R. A. LAFFERTY – Past Master. Ace H-54. [Ace SF Special, series one.] Paperback original; 1st printing, 1968. Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon. Reprinted by The Library of America (trade paperback, 2019). Also included in American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s (Library of America, hardcover, 2019). Nominated for a Nebula as Best Novel, 1969, and also a finalist for a Hugo as Best Novel, 1969.

   The world of Astrobe was constructed as the realization of Utopia; the people lived in wealth and perfection, yet it was decaying. Rejection of the comfort of the cities led to the settlement of Cathead and the Barrio, huge sores on the planet, where men lived in poverty, disease, and misery.

   The mystery prompts the leaders of the planet to send for Thomas More, the Past Master, to act as world president, to solve the crisis.

   Thomas More was chosen because of his one moment of honesty, but he is the same Thomas Moe who wrote of the original Utopia. A thesis could be written analyzing the parallels, the the Astrobe dream, which one wonders might be confused with the American Dream, is dying with the loss of individuality, with Finalized Humanity, which may mean perfection, or which may mean termination. Life must have challenge and suffering, or mankind cannot be distinguished from the Programmed People.

   Tremendous: Lafferty has his goals set high.

Rating: *****

— April 1968.