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1988-08-07 — Walden Insightful But Overlong — LA Daily News

Sunday, Aug. 7, 1988; p. 28L


by Gene Vier

"Walden Three," by Jack Catran, is a novel in the tradition of "Brave New World" with original and insightful ideas. But 
at 422 pages, it is nearly twice as long as it should be.

The title refers to a "city of tomorrow" created in the Spanish Sahara by a Brooklyn-born genius named Zak Tedesco. Like his hero, Catran obviously thinks all the world's problems can be solved by science via technology; unfortunately the author insists on telling all he knows about both  which is too much.

He also has a penchant for acronyms, many admittedly humorous: PLUNDER, Political League for the Unification of Neo-Democratic Republicanism; WOW, World Organization of Women. But as a widely read person concerned with technology and efficiency, he apparently has never heard that brevity is the soul of wit. There are so many acronyms in the prologue few readers are likely to finish it; it would have been better if he left out the prologue altogether.

His arguments for science as a cure-all are well thought out, but they are so profuse only science-fiction devotees will sit still for his technical explanations. Paradoxically, Tedesco blasts science fiction as neither good science nor good fiction.

Capitalism, communism, the CIA, KGB, moral majority, religion, the money system and even poor Buckminister Fuller are all lambasted. Outside of obvious geniuses such as Einstein, the only famous modern thinker he admires is the psychologist B.F. Skinner who wrote "Walden Two"  the advocate of behavorial engineering.

Said Tedesco: "Those who refuse to accept the idea of behavorial engineering are only surrendering their freedom to the ones in control today." This leads to the central idea of Catran's book: "Deliberate engineering of the social environment would overcome the deficiencies which all cultures have experienced." (There are a few wise observations: ''Anything learned can be unlearned" and "People don't create, they discover.")

At one point, Tedesco is showing off his model city in Morocco to three childhood friends from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. These recollections of the good old days of the '30s and '40s are among the best-written, poetic and interesting segments of the novel.

The friends are a world-famous economist, a noted psychologist and a renowned city planner, all of whom would be made obsolete by the advances at Walden Three. The story concerns reactionary forces that move against this Utopia. The futuristic city has always threatened the status quo, but when the computer-run municipality starts giving away diamonds, hordes from all over the world descend upon it.

Dogmatic as he is, Tedesco is a well-drawn and highly interesting character. But he is such a know-it-all, the reader expects Catran to give him his come-uppance at the end. It's this expectation that keeps one reading. Like his hero, Catran turns out to be just another technocrat — albeit a brilliant one — who skirts the imponderables of the human condition, i.e. death. It's too bad that Catran ends up sounding like a technological version of a Marxist ideologue, for he has more than his share of stimulating ideas.