Title: Lamp Eyes, Look Out!
Author: Peter Gelman
Publisher: Eyebolt / Infinity
Reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh
Pacific Book ReviewPeter Gelman’s novel Lamp Eyes, Look Out! is both confusing and highly entertaining. Confusing, in a good way, is that the premise of whirling a man in a centrifuge in hopes of restoring his ability to tell the future, is quite sci-fi. But whether you buy into Gelman’s premise or not, his ability to fill out his unusual novel with educational information transforms a slightly weird story into a compelling reading experience.
Two areas Gelman knows well are Beethoven’s music and Greek mythology. There is a section where the main character in the story takes the true love of his life, Alyssa, to hear Beethoven’s music performed live. This is more than just a night out with a few book characters, but also a chance for Gelman to wax eloquently about the power and beauty of Beethoven’s music. This was Gelman’s chance, it appears, for the writer to gush about some of his favorite music. Gelman’s knowledge and appreciation of Greek mythology seemingly surpasses his Beethoven fandom. Throughout this story, various Greek mythological characters are used as analogies for book characters. One not only walks away with more knowledge about Greek mythology, but also the feeling that these ancient tales still hold contemporary relevance.
The book’s best section involves a Halloween party which ends up being much scarier than the party goer’s various spooky costumes. After much drinking, this story’s main character, the one with the prized ability to see into the future, is called upon to inform these inebriated partiers about just how they’ll eventually die. These mystical interactions transform drunken revelry into a morbid Dia de Muertos they’ll never forget. So, what may have sounded like a wacky parlor trick becomes a scary date with destiny. The government doesn’t care what this man knows about what will ultimately be written on his friends’ death certificates, however. No, they want to see through his eyes into the future to ascertain if and when undemocratic governments — those at odds with the West — will become more favorable to it.
In many ways, this book reads like the last half (with all its dire consequences) of one of The Twilight Zone episodes. In The Twilight Zone episodes, ones where a character can see into the future, there is a honeymoon period. This is a usually segment of time where futuristic visions are all good. Man gets this unique skill. Man, for example, bets on the horses at the track. Man makes a mint. But, of course, all good things must come to an end, and the special skill that began by bringing good fortune, eventually does him in. In contrast, this story is all dire consequences, no good fortunes. It’s a dark story, filled with pessimism. This makes it the perfect story for our times. Democracy is a fragile ideal, at best, and human nature oftentimes wars against it, much to its own peril.
Similarly, the main characters in this book are fragile psychological messes. Even when our future visionary attempts to escape with Alyssa, it doesn’t end well. This section is a bit of a metaphor for modern life in general. Yes, we have dreams of escaping all the madness and running away from it all. But the past is always on our tails, like a killjoy hound.
Lamp Eyes, Look Out! won’t restore your faith in humanity. It may even lessen it. It’s a tough pill to swallow at times, but ultimately good medicine. It’s a smart and educational novel, worth the time it takes to read it. It could have easily turned into a nerdy sci-fi exercise. Instead, again like The Twilight Zone, Gelman has applied science fiction-y elements to help us think deeply about pressing political and psychological ideals, and does so successfully.