Being a compulsory completist, I was unable to resist reading this novel, the sequel to Myra Breckinridge (despite not liking that novel at all). And then I was only able to find it included in a double volume with the original novel - so, no, Myron isn't 417 pages long, only 200 on its own. And I couldn't find a picture of the double volume, so the picture shows the stand-alone novel.
And I can't describing this novel without explaining where the first novel left off... so if you haven't read Myra Breckinridge and plan to, stop reading now and save yourself the surprise.
Caveat: In both novels, the reader knows only what the characters claim to be true, and only when they get around to telling you.
As this novel starts, Myron Breckinridge is married (to Mary-Anne from the first novel) and living happily in California, where he does some script-writing and runs a Chinese catering business. Although he was once gay and confused, he is now Republican and straight... and in the meantime, he was a woman named Myra - who may or may not be an alternate personality. And when I say he was a woman... well, when Myra was in control, she had a sex-change operation. However, a mysterious car accident at the end of the first novel forced doctors to partially revert the sex change... and Myron the Second was born. He, too, has had an operation - to restore the semblance of his (missing) penis.
So Myron has been rebuilding his life, while Myra has disappeared (leaving behind only her journal). And then one night, as Myron is watching the late-night movie, he feels someone pushing him from behind and he falls through the TV screen...
...into the movie. Siren of Babylon from 1948, to be precise.
Myron finds himself one of a score of people who have somehow been transported while watching Siren of Babylon on late-night television over the years. They are now back in 1948 on the MGM lot, watching the movie filming... and when it's done, they cycle back and watch the filming again... and again. They are just shadows on the movie set, but as they walk further away, they are able to interact with 1948 Hollywood (but no one can understand anything they say about the future).
Myron's first problem is how to get home again... made more difficult when the other time travelers don't want to leave! His second problem is that his alternate personality is warring for control - and when Myra is in charge, she dresses as a woman, and is actively pursuing a mysterious plan that she is convinced will change the course of history, prevent the Vietnam War, save MGM, stop the population crisis by popularizing male-to-female sex changes... and, incidentally, make history when Myra becomes the first sex-change recipient in world history (in 1948).
Thus the stage is set for a zany comedy, as Myron tries to piece together the mystery of escaping Siren of Babylon, while Myra simultaneously is figuring out how to implement her grandiose plan.
The major change between this and the original novel (and anything else I've read from Gore Vidal) is that this one reads much faster - apparently, Vidal learned to edit some of his dense prose. There's also none of the graphic sex from the first novel - not that Myra isn't up to her old tricks, just that the author spares us the glowing descriptions.
Myron, who mostly appeared in the first novel by way of what Myra told us about him, is essentially a different character in this novel. Surprisingly, I felt that Myra was also significantly different - much more megalomaniac (with delusions approaching godhood), much more political, but also less female (in the first novel, you felt that Myra believed she was a full and complete woman... in this novel, she seems a caricature of a woman, whose sexual interest in men seems to be that of a gay male).
When this novel was first published (1974), one critic hailed it as "the hyper-novel or the novel elevated to the square or the cube." This apparently has something to do with the novel having "its own built-in theory." If this is a reference to the concept of time travel into a movie, with historical characters interacting with time travelers... it's not that unique. I was disappointed that the author never explains where the time-travel situation comes from, avoiding the question with a comic plot twist at the end. (One character eventually claims to have instigated the time trap... but that doesn't seem to make any sense...)
So, although this novel starts off with a very original and interesting concept, it unfortunately bogs down into Myron in control/then Myra/then Myron, and the novel's ending is almost a slap in the face to any reader who tries to "figure out" what was going on. I didn't find it funny enough to be worth the effort, so I can't recommend it.
For gamers, however, there are concepts and characters in this novel that would be well-used in a Pulp/sci-fi campaign. In particular, Myra is much more of a "supervillain" character in this novel, and the time travel situation could work well if completely worked out.
(The Siren of Babylon movie is fictitious, but is loosely based on the real Siren of Atlantis.)
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .