the Little Red Reviewer

Genius Unlimited by John T. Phillifent

Posted on: January 6, 2014

Genius Unlimited by John T. Phillifent

published in  1972

where I got it: purchased used.

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Hitting up the used bookstores is much more fun with a friend in tow. Otherwise how would my friend have had the opportunity to recommend John T. Phillifent’s Genius Unlimited to me? A what a fun and entertaining book!

Interstellar Agents Rex Sixx and Roger Lowry always get the crap jobs, the gigs that no one else wants.  This new bodyguarding assignment seems like a cakewalk, so why did it fall in their laps? This should be as easy as the furlough they just came off of.  The secretive colony of Iskola has asked for assistance and consulting, and all  Sixx and Lowry need to do is get special agent investigator Louise Latham to Iskola on the planet Martas, make sure no harm comes to her while she is consulting with the Iskolans, and bring her home.  What could possibly go wrong?

To start with, Miss Latham isn’t your average investigator and Iskola isn’t your average colony. But at least Sixx and Lowry already know a little about Iskola. A private island colony, the only way to gain residency is to pass a battery of tests and prove you are a genius. Privacy is a very big deal there, and no one seems to be sure exactly what happens on the island other than genius residents solving problems and minding their own business.  Iskola brings in an income by consulting on large problems, such as the recent one of erosion and soil degradation on the mainland continent. That one in particular was a disaster, because the agricultural experts on the mainland weren’t interested in being told that their slash and burn methods of deforestation had destroyed the thin layer of topsoil. Even a genius can’t be telling an expert how to do their own job, now can they?

Iskola might be a known quantity, but Miss Louise Latham is not. Within a few minutes of meeting her at the spaceport, she’s sharing a drink with her new bodyguards. Or actually, they are watching her slam back their strong shots.  It’s not that Sixx or Lowry   have puritanical views on women drinking (quite the opposite in fact), it’s that Louise does half a dozen shots in just as many minutes, and seems to be getting less drunk the more she drinks!

Without Phillifent even writing the words, it’s easy to see Sixx’s mouth hit the floor as Louise knocks her “medicine” back.  Louise explains her reasons for intense imbibing, for you see, she has intense intuition. She gets very strong feelings about where people have been, and what they are planning to do. And she can’t turn it off.  The alcohol helps anesthetize the parts of her brain that are working overtime. She doesn’t advertise this ability because she doesn’t want people to think she’s crazy. But she does hire herself out as “that alcoholic investigator who always nabs the bad guy”.

When the threesome arrive at Iskola, they learn the reason Louise’s services have been requested. A politician was recently found dead in a guesthouse on the island, and the Iskolans don’t have a social understanding of why anyone would ever kill anyone. In fact, they haven’t got much social understandings at all. The Iskolan geniuses are so in their own little universes, that they pretty much stay on their own properties and only communicate with their neighbors via a type of videophone. They are absolutely clueless how to interact with people face to face, and in fact some of them are quite uncomfortable being forced to be in a room with their fellow Iskolans while Louise does introductions and asks questions.

I found the whole “we suck at being social” aspect of the Iskolans to be quite hilarious actually, and depressingly prescient.  Forty years after this book was written, and people would rather e-mail and text than socialize face to face.  On that note, I do wonder what this book might be like if written today. What would today’s geniuses come up with, if given resources and left to their own devices?

Their lack of social skills has made the Iskolans vulnerable.  they are so private and so trusting of their security measures that they would have no way of knowing if their island had been compromised. Which is exactly what’s happened. Applicants who didn’t make it past the tests, and others, have infiltrated the island, and built their homes and laboratories right under the noses of the original Iskolans. The invaders can do anything they want (including kill politicians, make attempts on Louise’s life, and who knows what else), and blame it on the naive antisocial geniuses.   As Sixx says of the founder of the colony – “you may be pretty smart about some things, Mr. Bardak, but you don’t know a damned thing about people!”

Genius Unlimited was fantastically fun to read. There is plenty of smirk-worthy dialog blended into the scientific discussions, interesting characters, practical common sense sometimes trumping book smarts, and an even mix of male and female geniuses on the island.  This isn’t a life changing novel with some earth shattering reveal at the end, it was just a satisfyingly fun and entertaining read.  If Phillifent wrote other Sixx and Lowry novels, I’d pick them up in a heartbeat.

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11 Responses to "Genius Unlimited by John T. Phillifent"

This does sound great, and I’m glad you read and reviewed it as I have never heard of this author and I doubt anything would have caused me to pick it up had I seen it at the store. Now I’ll be on the lookout for this one when I go on my used bookstore runs.

Great review, Andrea. You’ve sold me.

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it’s a very unassuming little volume, doesn’t look like much. I wouldn’t have picked it up either if it hadn’t come highly recommended. If you can’t find a copy, let me know, you can borrow mine.

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What a fun story. And I love the cover art. Thanks for sharing!

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always treasures to be found at the used bookstore! :D

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This does look like fun. But even if I only pick up one of the books ever from your vintage reads, I even enjoy just the descriptions of the premise on most of these books. Thanks for sharing with us.

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the one I’m reading now, has the most *dun dun DUN* dramatic tagline on the cover, i can’t help but laugh everytime I see it.

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Don’t remember ever reading this. I remember seeing his stories in Analog in the 60′s.

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I wonder if there’s a “best of Phillifent” floating around with any of those old Analog stories?

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Phillifent was better known under the pen name John Rackham.. He published a lot in New Worlds in the 60′s if I recall correctly. Plus some Ace doubles. He died in 1976.

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yes, the short “about the author” at the beginning of the book mentions his pen name, John Rackham. It says “he reserves his own name for what he considers his best work – among which, this novel obviously belongs.”

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I checked ISFDB-there are no collections listed under either name. The majority of his work was under the Rackham pen name.

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