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The Alpha Experience

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WH Allen, London, 1974
(hardback price: £2.95; 200 pages)

dedication: To Arthur W Mandelko, 1946-1970, Los Angeles

The blurb on the back:

What, in heaven's name, can a nubile babydoll, a queer-bashing street shark, and a schizoid mass-murderer, alternately super-cop and reincarnated Superman, have in common?
All three are patients at the experimental Wendlesham Hospital, somewhere outside an American city. Their disease? Acute aggression. And its antidote? The Alpha Experience. After a brief encounter with psycho-surgery, all three will be reborn: the first completely rational, non-violent beings. Or so it is hoped. And why stop at three...?
In charge of Project Alpha are two of the best 'egg openers' in the business : Dr Robert Lambert, middle-aged doyen in retreat from his sexually dominant wife and two savage children, and his partner, Dr Richard Olsen, long-haired freak, dubbed by
Time magazine 'the Lone Ranger of the frontiers of medical science'. Their relationships with each other and their guinea-pigs extraordinaire are unorthodox, to say the least, and as the scalpels clash it's hard to say who needs the treatment most.
Add a few secondary cameos from Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Lois Lane, Crazy Horse and Black Bart - you can see why one New York publisher subtitled it 'Peter Sellers meets the Marx Brothers in hospital'. Which is exactly what Derek Maitland had in mind when writing it.
In the hilarity and horror of this cautionary tale, the message comes on strong : no Alpha project nor any other can keep us from our Nemesis.
The Alpha Experience IS an experience - one not to be missed!

opening lines:
Melanie Jane Binks was an absolute dish. Texas steak and shelter from life's vulgarities had endowed her with a body that stood strong and firm, soft-fleshed and supple-muscled.

Some stuff dates very badly indeed, and you’ve got to fear the worst when confronted by a 1974 novel claimed on the sleeve notes to be ‘Peter Sellers meets the Marx Brothers in hospital’. As it happens, you don’t get the worst, but it’s not so far off that you’d describing the experience as a pleasant surprise.

It is, of course, another of those wild-and-crazy, anything-goes, boy-is-this-mad-or-what novels that proliferated in the late-Sixties/early-Seventies. Set, of course, in a psychiatric institution, it features the usual sort of cast doing the usual sort of wacky things, and frankly I can’t be bothered to describe it. Just trust me on this: it’s not very good.

Derek Maitland
Derek Maitland