G.O.G. 666 by John Taine science fiction book reviewsG.O.G. 666 by John Taine

G.O.G. 666 by John Taine science fiction book reviewsWhen famed Scottish mathematician Eric Temple Bell released his first novel, 1924’s The Purple Sapphire, no one could have foreseen that his literary career would extend 30 more years and encompass 15 books of very high-quality science fiction. Looking back on the eight books by Bell that I have read so far – all of them written under his pen name, John Taine – the thing that strikes me first is how very different each one is from the others. The Purple Sapphire is a lost-world adventure set in northern Tibet; The Greatest Adventure (1929) involves the discovery of prehistoric life-forms in an Antarctic valley; White Lily (1930) details what happens when skyscraper-sized crystalline entities threaten all life on Earth; Seeds of Life (1931) gives us the tale of a man who is turned into a mental and physical mutant after being hit by 20 million volts’ worth of X-rays; Before the Dawn (1934) tells of a group of scientists whose groundbreaking “televisor” allows them to observe dinosaurs in the distant past; The Time Stream (1946) spotlights mentally induced time travel, and somehow conflates a disaster on the planet Eos with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906; The Forbidden Garden (1947) is a combination mystery/spy thriller/lost-race adventure, centering on a mutated valley in the Karakorum Range; and the two novellas in The Cosmic Geoids and One Other (1949) deal with the discovery of alien artifacts here on Earth, and the weaponizing of a new type of supervitamin! As I say, you never know what you’re going to be dealing with in a book written by John Taine. Thus, it was with a wholly unprepared mind that I cracked open the author’s final novel, the intriguingly and wonderfully titled G.O.G. 666.

G.O.G. 666 was originally released in 1954 (when Bell was already 71 years old, and had already served for 28 years as a Professor of Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology) as a $3 Fantasy Press hardback, with cover artwork by one John T. Brooks. Only 1,815 copies of the book were printed, one of which I was happy to snag, with dust jacket, for $25, from NYC bookstore extraordinaire The Strand’s Rare Book Room (a room that has unfortunately been closed to the public ever since the beginning of the COVID pandemic). A British hardcover edition from Rich & Cowan would come out the following year, and, in 1963, a paperback incarnation was released from the British publisher Arrow Books. And then, G.O.G. 666 would go OOPs (out of prints) for a solid half century, until the fine folks at Armchair Fiction saw fit to resurrect it in 2013. So today, you needn’t go to an antique bookshop to purchase this swan-song novel from one of science fiction’s most intelligent purveyors. The career of John Taine, it seems to me, is one that is most deserving of being discovered by a modern-day audience, and if G.O.G. 666 is hardly one of the author’s better efforts, it yet remains highly readable, typically well written, and, ultimately, quite surprising.

The story here concerns a delegation of three scientists who arrive in the U.S. from a country that most readers will automatically assume to be the former Soviet Union, although it is never precisely mentioned by name. (Still, the trio’s constant references to their country’s earlier revolution and to the struggles of the proletariat, as well as other internal clues, really leave very little doubt.) Of this trio, the diminutive and explosively emotional Kott is the animal geneticist; the Rasputin-like Arkol the experimental pathologist; and the former aristocrat Serbin the ex-president of the defunct Imperial Academy of Sciences, and current head of their country’s 50-year genetics plan. They have arrived here to observe the work of one Dr. Brown, a renowned immunologist, but the U.S. government suspects the three of having ulterior motives. Thus, when Dr. Clive Chase, a plant geneticist, is also asked to confer with the three Communists, the State Dept. tasks him with spying on the trio, getting to know them and, hopefully, finagling an invitation to visit their country in turn. The three guests have brought along with them a brutish peasant known only as Gog (an acronym for “General Order in Genetics,” the “666” fittingly being the directive number of that general order), on whom experiments will be performed. Thus, in short order, Gog is injected with a variety of pneumonia that his people are dying of in droves, and Brown, aided by his pretty redheaded assistant, bacteriologist Dorothy Grange, then vaccinates him with a novel preparation cure of his own devising. After suffering with a temperature of 112 degrees (!!!), Gog eventually makes a full recovery, and even more astonishing, his dim-witted mental faculties are shown to be markedly improved. Unfortunately, Dr. Brown soon perishes of some mysterious malady, and an examination of Gog’s blood reveals not only the traces of pneumonia, but something wholly unknown.

G.O.G. 666 by John Taine science fiction book reviewsAs the book proceeds, Dorothy swears to avenge herself on the three visitors whom she feels are somehow responsible for her former employer’s mysterious death. Meanwhile, Chase accompanies Kott and Serbin on a nationwide tour of college campuses, at which the two foreign scientists give speeches and endeavor to induce the most promising young minds to relocate to their country and aid in their 50-year program. At bottom, that program is one that will create limitless sources of inexpensive food, and that will free the middle class from the necessity of demeaning labor. Ultimately, Chase is indeed given an invitation to make an examination of the visitors’ country (be it Russia or somewhere in eastern Europe), and Dorothy also agrees to journey to that motherland and be Arkol’s assistant. Need I even mention that by this point Dorothy and Chase have fallen very much in love, and that the primitive Gog, having been shown kindness for the first time in his life, is now completely infatuated with the beautiful redhead, too? And that once arrived on foreign shores, after a long ocean voyage, Chase and Dorothy, both pursuing their own agendas, find that they have bitten off far more than they can chew, in an increasingly challenging game of wits with the three fanatics?

Now, G.O.G. 666 features very little in the way of action per se, and its sci-fi elements are surprisingly minimal, other than Gog’s sudden coming into greater mental abilities as a result of his remarkable fever. But what the book does offer to the reader, in spades, is a gradually escalating sense of menace. The book keeps us wondering about the aims of Serbin, Arkol and Kott all the way to the very end, and we are never quite sure about how dangerous a trio they are – if at all – till the final few chapters. I must also add that the novel’s ultimate revelation, which comes on the penultimate page, is quite a stunner, and it is one that makes slogging through some of the book’s slower passages well worthwhile. And that shocking surprise is delivered by Taine in an unexpectedly casual, almost offhand manner – blink and you’ll miss it – with nothing in the way of melodrama. (By the way, Wikipedia’s one-sentence synopsis of the novel’s plot is very much a spoiler; do not read it before proceeding on with this book!) But once this revelation is made known to the reader, it can be seen in retrospect that the book had played fair all along, and had supplied numerous hints along the way … as to Gog’s background, for example, and his country’s sudden interest in growing a bamboo/sugarcane hybrid. It is a revelation that allows us to see the actual depth of the trio’s fanaticism; a startling moment, indeed.

With very little action to speak of, no scenes in the novel stand out from the rest as being especially memorable, although the extended story that Serbin tells the others regarding his experiences during the revolution, and how he came to be the cynical and embittered man that he is today, is quite a doozy. For the rest of it, the book’s six main characters are interesting and well drawn, and every one of them, we ultimately realize, is prosecuting a hidden agenda of his or her own. Gog, of course, in a fascinating creation, both before his mental awakening and after, and whether gazing at Dorothy in a lovesick manner or going berserk on board that ocean steamer. Meanwhile, the other five engage in a battle of what I can only call verbal chess, each trying to outwit the others. G.O.G. 666 is a lot easier to wrap one’s mind around than, say, The Time Stream and “The Cosmic Geoids,” but is nowhere near as exciting and colorful as any of those other titles mentioned up top … especially The Forbidden Garden, which remains this reader’s favorite Taine novel. Still, the book picks up nicely around its halfway point, when Chase and Dorothy arrive in Gog’s land. Curiously, I believe that comedian George Carlin might have actually appreciated this book. Do you remember his routine about how the U.S. government doesn’t want an educated populace; just one smart enough to do their jobs and run the equipment? Well, get a load of what Arkol tells Dorothy and Chase concerning Gog’s people:

…Our problem is to rouse their intelligence, but not to waken it completely. We must keep them just stupid enough to be first class mechanics in love with their machines. They must idolize their tools and revel in drudgery as their greatest pleasure…

So yes, all told, G.O.G. 666 is something like Taine’s Cold War novel. He may not have concluded his career with one of his finest creations, but at least it remains an unfailingly interesting one.

If I had to level any accusations against Taine’s final work, I would be compelled to admit that the book is excessively talky and a bit on the dry side. This reader could have used at least a few action scenes to spice things up here, and more in the way of actual danger, but that is not what Taine had in mind for this particular book. It is also admittedly odd that the author takes so many pains to suggest Russia as the visiting trio’s country of origin, without making things explicit, while his further references to the country’s southern peninsula and tropical regions only add to the confusion. And is it just me, or is the fact that Kott and Serbin’s speaking tour is greeted with such packed attendance by the college crowds a little hard to believe? Can you imagine the college kids of today lining up for a lecture on a foreign country’s agricultural genetics program as if it were for a Phish concert?

Still, quibbles aside, G.O.G. 666 spotlights John Taine in the full flush of his considerable powers, here in his twilight years, and six years before his passing in 1960, at age 77. I am glad to have finally read it, and also glad that I still have seven Taine titles yet to experience. Well, actually, make that six, as 1952’s The Crystal Horde is merely a reworking of White Lily, from what I hear. Still, there remains Quayle’s Invention (1927), The Gold Tooth (1927), Green Fire (1928), The Iron Star (1930), Twelve Eighty-Seven (1935) and Tomorrow (1939), all of which, except for that last title, are long out of print. (Indeed, I don’t believe the 1935 novel has ever been released in book form, since its initial appearance as a five-part serial in Astounding Stories!) But Tomorrow, as I say, is currently available, again from the fine folks at Armchair Fiction, and I hope to be picking that volume up one day soon…

Originally published in 1954. Armchair fiction presents extra large paperback editions of the best in classic science fiction novels. “G.O.G. 666” was written by mathematician and science fiction author John Taine. This is a taut tale of ethics in genetics…How far is too far? When three Communist scientists arrived in America on an official visit, they brought with them a great, hulking assistant named Gog. U.S. Intelligence believed there was more behind their “visit” than they were claiming, so they enlisted the help of Dr. Clive Chase, who was asked to become a spy. Reluctantly, he accepted the challenge; and in doing so discovered the unthinkable truth behind the visiting scientists’ real motives—a truth that could cost him his life. Here is a terrific science fiction tale about biology run wild, with a good dose of International intrigue thrown in for good measure. According to the author, John Taine, this story may have had some connections to actual real life events. Could G.O.G. 666 have been real? One can only speculate…


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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