The Werewolf Principle – Clifford D Simak (1967)
‘In the middle-distant future, Andrew Blake, discovered on a distant planet huddled inside a capsule, is brought back to Earth suffering from total amnesia.
Over 200 years old, he thinks and acts like a man but becomes frighteningly aware of two alien beings that lurk within his body – a strange biological computer and a wolf-like animal. With the latter in control he breaks out of hospital to look for his past…’
Blurb from the 1977 Pan paperback edition
Several hundred years hence, Man has colonised the nearer stars. A political debate is in progress in which Senator Chandler Horton is proposing to abandon long-term and expensive plans for terraforming in favour of adapting humans to fit the planets. His rival, Senator Solomon Stone is taking the exact opposite view, suggesting that standard humans would regard such adapted people as abhorrent monsters.
Into this world Andrew Blake awakens, a man with no knowledge of his past, and whose worldview seems to be two hundred years behind everyone else’s.
In this somewhat surreal future, men wear kilts and robes, houses fly about to settle in whatever plot takes their resident’s fancy and (quite annoyingly, one imagines) the various rooms have different personalities and argue with each other over what is best for their occupants.
Blake soon becomes aware of blackouts, after which he finds himself naked in the countryside. He subsequently meets a Brownie (a small rodent-like alien whose species has taken up residence in Earth’s countryside) who asks him how many of him there are.
The question only makes sense to Blake when he is exposed to the realisation that not only does he share his mind with two aliens, but that he is also a shapeshifter and can transform into their alien bodies.
These three distinct personalities are called Changer (Blake himself), Quester (a large wolf-like creature) and Thinker (an amorphic sexless entity which seems no more than an emotionless biological computer).
Unable to control the triggering of his shapeshifting, Blake goes on the run after his Quester form is seen and travels through an unfamiliar America two hundred years ahead of the background knowledge he has in his mind.
It’s interesting that Simak has chosen these archetypal personalities which seem to relate to classic views of the consciousness divided into Id, Ego and Superego, the wolf element being the subconscious, Blake being the conscious and Thinker being the level at which rational logic and calculation process facts. Quester also has the ability to ‘sense’ life on other worlds but lacks the intellect to analyse what he finds.
This is late Simak and for the time it was written, seems somewhat dated, having a flavour and style more suited to the Fifties. It is not short of ideas, however. Simak engages in the debate over terraforming versus humanforming and we are introduced to the Mind Bank, a repository of worthy human minds, which have been uploaded into a storage device and exist as both individuals and a gestalt consciousness.
Indeed, the central theme is one of identity and (in the Dickian sense) what it means to be human.
Blake ultimately discovers himself to be just a copy of a human mind, long dead. Quester and Thinker also deduce that their original bodies were destroyed since Blake is an android designed to scan and mimic alien species for Research purposes, one of only two constructed and sent out to alien worlds two hundred years ago.
Later, he finds that another copy of his consciousness exists in the Mind Bank. There is a strange anachronistic scene near the end where his disembodied self rings Blake up on the telephone. The denouement is satisfying although one suspects that Simak is trying to explore an idea which should have been introduced earlier.
The three personalities begin the process of assimilation in order that Blake can exist as one consciousness. Blake returns to space to search for something that Thinker discovered from Quester’s ‘sensing’ of space while they were (tellingly) in a country church; a thing Blake describes as ‘a universal mind’.
One cannot see that Simak is using this final chapter as some kind of Christian metaphor, although it could be read as such. Blake collapses into his Thinker form (behind a natural force field) in a church, and remains as good as dead until Elaine Horton (the senator’s daughter) comes to speak to him, generating a resurrection.
After a few days he ascends (in a ship) in search of God.
Despite its flaws it remains a book full of colour, atmosphere and wonder.