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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Remaking of Sigmund Freud

Barry N. Malzberg

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To purchase The Remaking of Sigmund Freud

Title: The Remaking of Sigmund Freud
Author: Barry N. Malzberg
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985
Length: 275 pages
Availability: The Remaking of Sigmund Freud - US
The Remaking of Sigmund Freud - UK
The Remaking of Sigmund Freud - Canada
Il replicante di Sigmund Freud - Italia
La reconstrucción de Sigmund Freud - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : neat play of ideas, and ultimately nicely tried together

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/8/1985 Gerald Jonas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Malzberg, one of science fiction's most literate and erudite writers, has often seemed to me a stylist in search of a subject. In this book, manner and matter are perfectly matched." - Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Remaking of Sigmund Freud opens with a short Introduction that places Sigmund Freud on Venus, in what will eventually be specified as 2176; the Prologue that then follows shows him at work in 1905 Vienna, first sending away a would-be patient (unnamed, but clearly Adolf Hitler), then turning down a generous offer from real-life Chicago Tribune-publisher Robert McCormick to write for his paper, with McCormick then shooting Freud in cold blood. In the chapter that follows, we follow the life of Emily Dickinson, unfolding here also not quite in the way we are familiar with, Dickinson far from reclusive, widely read and successful and Mark Twain as her lover. So the novel begins as a slightly-alternate fiction -- setting the stage for its future visions, events that take place on Venus in 2176, and then much deeper in space, in 2372.
       The chapters have both titles and are numbered -- but are not presented in numerical order. After the Introduction and Prologue we come to 'Chapter Three: Emily Dickinson Saved from Drowning', but this is followed by chapter five -- and the Introduction and Prologue turn out not to be unnumbered chapters one and two, as chapters one and two are then the two last ones to the novel (save for an Epilogue ...). Still, the order in which the chapters are presented does make for the clearest reading (i.e. readers should resist the temptation to jump around and read in (numbered-)chapter-order).
       The later Freud, appearing in 2176 and then 2372, is: "a simulacrum of the actual Freud, a crafted organic duplicate". On Mars and Earth, and on some large spaceships there are: "reconstruction banks", holding 'reconstructs' like Freud in a kind of limbo; the one featured in the story is perhaps not even the only Freud. The technology nevertheless still seems difficult to work with: reconstructs aren't just brough to life (as it were) willy-nilly and put in circulation; instead: "Reconstruction was an exceptional feat". This Freud, for example, is only brought out for use these two times over all these centuries. But, as he recognizes:

I am a reconstruct. But I am not a toy. I am earnest; I have real purposes.
       His purpose in 2176 is to talk down someone who seems to have gone off the deep end on Venus, where a colony has been established. It does not go well. Some two centuries later, aboard the Whipperly, which is traveling to the Vegan system, when things are going wrong on board, they resort to it again -- even though:
But there was a problem: the Freud had not been used for centuries; it was a version which, according to records, had failed on Venus a long time before and probably should have been refurbished at that time. Instead it had been stuffed, forgotten, into the banks, transferred along with the detritus and equipment from one ship to the next, and had ended on the Whipperly still uninvestigated. It might well have been a damaged or defective model; nonetheless there was nothing that was more likely to work in the circumstances. The necessity for Freud seemed clear.
       Here, too, Samuel Clemens -- Twain -- and then Dickinson are brought into the fold -- and, of course, it's hard to dislike a novel that has Twain explain to Dickinson that they find themselves in a spaceship a billion miles from earth, and that:
"They need a poet," he said again. "They thought that you could help. There are problems here. Very serious problems."
       At the start of the novel we learnt that Dickinson's brother had sent Freud a packet of her poems (which are similar to but not quite the Dickinson poems we are familiar with) and hoped for some insight from the Viennese master. Freud repeatedly took stabs at answering, but never did; the poems did, however, have an effect on him. He was horrified -- "This is some of the most appalling verse (how can it be dignified by the term "poetry" ?) that I have ever read" -- but it did make a deep and lasting impression on him. And, when called upon to help out on the Whipperly, it is her poetry he also turns to.
       Freud is ultimately called upon to treat Vegans -- a very alien race, from deep in space -- and, after a bit of trial and error, finds that his methods are particularly well-suited to deal with their particular ailments: "Freud cured crippled Vegans in droves". Many centuries after coming up with his approach in Vienna, he enjoys his greatest success: "What a vindication of his theories ! What terrific proof of their universality !" In thanks, the Vegans -- a very advanced civilization, with capabilities far beyond human technology -- offer him whatever he wants. In a nicely turned conclusion, his wish then brings him, and the novel, full circle -- revising then also what was alternate history; it's a very satisfying ending.
       Malzberg acknowledges that: "Some portions of this novel, in far different and much truncated form, appeared in" a variety of periodicals, and The Remaking of Sigmund Freud has a bit of that pieced-together feel (which the non-consecutive presentation of the chapters only reïnforces). Malzberg has crafted a whole out of it, but there's still a slightly clumpy feel to it. It is a neat idea, however -- the overarching one, as well as the bits that make it up --, and it is very well tied together.
       Significantly, too, Malzberg writes very well. Plot and episodes meander some, but there's a great deal of thought to this novel of ideas, and most of it is well-expressed, down to the incidental, as in Freud's struggles to respond to Dickinson's brother about her poems:
There is a quality to your wild, beautiful and tormented country which makes debased art possible in a way that my own wearier, more precise civilization cannot. You are free of the past and thus able to create your own possibilities. We are sunk within history, move confluent with the past, and the difference can be seen.
       The alternate history can feel a bit forced -- specifically McCormick's assassination of Freud (though he was, in real life, eager to get Freud on board and write for him) and, of course, ... Hitler (left, at least, unnamed) -- but on the whole is also well-conceived.
       The novel is something of an odd mix at times -- not least the (unfortunately named) Vegans and their psychosomatic illnesses -- but especially in the figure of his Freud Malzberg keeps tight enough a hold on the story, making for a clever and interesting work of science fiction. The Remaking of Sigmund Freud is well worth a look.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 December 2022

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The Remaking of Sigmund Freud: Reviews: Barry N. Malzberg: Other books by Barry N. Malzberg under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Barry N. Malzberg was born in 1939.

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© 2022 the complete review

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