The Pritcher Mass
Reviewed date: 2018 Nov 14
Man has disregarded nature and polluted the Earth, causing irreversible environmental catastrophe. What is left of humanity cowers in cities built under sealed domes. Outside, the Job's-berry plant is ravaging the world. Anybody who ventures outside will breathe in spores of the Job's-berry plant. Once lodged in the lung, the spores grow, slowly and inexorably choking the life out of a person. Job's-berry rot is fatal.
The Pritcher Mass
Earth is ruined. Rather than fix it, humanity is committing all its resources to construct a psychic machine on a space station out beyond Pluto. As one does.
This psychic machine, called the Pritcher Mass, is going to help mankind find a new planet to live on. Nobody quite knows how, but everybody is sure it's going to work. Our hero Chaz wants to work on the Pritcher Mass, but to qualify he must prove he has paranormal abilities. He does, but his abilities are inconsistent and always fail when he's being tested.
When we meet him, Chaz is travelling on a train between cities. A terrorist bomb derails the train, and Chaz's sealed compartment breaks, exposing him to the outside. He knows he will never be allowed back inside the city; anyone potentially exposed to Job's-berry rot is exiled to the outside, condemned to a slow, painful death. Unwilling to give up and die, Chaz calls upon his paranormal ability of chain-perception to find a way back inside. He manages to sneak aboard a rescue craft and slip back into the sealed city. He's (probably) saved!
Since he was outside for only a short time, he is likely not infected with Job's-berry rot. What's more, while he was outside, Chaz picked up a rock. It's his Catalyst, an object that he believes will help him unlock the full power of his latent paranormal abilities. Things are looking up for Chaz!
Witches and the Citadel
Nope! Chaz is about to be found out. Conveniently, a neighbor he doesn't remember meeting before shows up and helps him go underground and escape the authorities. Her name is Eileen Mortvain and she's a witch. She's got paranormal powers. Not supernatural, because that's just superstition, but paranormal. OK.
Eileen has a familiar, a wolverine named Tillicum, who is super cool and is on the cover art but is kind of meaningless to the plot. Eileen helps keep Chaz one step ahead of the government and the Citadel.
The Citadel? Oh yeah, the Citadel is the shadowy organized crime operation that runs everything including the government. And hey, it turns out that the Citadel bosses really don't want Chaz to work on the Pritcher Mass.
Chaz bulls his way through to one final test of his paranormal abilities, passes, and ships out for the Pritcher Mass. He's made it, baby. Things are looking up for Chaz!
Nope! Citadel agents are working at the Pritcher Mass, and they try to kill him, but Chaz thwarts them. He climbs out into the Pritcher Mass and taps into the full potential of his paranormal abilities. He makes contact with the Pritcher Mass, and also with various alien mentalities. He travels to a cartoon planet and meets an alien Mantis and a Snail. They tell him the Pritcher Mass isn't on a space station beyond the orbit of Pluto. The Pritcher Mass is on Earth.
None of this makes any sense, but it's Gordon R. Dickson, so there.
Chaz makes contact with Eileen through the Pritcher Mass and finds out that the Citadel has thrown her outside as punishment for helping him. She's dying of Job's-berry rot. Chaz is in love with Eileen, so he wants to help her. But he's on a space station out beyond Pluto, and she's on Earth.
No problem. He's in the Pritcher Mass, and as the alien Mantis from the cartoon planet told him, the Pritcher Mass is on Earth. Boom! Just like that, Chaz is on Earth.
Chaz and Eileen hole up in a farmhouse and the story turns into a genuine zombie apocalypse tale. They're attacked by "rovers" who aren't exactly the walking dead, but they're dying of Job's-berry rot which makes them dead men walking. Then they meet a guy named Red Rover who is immune to the rot. Oh? There are immunes? Yep. And conveniently, Chaz and Eileen are immune too.
Cracking the Chicago Dome
Chaz decides the Citadel has to go, and the way to do that is to crack the Chicago dome with explosives. Red Rover organizes some rover packs to help out, and although it's a close thing, they succeed.
Remember the catalyst? The rock Chaz picked up? It was just a rock. But Chaz realizes that he is the catalyst. The Pritcher Mass will never help humanity find a new planet. But with himself as the catalyst, Chaz harnesses immense paranormal energy--enough to cure the planet. Hooray! Earth is saved.