Roderick was a military commander and Duke of the Visigoth kingdom of Spain in the early 700's. In 710, King Witiza died, leaving his widow as regent for his two young sons. The Visigoth nobility supported Roderick for King, and exiled Witiza's family.

The Witizas contacted the North African Muslim kingdoms for help with their cause; in 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad, the governor of Morocco, invaded Spain, defeated Roderick, continued on with his army to Toledo, and conquered most of the country.

Published in 1980, this is the first of two truly excellent novels by John Sladek. The sequel is Roderick at Random. They were originally meant to be a single work, but due to their size, the publisher decided to split them up.

Ostensibly, the novel relates the misadventures of Roderick, an experimental robot, as he tries to find meaning and purpose in modern city life. Sladek delights, however, in going off on wild tangents, dragging the hapless reader along through multiple plot threads. The result is a weird and wonderful, if slightly confusing, collage of scenes and impressions. As Roderick slowly starts piecing together the connections and relationships between the people he meets and the places he visits, so too do we.

And the picture that emerges is fractured, dark, viciously funny. Echoes of Candide and Catch-22 are everywhere, as the author brings his considerable satirical talents to bear, ridiculing and subverting religion, materialism, the American public school system, the scientific viewpoint, and ultimately, human stupidity. If you like to laugh at yourself, or just want to know what's so funny, Roderick is worth reading.

Roderick may be easy to pick up and hard to put down, but it is certainly not a novel to be read once and then forgotten. The author enjoys making obscure references, and is not in the habit of over-explaining anything, often making it difficult to understand just what he is talking about. The rapid flow of events and Sladek's acerbic wit make for a stunning, often breathless, ride, and upon first reading the book, it will probably be easier to just blaze through it and not worry unduly about parts that are vague or unclear. This will leave you with the vague impression of having read something profoundly brilliant, but the specific details of many scenes will remain hazy. This is normal. Let it simmer for a bit, then come back to it; read through it again, more carefully this time, or just reread whichever scenes you feel deserve a second glance.

The novel has its faults too, of course. The wild proliferation of characters inevitably leads to many of them being little more than carboard cut-outs, caricatures used to make a point and then discarded. Plot threads are often left dangling; one sometimes wishes Sladek had let himself linger a bit more on a particularly delightful scene or an exceptionally well-done character.

Roderick is a novel that will challenge you. Often, you will be chuckling over a stream of hilarious invective or subtle satire, only to turn the page and find that Sladek has suddenly shifted the topic and is now making fun of something you hold near and dear. And here's the important question: can you keep laughing?

If you can, then this just might be the novel for you.

Roderic, "the last of the Goths," whose tragic death, coincident with the downfall of the Visigothic monarchy in Spain, has inspired poets and romancers, to throw round him a halo of glory. According to the common legend he was the son of a noble who was blinded by King Witiza. A conspiracy having been formed against Witiza, Roderic was elevated to the throne (710). The sons of Witiza bided their time. At length certain nobles were engaged in a plot to dethrone Roderic by Count Julian, the governor of Ceuta (in North Africa). Julian brought with him a Moorish chief named Tarik at the head of 12,000 men. Roderic met the invading army on the banks of the Guadelete, on July 26, 711. The battle raged six days; but the sons of Witiza deserted during the contest, and the rout of the Visigoths was complete. Roderic either died on the field or was drowned in the Guadelete.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

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