Macroscope, Piers Anthony's first published novel (1969), although quite different from most of his later work, does share a few common elements with his science fiction ouvre.

The basic premise is that the macroscope, an extremely high-resolution gravity-wave telescope, has picked up transmissions from a powerful civilization. The transmissions can only be understood by highly intelligent people, with an IQ above 150. The problem? If you are intelligent enough to understand, a Destroyer transmission bundled with the real one fries your brain and turns you into a drooling imbecile.

Enter Ivo, a Sterling Lanier fanatic and refugee from a mid-2oth century breeding experiment. Although his IQ is below the cutoff, he is the only person who knows how to make contact with the smartest person in the world, Schön, also one of the artificial Paleolithic genotypes from the experiment.

Ivo, called to the Macroscope project by his childhood friend Brad, views the program. Not smart enough to be trapped by the Destroyer, he manages to decypher the real transmission, which is a program teaching anyone receiving it how to travel through interstellar space. Brad is trapped and lobotomized. Ivo, Brad's girlfriend Afra, and a pair of staff (Harold and Beatrix) steal the Macroscope (and Brad) and flee to Neptune. Harold is an astrologer, and teaches them about the art and science of astrology while they prepare to steal Neptune.

Yes, steal Neptune. In order to use the Traveller transmission, they need a small singularity, and Neptune fits the bill.

Searching for the source of the Destroyer, they find themselves plunged into malleable visions (an Anthony trademark, used to great effect in the Tarot/Cluster cycle, among others) of civilizations impacted by the Traveller, and the real reason for the Destroyer. They travel to one of the sources of the Destroyer transmission.

At this point, things get odd. In an autobiographical work, Anthony talks about how this book originally got published. The editor who finally bought it didn't read the last 90 pages before signing the contract, the 90 pages that caused other publishers to reject the book.

Schön is actually Ivo -- I should say, Ivo is an artificial persona created by Schön to hide inside of. Once the travellers reach the seat of the Destroyer, Schön engages in an astrological, symbolic battle with Afra for the future of the galaxy.

I have barely touched the surface of this novel. The characterizations are better than many later Anthony works, he seems interested in creating real people you can feel for rather than just carriers for juvenile puns. (Not to say there are no puns here, just that they are not the point of the thing). There is a line, about halfway through the book, and, when you reach it, you have been drawn in so far that reading these words will run a shiver up your spine -- "Man's physical exploration of the cosmos had begun." The secret of the Traveller and the Destroyer, the vignettes of galactic civilizations past, the pivotal game of Sprouts, it's a worthwhile read.

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