Philip José Farmer
The Unreasoning Mask (1981)
Reviewed: 1996-03-21

Hûd Ramstan is troubled, and justly so. Not because every woman he ever loved turned to hate him, or because he struggles to establish an atheist identity against the memory of his religious upbringing. Nor because he is the captain of al-Buraq, a Terran organic, living spaceship whose alaraf drive can cross the abyss of ... space? time? the walls between universes? ... nobody knows exactly what, allowing ship and crew to travel to alien worlds. Rather, Ramstan is troubled because he stole the glyfa, an intelligent, semi-telepathic artifact of unknown powers and tremendous age, from its temple on the planet Tolt where it was worshipped as God. The glyfa itself induced him to steal it, and now al-Buraq is hunted by a Tolt ship, and Ramstan has to keep a hold over his mutinous crew while trying to comprehend the glyfa and the strange visions that have been haunting him.

The very fabric of the universe screeches when the bolg appears. It is the chaos monster of religion, a planet-sized destroyer of worlds which follows the traces of the alaraf drive, laying waste to all inhabited planets along its way and ultimately threatening Earth. In desperation Ramstan follows the cryptic directions of a mystic chant taught to him by a dying alien. At the destination three beings older than this universe already await him. Ramstan finds himself victim of the manipulations of incomprehensible entities, learns about the nature of God, and must lead his crew and ship in a last stand against the bolg to save the intelligent life in the pluriverse.

This book has all the trademarks of PJF's distinctive style: full of outstandingly vivid and colorful descriptions it is wild, blasphemous, and highly imaginative. The story of a misfit spaceship captain obsessed by a search for God images Ahab hunting the whale. Even within the limited space of a single novel, Farmer succeeds in evoking an air of cosmic grandeur. Not to everybody's taste, The Unreasoning Mask displays an unleashed PJF at his best.

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