Gore Vidal's metaphysical thriller about an end-of-the- world cult.
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Except for the last 50 pages or so, when he zestfully takes over a fairly foolproof sci-fi formula, Vidal seems to have put his typewriter on automatic pilot. His narrator, for instance, is supposedly Teddy Hecht Ottinger, aviatrix and feminist, author of Beyond Motherhood, but her voice - taking any opportunity to spew opinions on current literature, music ("I hate Bob Dylan"), politics, or The Gong Show - is just the bitchy-neuter talk-show patter of one G. Vidal. Anyway, this Teddy is hired by a newspaper to go to Katmandu to get the story on Kalki, a gorgeous blond American ex-G.I, who leads a rich Hindu cult and preaches that the world will end on April 3. Teddy goes East, finds a bomb on a plane, sees CIA agents in disguise and evidence of drug-running everywhere, but she falls for Kalki nonetheless - and he reciprocates by making her one of the Five Perfect Masters who'll survive apocalypse. With Teddy pumping up publicity, Kalki & Co. head for the US, tangle with bozo politicians and the Mob, and prepare for a big rally in Madison Sq. Garden, where Kalki is apparently assassinated but not really. As a triple parody - of feminism, Eastern religion fads, and suspense novels - this is flat, style-less stuff. (Vonnegut achieved a similar but wildly superior tone in Cat's Cradle.) It's even worse than that if Vidal means it as a serious prelude to what follows: the end of the world, as promised and arranged by Kalki, unknowingly effected by Teddy as she spreads a lethal virus by plane. The last pages here, as the Five Perfect Masters roam the desolate Earth and fail to propagate a new generation, are nicely done - but not nicely enough to redeem the preceding festival of seif-indulgence and sloppiness. Vidal seems truly to believe that declining standards and increasing "entropy" are bringing apocalypse ("the end is near; and the cold") - but this silliness isn't the way to fight it. In fact, if Kalki is "a major novel" by a major novelist, the apocalypse seems to have started already - with literature. (Kirkus Reviews)