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August 2006
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The Master, By T. H. White (1957)

ELEVEN-year-old twins and their dog marooned on an island ruled by a mind-controlling genius bent on world domination? If that sounds unpromising, please note that The Master is one of the last works by the author of The Once and Future King, and a rare venture into sf.

The Master, one hundred and fifty-seven years old, frail but adept at telepathy and mesmerism, is pitiful and frightening. White wisely avoids showing too much of him. And though the Master's henchmen look like the supporting cast of a Sax Rohmer melodrama, White gives them sufficient dimension to work against stereotype.

In fact, the tongueless Pinky, the sinister Mr. Blekinsop, the RAF veteran and substitute father-figure Frinton, are, like their creator, brilliant eccentrics. White insists on viewing the world from as skewed an angle as possible. Hardly a chapter goes by without an aside like "It [the door] glowed with secrecy and opulence, saying, 'Yes, in here.'"

As you might expect from this author, the nature of evil comes under examination. World domination is frowned upon, even for logical pacifist reasons. But would you kill a human being to prevent the Master from blackmailing the globe into submission with his tech- and nerve-jangling vibration generators?

Views on the races and sexes are typical of the period, and White is cheerfully reactionary in other ways. The Master's love for Bach's "bloodless fugues" is enough to condemn him, and needless to say "many scientists [are] unbalanced." The Master is a visit to another time, a small but charming country despite some unfortunate attitudes.

—Thomas Marcinko

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