Book Review: The Bridge, D. Keith Mano (1973)

(Uncredited — but looks like Jerome Podwil’s work — cover for the 1974 edition)

3.25/5 (Good)

The Bridge (1973) is D. Keith Mano’s only “full-fledged” SF work (Clute on SF encyclopedia).  Mano’s profoundly unsettling dystopic New York circa 2035 is characterized by an unusual mix of radical environmentalism gone amok and Christianity misinterpreted beyond recognition.  In our current day of overwhelming evidence of Global warming and other types of environmental devastation caused by mankind, Mano’s near future will come off as unnecessarily alarmist.

Clearly Mano means his work to be a satire of the most draconian rhetorical flourishes of the environmentalist movement (for example, we need to give up cars completely!  We need to all return to the fields!  We need to stop eating all meat to reduce greenhouse gasses!) rather than the underlying message (we need to institute real measures to protect the environment for the posterity of our descendants).  One can imagine Mano writing in reaction to radical movements calling for the human race to die out in order to overturn the destruction we have wrecked on our planet.

Definitely not for the squeamish.

Brief Plot Summary/Analysis

The novel is comprised of two narrative threads.  The bulk of the novel is bookended by brief flashes of the society born from the last survivors of the environmentalist regime that eventually mandated the death of all humanity.  The brief prologue and epilogue feature tantalizing clues to the nature of the civilization that has somehow managed to survive a vaguely hinted at cataclysm sometime in the past.

The world that survives is incapable of making complex technology: “For the first time in man’s history, scientific knowledge is two hundred years ahead of technology.  I can tell you how to build a supersonic jet plane […] But I haven’t got the tools” (13).  Strange rituals involving obese men, human blood, deathly mortar shots, and multiple wives abound.  The fat man is king: “His belly [h]eaved over deerskin shorts.  There were many corpulent men now.  Since the Age of Ecology, food had become both ritual and currency.  A man’s fat was his social substance” (15).

But what was this Age of Ecology?  This era of social regression?  Of mankind’s suicide?  Some hints of a war between the forces of Ecology and some scatted resistance including Christian forces are dropped throughout the text: “After sixteen days the combined Realist and Christian Nihilist guerilla forces had run out of fuel” (81).

The dystopic world that emerges is characterized by the outlawing of a vast gamut of normal human activities — competition between man, killing of any form of life including bacteria, consuming organic matter, etc.  The goal is clear: such laws will force mankind to die out because their lives are as important as the live so of the smallest microbes.  How exactly such laws were adopted is never clear.

On the walls of Yankee Stadium, that now serves as a jail, a placard reads:

“YANKEE STADIUM

Where in the age of

brutality and ignorance,

men presumed to compete

against their

brother men” (36).

Because humans cannot kill ANY living creature, Mano’s prose veers into visceral and horror-esque realms: for example, insects writhing under the skin, “In her final days, an unvaried humming had come from his mother’s body, not precisely audible, but there at his fingertips when he touched her forehead” (67).

Every page is filled to the brim with societal and environmental effects of such legislation: the entire landscape is overgrown with layers of vegetation, rotting organic matter, the human body festers with diseases and covered with layers of insect bites, police take random blood tests to test for “Organic Food Content” (80), the body is beset with spasms due to the required drug-imbued E-diet…  The E-diet consists of no organic matter and barely keeps the body alive.  Untreated diseases ravish the population: “Under the rib cage a mass of alien flesh squatted, thriving.  After common infections, cancer was the most frequent cause of death; E-diet eroded, altered cell walls of stomach and intestine.  Tumors had been declared an autonomous life form, no less valid than the life form of their hosts” (39).

The narrative of this section follows Dominick Priest, thrown in jail for playing chess with himself (i.e. a form of competition).  After he is freed from jail legislation is passed that gives people less than a week to live.  After a week passes, they are required to take a suicide pill.  Priest is determined to find his wife.  We see flashbacks to his past….  On the way he meets a priest who teaches him about life, Christianity, the world before.  Unfortunately, Priest is an unstable soul, who demands what he does not understand.

Final Thoughts

Mano’s The Bridge (1973) will appeal to fans of well-written SF dystopia with some top-notch world building but be warned there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  The world that survives the veritable suicide of the human race is a bizarre pastiche of Christian teaching — along the lines of Ancient Roman views of the Christian eucharist, “they eat the son of their God?”

The ideological thrust of the work suggests that there is no rebirth possible in a world which adheres to draconian environmentalism.  As a satire of extremism it is devastatingly effective.  As a political manifesto, it is what it satirizes, a work of extremism…

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bridge, D. Keith Mano (1973)”

  1. To me this sounds pretty good. Why do I read science fiction? Among the reasons are to experience unfamiliar worlds and hear unfamiliar perspectives, and it sounds like this book delivers on those counts. Also, I miss New York, and any book set in New York gets extra points with me.

      1. Well, that is how I feel about most of the SF stories I run into about evil corporations forcing people into mines or strip mining the feminist villagers’ planet or whatever, as well as all those the stories about how humans would be better off if enlightened aliens quarantined or conquered the Earth.

      2. The effects of “evil corporations” in world history are a little more pronounced, and devastating to millions, then shall we say environmentalist forces that want everyone to commit suicide to save the microbes… 😉

  2. Who can predict what will happen? Maybe In 1970 it appeared to Mano somewhat likely that radical greens would somehow take over; how likely did it seem in 1900 that Marxists would within 50 years take over most of Asia and Europe by force and cause all kinds of famines and atrocities?

    And if you are going to criticize some other guy’s philosophy in fiction, might as well go big!

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