Author: Susan Hasler
Hasler, Susan (2014). Half-Sheep. Asheville, NC: Bear Page Press
Date Posted: April 25, 2017
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency Fiction.
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency.
- Extraterrestrial beings United States Fiction.
- Brainwashing United States Fiction.
- Psychotropic drugs United States Fiction.
- Extraterrestrial beings.
- Psychotropic drugs.
- United States.
- Science fiction.
- Political satire, American.
Reviewed by Mike Billington
Fictional aliens have visited Earth many times in the past.
Some have been friendly, others terrifying but none—even E.T.—have been as “human” as Piyat, the unwilling female volunteer shot to Earth from a dying planet in author Susan Hasler’s excellent Project HALFSHEEP: Or How the Agency’s Alien Got High.
I found this to be a wonderful book on many levels.
It is, for example, beautifully written. Hasler has a real command of the language and her talents are on full display in this novel of life in the United States in the years following World War II. Her descriptions of people, of places and of events are spot on and they rope the reader into her narrative.
And what a narrative it is: Full of all the paranoia that marked America in the Age of McCarthy and other right-wing demagogues who cynically used the “Red Scare” to win elections and Constitutional concessions from the people they were allegedly trying to protect. Their paranoia allows them to treat Piyat with disdain and a total lack of humanity. They imprison her, experiment on her and treat her roughly; utterly failing to realize that she is more intelligent than they are by a long measure. Her treatment because she is alien closely parallels the treatment of Trudie, the woman who first recognizes that Piyat is special in a way the buttoned-down, fear-driven men around her do not. Like Piyat, Trudie is also imprisoned: Her cell is a loveless marriage to a cruel man who controls her life and her property.
Perhaps that’s why she and Piyat bond so quickly?
In any event, Hasler’s dual story lines give her the opportunity to make some very sharp observations about the status of women during the Fifties and the present.
In addition, Hasler—who spent more than two decades working for the CIA—casts a knowing eye on the workings of it and other “intelligence” agencies back in the day when it was often considered disloyal to voice any criticism of the government and its workings. It was a time when even newspaper reporters and editors took quiet payoffs from the CIA and other agencies for privately informing on co-workers and people they came into contact with: A terrible time in American history despite the Herculean efforts of television and the film industry to paint it as idyllic. Hasler’s descriptions of the self-righteous men who ran the country’s spy agencies in those dark days perfectly captures, in my opinion, their lack of respect for women, their recklessness, their paranoia and their almost complete perversion of the American ideal.
This is an excellent novel that will sometimes make you smile, sometimes make you laugh, and sometimes make you wonder why we Americans are always so ready to judge on appearances alone.
In short, it is a novel that will make you think.
I highly recommend it.