has been consolidated under a single, bureaucratic government with research, military, and commercial elements sometimes at cross-interests. The futurological elements of the story hold up pretty well, for a book written thirty years ago.

With mass paperback sf novels of this vintage, the cover art is often irrelevant or misleading, but Eric Ladd’s painting is a pretty reasonable interpretation of a representative scene. The summary text on the front and back covers, on the other hand, manages to serve as a narrative spoiler, while inaccurately conveying the tone of the story. “Beyond the Star Range: infinite sex & ultimate horror” sounds good I guess, but the “Star Range” isn’t even mentioned in the actual novel.

The book was published a hair earlier than the release of the Disney space adventure movie The Black Hole, and like the movie, it uses the astrophysical phenomenon of the collapsar as a source of metaphysical reflection. While the reflection of The Pleasure Tube is considerably deeper and the science less distorted, these two different works demonstrate the degree to which 1979 was steam-engine time for the naked singularity.

The author teaches creative writing on the English faculty at the University of Hawaii, and that’s not difficult to believe on the evidence of this book. The style is mildly experimental, with a continuous first-person narrative frequently broken up by text from computer displays. Onopa’s characters are vividly drawn, and he is artful at communicating subjective states in a way that is often absent from genre fiction.

Quoting an unnamed ancient philosopher, Onopa has one of his characters declare, “The highest pleasure of an organism consists of its return to its own true nature.” A more modest yet still genuine pleasure can be found in reading this book. [via]