What if you could cure any disease with but a touch? And what if that same touch could turn an entire city into a charnel house? Mr. H, who needs only to touch someone to heal or kill them, is that man.
Roger Zelazny’s To Die in Italbar is an interesting look at the meaning of balance, as everyone herein is either trying to maintain a balance or disrupt the same. Mr H. is desperately trying to avoid becoming a harbinger of death. The goddess who gave him the ability to heal any disease also allows him to kill with those same diseases.
The only other human so joined with that goddess is Francis Sandow, a man of incalculable wealth who builds planets. To escape his fate, Mr. H .must go with Sandow and others to the devastated remains of the Earth, destroyed in an interstellar war, now sort of settled, where Sandow engages in a duel of divine powers to finally exorcise the goddess from Mr. H.
Elsewhere, Commander Malacar Miles is the last human on Earth, the last soldier of the losing side of that war and a strident opponent to Sandow who wants to make the planet green once again. Part of Sandow’s mission is to remove the obstacle Malacar presents, even if that means removing the Commander himself.
Zelazny considers this novel the worst one he ever wrote, which is a remarkable statement, as it’s neither better or worse than a number of other novels he wrote that I like, such as Isle of Dead. I think it’s far better than Damnation Alley. I think he resented that he wrote this to make money in a hurry.
It’s a fun read, not particularly deep, and certainly not anything that would make the Hugo nominations list of anyone. And note I’ve avoided giving out the resolution, as that’d be spoiling something I think that, despite his kvetching, did very well here. Now I’m off to read Isle of Dead.