Volume 2, Number 2, April 1984

The Rainbow Cadenza

By J. Neil Schulman

Simon and Schuster
Reviewed by Michael Grossberg
April 1984

Uncle Sam wants you, honey

When J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night came out in 1979, I reviewed it—negatively—for The Libertarian Review. As it turned out, my review was the most negative one that Schulman's book received.

For a first novel, Alongside Night was an imaginative and suspenseful—if too coincidental—story about the consequences of runaway inflation in America. Even aimed at its most likely audience, Juveniles, Schulman's novel, I concluded. was too Juvenile.

The Rainbow Cadenza is an adult novel—so adult, in fact, that it not only has literally generations of fascinating. mature characters and a subtle, engrossing story, but also the moat erotic, pornographic and often scatological scenes I've ever read in science fiction.

Cadenza breaks new ground in other than sexual ways as well. It is a multi-generational family saga taking place seven hundred years from now, on an earth where birth control technology has had a radical—and damaging —effect on the equality of the sexes. When families gained the power to control the sex of their children, many more males than females began to be born. This, combined with the effects of states—particularly the State's favorite (anti-social program: war—eventually led to literal slavery for women.

In our own time, we call this kind of slavery "the draft" but in Schulman's story women are drafted by the military for a very special purpose: prostitution. Without taking away the reader's pleasure in discovering for him-or-herself the novel's unpredictable—yet totally logical—plot, let me just say that the struggle of women to liberate themselves from coercive male patriarchy is an inspiring, passionate libertarian tale.

Schulman's second novel is just as imaginative as his first in creating the surfaces, textures and technologies of a science fiction world. But Cadenza goes far beyond Alongside Night in developing a plot based on imaginative, and insightful, sociology. There are hundreds of colorful details in Schulman's rich, sprawling, majesty.

Two details in particular are worth mentioning here. One is a convincing portrait of a sophisticated, idealistic-but-cynical homosexual politician who happens to be a member of the Libertarian Party, which compromised its principles over the generations by working "within the system." Another is a love affair between a man and a woman, both disciples of twentieth-century libertarian novelists-one the great Christian libertarian C. S. Lewis and the other the humanist/atheist Ayn Rand. The unusual twists and turns of these lovers' dialogues makes for thought-provoking reading.

Still, the most exciting thing about the novel is the artwork that gives it its name. The rainbow in the "rainbow cadenza" is produced by a new visual and musical art form light years beyond the laser shows now being created occasionally by a few planetariums and rock groups.

Schulman's growing ability to imagine full-blooded, complex characters—especially his notable mastery of the difficult task, for a male writer, of creating strong women characters, notably Joan Darris, the story's heroine—is put to a subtle test here. Art, like sex, is an arena in which one's deepest values, and deepest value-conflicts, can be revealed. By focusing on the depths and heights of sexuality as well as the artistic struggle to master a new art form, Schulman set himself a challenging goal: nothing less than to reveal the disastrous psychological consequences of authoritarianism in the most personal of all realms—the human spirit/body.

He succeeds magnificently. The result is a modern novel in the best tradition of romanticism that goes beyond romantic literary tradition to explore new territory within the human soul, from the depths of sexual perversion to the heights of artistic self expression.

This is the highest compliment I can give the novel: Schulman not only succeeds in dramatizing (not just arguing against) the evils of tyranny, he offers us a glimpse of the enormous possibilities liberty—and the passion for liberty—can unleash in the human spirit.

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