When I was young, Piers Anthony was one of my favorite authors. I liked his philosophy, his concepts, and his (usually) extensive author’s notes. I came across him when I picked up The Source of Magic at an airport and loved it. Over time, though, my interest lessened, as Anthony seemed to follow the Heinlein route away from good writing and into lechery.
Mute is from the early period, and I remember liking it. Reading it now, I was sorry to discover that it may not, after all, be Anthony that changed, but me. The story is engaging, the characters generally likable, the ideas inventive. I found the tone a little more direct than I recalled – Anthony sets up a moral or physical puzzle, then solves it, usually while staying strictly within the parameters he began with. The protagonist spends a great deal of time in introspective and critical self-examination, re-evaluating where needed. He’s incredibly well-adjusted and self-aware, without descending into the pathos that some writers would put him through. Sure, some of the science is shallow or gimmicky, but there’s no pretense of hard SF here – it’s about characters and morality, and Anthony presents it pretty well.
There’s a pretty big gap in the middle of the book where Anthony just skips forward. I’m not sure whether he was bored, didn’t find that part necessary, or just had too long a story on his hands – for the early 80s, this was a pretty sizable book.
Puns, good and bad, run throughout the book. Sometimes a bit forced, sometimes a bit funny. There’s also quite a lot more sex here than I remember, though minimally described. Probably thrilling for the teenage me, but looking a lot like wish fulfillment now. It’s not really objectionable, just highly unlikely, and leaning towards juvenile.
Where Mute falls weak – and falls pretty far – is in rampant sexism. When I was in my early teens, that didn’t trouble me. The older, wiser me is less forgiving. Mute follows in the strong man, rescued woman tradition of the pulps, but does it decades later, when SF was starting to know better. To be fair, there are strong, talented women. They’re not weak and submissive, and they’re not wise and all-powerful. They are, though, secondary; there’s little doubt that, right or wrong, the man is the one in charge.
I found Mute to be more simplistic than I recalled, and a lot more sexist. It’s still readable, but less so than I remember. I may go back to some other early Anthony to see whether they all follow the same style.
Ordinarily, I’d recommend this for YA readers – the simple style and direct grappling with moral issues head it that way. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the wrong audience for ingrained sexism. So I’ll say this – if you’re a reasonably adult soft SF fan, you like puzzles, and you can pass over the (let’s be generous) dated gender roles, you may enjoy this.