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October/November 2000
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Looking for the General by Warren Miller (1964)

There are books, usually paperback originals, you used to find everywhere. Every used bookstore in the US had two copies, and I'm just not talking about bestsellers, either. How many copies of The Mucous-Free Diet have you had to move to find something good, or Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon-Kicker?

You once could find copies of this one everywhere. You can't anymore, and it's a shame.

In the novel, a retired general disappears. His aide sets out to find him. He goes through the general's recent papeers and letters, and finds he's been corresponding with just about every nut-cult and proto-New Age crank you could have in those just-post Kennedy Assassination days. Health cranks, cancer quacks, space-brothers; there's a guy who wants to build a tower to the Moon with the help of the Indiana National Guard. The aide realizes Something's Up, and the general's on his way there.

The book is somewhere between fabulation, satire, and flat-out warning (the best analogy I can think of is a collaboration between Gabriel García Márquez and the Coen brothers . . .). It was written in the time of Au + H20 = 1964 and Dr. Strangelove. The hunt for the general becomes a search for what's happening to the U.S. (is something really changing? Or is the truth just finally coming out?). You read it and you begin to think Raymond Chandler was wrong when he said there's nothing the matter with America a 300-foot rise in sea-level wouldn't fix. There is a near-Apocalypse ending.

Miller was best known for his straight novel The Cool World (1959) and his one political sf/thriller, The Siege of Harlem (also 1964). But in this one, he was the avatar of the zeitgeist. He died in 1966, before most of the things he wrote about in this book came to pass. He caught a whiff of the last third of the century, and it smelled a lot like chaos and burning flesh.

Remember, this was written in 1964, before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: There's a throwaway scene as the aide's driving out of DC on the start of his hunt for the general. He describes the neighborhoods he's passing through: post-WWI renovations, post-WWII tract housing, post-Korean War homes, post-Vietnam War suburbs . . .

Find a copy of this novel. If you can.

—Howard Waldrop

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