The novel “Caduceus Wild” by Ward Moore and Robert Bradford was published for the first time in 1959 serialized in the magazine “Science Fiction Stories”. A new version was published in 1978.
After a war that saw the use of bacteriological weapons, doctors have become the only people able to rescue the survivors. For this reason, in some countries they ended up taking power and established the Medarchy in North America. The continent has become essentially a hospital where citizens are patients. The misfits are considered sick and, called Abnormals, are generally tanathized.
Three Abnormals set off for a long journey in which they have to avoid the Medarchy police to survive. They’re in contact with rebel groups who want to overthrow the regime but it’s not always easy to figure out who they can trust. Even within the Medarchy there are various factions so the situation is less stable than it looks.
The history of “Caduceus Wild” publications is peculiar. A first version was published in 1959 but over the following years there were many changes in the world and the novel was updated. This new version was published only after Ward Moore’s death.
In an author’s note to this new version, the collaboration of Moore and Robert Bradford with writer Jean Ariss is mentioned but she’s not credited. I honestly don’t know the differences between the two versions of the novel nor the extent of the contributions made by Robert Bradford and Jean Ariss.
Reading “Caduceus Wild” I see stylistic elements typical of Ward Moore. It’s a novel on the road in which the protagonists are in a long journey. Moore claimed that in the ’20s he spent some years as a hobo traveling around the USA and often in his stories there are traveling characters.
Ward Moore’s stories could contain adventure and action but often developed various ideas as well. In the case of “Caduceus Wild” they concern the dystopian future in which it’s set. Often throughout the story there are characters who argue supporting different positions.
At the center of it all there’s the Medarchy, the medical regime that took control of North America after a war in which bacteriological weapons were used. Health becomes an absolute priority but soon it gives to doctors almost absolute power. The continent is transformed into a huge hospital where citizens have become patients.
In a regime where prescriptions are the law, the main task of the police is to watch over the health of citizens / patients. Health isn’t about the overall well-being of people but only a correct “mechanical” operation of their body.
In a regime in which the care for patients is out of control, anyone who opposes the laws of Medarchy must have some mental problem. It’s a kind of attitude seen in Communist dictatorships, where dissidents are considered mentally ill because ideology pursues, of course in theory, the people’s interests, therefore, no sane person would oppose it.
In Medarchy there are the Abnormals, the misfits, and there are those who for some reason can’t be cured. For them the solution is tanathization, a euphemism for killing. In this system that’s considered a compassionate solution that avoids unnecessary suffering to Abnormals and incurable people.
During their journey, the Abnormals protagonists of “Caduceus Wild” meet many people of various kinds. Through those meetings, the authors show the various factions that exist in the Medarchy that, as is typical of dictatorships, shows a monolithic facade when in fact among the doctors’ ranks there are different ideas and there are also contrasts.
The story is sometimes heavy for the exposition of the various ideas and positions, especially through dialogues that can be long. This is certainly an interesting part of the novel but because of the way it’s structured is both the best bast and the weak point.
The problem in my opinion is that there isn’t a good balance between the moments of action with a fast pace and those of reflection that are very slow. Some events seem to have only the purpose to lead the protagonists into situations, and especially meetings, in which some ideas and positions are discussed making them a little forced.
In the end, I think “Caduceus Wild” is a novel much more interesting for its ideas than for its story and characters. In my opinion it’s not completely successful but I still recommend it to those interested in medical issues and dystopias.