The Blind Worm
Reviewed date: 2023 Aug 25
It is the inconceivably distant future. Earth's oceans have dried up. Mankind is nearly extinct. The globe is dominated by the Wildland, a vegetable hive mind comprising all the plant life on the planet. John Tamerlane (aka the Black King) ventures from Ylle, one of the last remaining cities of man, to parley with Sum, the hive mind. Tamerlane wants the Gulf for his own, free of interference from the Wildland. In payment he will give Sum the key to the Quadrilateral.
Oh, the Quadrilateral? It's the combined mental link of Sum's mind with the analogous minds in three other alternate universes. Sum believes that if he can complete the Quadrilateral he will become all-powerful. Tamerlane just wants some room to carve out his own little empire of man. Plus, he has the key to the Quadrilateral: a boy named Swallow, whose minds can forge the links to complete the Quadrilateral.
- John Tamerlane, the Black King, who rules over a ragged few men and desires the Gulf so he can establish a proper empire.
- Swallow, a boy whose mind is the key to the Quadrilateral
- Vanice Concuma, a hero. Employed by John Tamerlane.
- Zea, Tamerlane's mistress. Her name sounds like sea and she looks like the ocean, which is foreshadowing.
- Silver Reander, aka Shadow, one of the wild men who lives in the Wildland. Employed by John Tamerlane
- Jose Dragon, an immortal man and the eternal antagonist of Sum.
- The Blind Worm, who is neither a worm nor blind. He's a creation of Jose Dragon. He serves Sum.
- Sum, the hive mind of the Wildland.
- Warwand, who shows up in Part III.
- Honorable mention: Ocean, the hive mind of the sea which Wildland/Sum vanquished eons ago by sucking up all the water and covering the globe with plant life. (Remember the foreshadowing about Zea?)
Part I: The Quadrilateral
John Tamerlane approaches Sum with the offer: Swallow will complete the Quadrilateral, and Sum will grant Tamerlane the Gulf. Sum agrees. Sum transports the whole party to an alternate universe, where Swallow completes the first link. Sum takes the group to a third universe, where Jose Dragon, who has sneaked into the group, tries to kill Swallow to prevent him from completing any more links. The Blind Worm kills Jose Dragon instead. Swallow completes the second link. The trip to the final universe goes awry when Zea pulls the group off track and they end up on a strip of beach on an ocean world in the wrong universe. You see, Zea is the last remaining bit of the long-vanquished Ocean. Vanice Concuma and Swallow drown. With Swallow dead, the key is gone. The Quadrilateral cannot be completed. Tamerlane will not get his Gulf.
In anger, Tamerlane attacks Zea, but Reander intervenes and is killed. Zea walks into the ocean and disappears in the waves. Then the Blind Worm reveals that he copied the key from Swallow's mind, so he now has the key. The Blind Worm completes the Quadrilateral. In payment, Sum grants him an entire universe. Tamerlane, on the other hand, gets abandoned on the ocean planet.
Part II: Blind God
This part is so, so bad. The Blind Worm is now the god of an entire universe. He creates copies of all the characters from the previous section and demands they fight each other. In particular he wants the other to kill Jose Dragon. There's something about the Blind Worm trying to overcome his programming by killing Jose Dragon, his creator. Never mind that the Blind Worm already killed Jose Dragon for real in the original universe. No, we need eight chapters of incomprehensible ramblings about philosophy and identity and the nature of free will. It's excruciating. This is neither a good story nor a compelling philosophy lecture; this is Stableford padding his word count with rubbish in order to reach full novel length.
Part III: The Army of the Dead
In the final section we abandon the Blind Worm and return to Tamerlane, stranded on the ocean planet. Somehow Reander/Shadow is alive again. Then a god-like entity called Warwand appears and then suddenly Reander/Shadow is dead again, but Vanice Concuma is alive. It makes no sense. Warwand sends Tamerlane and Concuma back to Earth to defend the Wildland from an army of undead men from the city in the great Gulf.
Wait, like, a zombie army?
Yes, a literal zombie army. Tamerlane and Concuma's job is to organize the few remaining men of Earth and defeat an army of dead people who are marching to burn and destroy the Wildland. It's a gruesome battle. They win, I think. Later it turns out that Warwand is the Blind Worm in disguise. I really think Stableford is making this up as he goes. Sum leaves to go inhabit the other universes with the Quadrilateral, and leaves the now-mindless Wildland on Earth. With no guiding mind, the Wildland will revert to its natural state and the oceans will return. But that will take hundreds of years, and in the meantime John Tamerlane, the Black King, can establish his little empire. The end.
The Blind God is so, so bad. Reviewer Bruce Gillespie called it "the second worst s f novel I've ever finished." (SF Commentary, #17, November 1970) My feelings are similar.