My life in outer space

Mister Justice – Doris Piserchia (1973)

Mister Justice

‘Were those strange episodes of retribution the work of a time-travelling man of honor – or a power-mad avenger?

Turner squirmed in his chair. ‘I think we’re assuming a lot. We’re in an uproar because of some photographs. They could be phony.’
‘They aren’t.’
‘So Justice has taken pictures of things that happened three and four decades ago with a camera invented eleven years ago.’
‘He has a time machine?’
Daniel hesitated.
Turner persisted. ‘A big one that produces the power and a little hook-up that he carries around with him to go on his trips?’
Again Daniel didn’t answer.
‘You know how outlandish that sounds?’
Daniel shrugged.
‘Who else do you know who can travel in time?’
‘Who else is near to cracking the barrier?’
‘Nobody,’ said Daniel wearily.
‘Yet you’re confident Mr Justice can do it?’
‘He can be anywhere. Once a moment is past it is completely open to him.’
Resting his chin on his hand, Burgess murmured, ‘A madman with a power like that.’
‘There’s another possibility,’ said Daniel, and they looked at him with angry eyes. ‘There may not be any machine…’

DORIS PISERCHIA has appeared in the pages of many magazines and anthologies, most notably Frederik Pohl’s BEST SCIENCE FICTION FOR 1972. One of the most important new writers of science fiction, she is known for the vivid dreamlike quality of her prose. This is her first full-length novel.

She resides with her husband in New Jersey’

Blurbs from the 1973 Ace Doubles Edition – 53415

This is quite an astounding novel for its time and certainly deserves wider recognition.
A vigilante, who styles himself Mr Justice, has taken it upon himself to punish those who escape Justice either from lack of evidence or because of loopholes in the law. Mr Justice initially began by dumping the bodies of serial killers on the doorstep of the Court House, along with photographic evidence of their crimes.
However, when the PTB look at the evidence more closely, it seems that the photographs were taken with a camera that did not exist at the time.
Three members of a Secret Service Unit are called upon to find someone to apprehend Mr Justice. Their research points to Daniel, a highly intelligent twelve year old whom they enrol in a very special school for gifted people where he begins to piece together information about the mysterious vigilante.
However, Justice’s actions set many things in motion which leads to a breakdown of the Secret Service Team and outright war against a highly organised crime syndicate and its somewhat eccentric workforce.
Rather like TV’s ‘Heroes’ or ‘The X-men’ we are seeing here the emergence (although somewhat understated) of humans with special gifts or powers. In other senses ‘Mister Justice’ (although written years before) has echoes of the graphic novel and movie ‘V for Vendetta’ although there is a defter touch here in depicting who holds the moral high ground, at least initially.
Piserchia paints a strange but oddly compelling future which is refreshingly quite original and superficially uninfluenced by her forebears or contemporaries.
There is a slightly van Vogtian scene (or section) that I liked, where one of the gifted – in that he seemed to have the power to see the strength of others’ gift potential – is given a job caretaking a building full of ‘prediction machines’ which Daniel makes use of in his quest to identify Mr Justice.
Then we have the sociopathic crime lord, Arthur Bing; on the surface an amiable altruistic businessman, but behind the scenes a man who runs an army of criminals. He dispatches those with whom he is displeased via the tempting arms of a seductress assassin.
The one person he feels affection for is his daughter but it is a twisted overprotective affection which sees him killing the young man with whom she was conducting a romance.
Bing’s failure to track down Mr Justice leads him into a spiral of megalomania which sees his Empire slowly crumble from within.
It is striking that Piserchia has constructed, if not believable human characters, complex and original personalities, sometimes drawn with large strokes as in the Secret Service Agents. Their only success was to discover the boy whose researches drew them closer to catching Mr Justice.
Daniel, on the other hand, is a real breathing character who is left to decide for himself what is right or wrong. All the characters, in fact, are set upon personal journeys which begin with Mr Justice’s first actions and curve and twist around the central anonymous figure like ribbons around a maypole.
An unjustly neglected and under-rated piece of work. Very impressive.


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