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ESSAY

DISCOVERING THOMAS PAGE

An essay by Nancy Shiffrin

What happens when humans tamper with nature? My explorations in Human Potential, including psychotherapy, the paranormal, and psycho-biology, have led me to the unique novels of Thomas Page. Not exactly science fiction, but science-based fiction, his novels, The Hephaestus Plague, Spirit, Sigmet Active (aka, Skyfire) and The Man Who Could Not Die, challenge notions of humanity and possibility.

Page's first novel, The Hephaestus Plague (Putnam 1973) about a mutating fire-starting insect, has been made into a movie entitled BUG, produced by the horror specialist, William Castle. In The Hephaestus Plague, the scientist, Parmiter, is called to consult about a strange phenomenon, the fast that the insect seems not to

I've since become interested in the unique way Page uses science in fiction.

The Man Who Would Not Die (Trashface Books, Ireland, 1981) raises the question of the nature of death. “Suppose we have death all wrong.” It is a doctor speaking (or a con man), a salesman for the Stendhal Holmes life support system, a machine designed to keep a body alive after the heart stops.  Except, we don't know what death is, so the “corpse”, a salesman for the machine, named Daniel Forrester, keeps coming back to haunt the medical investigators and a woman with whom he had a one-night stand. It seems that the machine keeps jump starting Forrester's vitals, yet, somehow he has left life as we understand it. Is he dead or alive, or neither? Can ghosts or apparitions manifest physically? Where is Forrester's soul while all this haunting is happening? The Eskimos understand life better than we do, one of the doctors asserts. They know when to walk out into the blizzard. Thomas Page’s provocative masterpiece keeps the reader on edge as he explores the possibilities of bio-physics, ghosts, reincarnation, resurrection and the nature of Summerland, or wherever we go afterward. This is a book ahead of its time (it was originally published in 1981) and especially important today, as more and more of us have end of life decisions to make for ourselves and others.

In Sigmet Active (Times Books, 1978) a storm seems to be the protagonist.  A Japanese fisherman senses something wrong. A different kind of storm. A storm that will transform into a kind of monster, exacting the wrath of God on people who ignore the caveat not to mess with mother nature.

Jeff Holden, meteorologist, is getting ready to join a scientific team investigating the storm.  Surprise! Surprise! Gina Lambert, an old girlfriend, shows up with her son. She is divorced, grieving her father, homeless.  Jeff invites her to stay and even to decorate his home if she wishes. Jeff leaves to join the scientific team. Here we see the men taking measurements, analyzing results, trying to find out what’s happening. The storm seems to take on will, seeking out specific people to destroy.

We find out that there are nuclear experiments happening which have torn a hole in the atmosphere. We feel there’s a being somewhere taking revenge, warning humans not to tamper with nature.

In The Spirit, ( Rawson, 1977) John Moon, a deeply troubled Vietnam Vet, engages in a quest for healing.  He must seek his Spirit as his ancestors had, as his father had before him. He goes to the desert hoping his Spirit will find him. He happens on a catastrophe. A small plane crashed and a “monster”, an apparent Bigfoot, seems to have destroyed all of the survivors but one.  Who is the “monster”? Who is the survivor? We follow John Moon to a ski lodge, where he finds employment and engages in a dialogue with an anthropologist who has a theory about the “Bigfoot”.  A battle ensues.  Does John Moon find peace? Does he recognize his Spirit? Readers will find great satisfaction in taking this journey with him.

The defining theme in these works seems to be hubris, human potential, the desire to know and dominate reality taken too far. Perhaps these are all monster stories, as Castle's film seems to indicate. These seem to be science fiction stories, yet the science is in the realm of possibility. We might also ask, who the monster really is? Is it the bug, the storm, the machine, the ancient species? Or is it the scientist who must keep searching and tampering, without regard for the consequences.

In any case, these are novels to make the reader feel, novels to make the reader think, novels to make the reader question, novels of enduring value, and novels to take the reader into a new reality.  Human potential is stretched through imagination, backed up by thorough research.



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