Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sodom and Gomorrah Business By Barry N. Malzberg

“Death and Disorder 104

Institute courses told a grim story about the Network—that savage world beyond the closely guarded Institute gates. But they wanted to see for themselves. They had to know. 

Were there really females there? Would their training as mercenaries prepare them for the wild bands of grisly subhumans?

They set out on a journey of discovery only to become the unwitting agents of forces that threatened to destroy the only world they'd ever known.”—The back cover

“Was there a world outside? Or only dust, despair, the void?”—The front cover

Copyright 1974, this is apparently a Pocket Books first edition. 95c cover price. 126 pages. 

"Hey, we need two heads sporting euro-mullets floating over a Cadillac while having some kind of seizure." –Art Director of Pocket Books

Malzberg was really cranking them out in the mid 70s: The Sodom and Gomorrah Business was one of six (!) novels that he had published in 1974. While I expected this to be a weird one after taking in the cover and back description, I still wasn't quite prepared for this story to involve as much vicious sadism as dystopian sci-fi.

The two main characters—the unnamed narrator and his pair-bonded friend Lawson—are two students at the "Institute for Urban Control.” The pair have become bored with the lectures presented by animatronic professors and the “homosex” that is the norm for the all-male student body.  As members of "Death and Destruction 104,” the narrator and Lawson are being groomed to be Enforcers: the pride of the institute and in charge of population control (murderous sweeps) of the Network.

Narrator and Lawson decide to go on a joyride into the New York City Network—a no man’s land full of society’s unwanted who have become lawless and tribal. The narrator and his fuck buddy pop some pills, requisition a car (a two-hundred-year-old Cadillac) and some pistols, then hit the road.

They cross the decaying barriers that circumscribe the Network, making sure to insult the guards because barrier duty is beneath them. The duo then stumble upon a family of Network denizens who beg Narrator and Lawson to help them escape into the "Landscape" outside.

Unfortunately for these innocent outcasts, the two young men have more murderous intentions—first, they shoot the pleading man to death, then, as the Narrator states, he “[sets] upon her like sainted Zapruder himself, and to prove the estimate of her humanity, my worth, my dismal need, I rape the shit out of her." (p. 38) (This Zapruder guy is the newly-sainted man who videotaped the JFK assassination, which the institute has students watch time and time again.)

After the worth-affirming rape, the narrator shoots his victim, and then her child, once it begin to cry, rationalizing it as a mercy killing since the child just witnessed the rape of his mother. Oh yeah, and he ejaculates again after riddling the kid with bullets.

Soon after this fun little chapter about family values, the two Institute students are captured by a band of Network toughs from "Westerly."  The Westerly gang kills Lawson, then attempts to "deprogram" the narrator, a process consisting of some light torture along with heterosexual sex in their harem, in the hopes that they can use the narrator for their revolutionary plot.

Malzberg only allows for two female characters in the whole story—one is raped and murdered, and the other is a submissive member of the westerly harem, a broken woman who does as she is told. I don't really know what point he’s trying to make with this novel, and it only gets murkier and harder to grasp from this point on.

At first I really enjoyed the promise of the Sodom and Gomorrah Business, with its dystopian-lite setting and staccato three page chapters, but in the end the story was a light stab at social commentary drenched in the sweat and blood of sado-masochism. The result is basically a not-nearly-as-fun precursor to Escape From New York.

I can't say that I recommend the Sodom and Gomorrah Business on any level. Probably the weirdest part of this book is that it is dedicated to Malzberg's daughter, which he also did in this little gem:

No thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

City Of The Chasch by Jack Vance

Blue Chasch, not as giant as displayed
Someone sent distress signals to outer space from the planet Tschai. It was Adam Reith's misfortune to be sent from Earth to investigate. Because when his ship came close to Tschai, it was torpedoed... and Adam escaped to the surface with his life and nothing else.

“Tschai was a vast planet and previously unexplored. Adam, taken as slave by humans, learned that there were four other intelligent but non-human races dominant on that strange world. And to find the mystery of the distress call and the vicious attack, he would have first to gain his freedom and then find a safe way to pass the city and the alien Chasch and their treacherous cousins, the Blue Chasch.

Jack Vance's Tschai novels are considered his masterwork, a constantly changing epic canvas of weird peoples, exotic lands, and surprising extra-terrestrial adventures.” –The Back Cover

Copyright 1968, my copy is a 1979 press. $1.75 cover price. 156 pages.

I got exactly what I was looking for when I picked up the first Tschai, Land of Adventure book—space travel, sword battles, colorful malevolent alien races, and plenty of beautiful women in need of rescue. The City of the Chasch is a very sixties sci-fi actioneer that fit perfectly with this blog, and was a nice reprieve from the massive amount of work being thrust at me from 9-5. I look forward to finding the other three books of the series, each of which follow a different alien race found on Tschai.

Adam Reith and Paul Waunder, scouts on an interplanetary expedition, are looking into a centuries old distress signal originating from a sector of unexplored space. Each is highly trained in survival on harsh planets, linguistics and the theory of language, and a number of combat methods. Unfortunately for Reith and Waunder, their mothership is destroyed as soon as they disembark for Tschai. All they see is  a violet 'torpedo' of light before the ship explodes, which sends them on a crash course for Tschai's atmosphere.

Adam Reith then witnesses the gruesome death of his partner while suspended from a tree in his parachute, where he remains for days until some rather antagonistic, tribal humans cut him down and take him as a slave, but not until after he watches some blue chitinous aliens make off with his scout vessel.

It doesn't take long for the interplanetary scout to make out the common language of Tschai, which enables Reith to gain the trust of a few tribesman—notably their "Onmale" Traz, a sort of temporary chieftain, who helps him to escape to one of the trading caravans that travels from city to city.

The rest of the story is chock full of dangerous encounters with numerous hostile races of Tschai, who all seem to be at a stalemate in their perpetual warring, consequently taking out their frustrations on the scattered humans of the steppes. Reith meets most alien life by either lopping off a limb with a sword he picked up, shooting them full of holes with his 'needler,' or vaporizing them with the seemingly limitless power cell from his emergency pack. 

One odd part of City of the Chasch involved a cult of females who burned off their breasts and were about to castrate Reith and have his space-babe raped by an ogre sized man, but that was the only hiccup in an otherwise very enjoyable story. 

City of the Chasch is the first entry of the series, and reminds me strongly of The Suns of Scorpio by Alan Burt Akers, which was also a blast. I would recommend it to people who, like myself, are fans of completely implausible action-oriented science fiction.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Deus Irae by Phillip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

Now THAT is a cover

“Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny take you on a dangerous journey across a devastated landscape in search of the great God of Wrath.

What chance has Tibor McMasters—one limbless heretic—against the awesome powers of the Dues Irae, entity behind World War III? Commissioned to paint his likeness, Tibor must first find him—travel through the frightening mutations of the holocaust... While his Christian companion acts on orders to sabotage his mission. 

A desperate plot... a perilous pilgrimage... the violent clash of good and evil, echoing in an alien terrain... Who will survive the scornful power of.. Dues Irae.”

 --The Back Cover

1976 Publication, 182 pages, $1.75. I bought a mint copy at Bucket O' Blood for $8.

'Deus Irae by Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazney- like Canticle for Leibowitz if you tore out every page and smoked a PCP laced joint with it' -@msears

The first few pages of Deus Irae made me groan—the meandering prose felt more like a writing experiment than an actual story—but luckily the book tightened up after the first few short chapters.

The Servants of Wrath, to whom the limbless artist (he has an apparatus) Tibor McMasters devotes his paintings, worship Carleton Lufteufel, ex-chairman of the Energy Research and Development Agency of the United States of America. Lufteufel is also the man responsible for reducing the world to ash and fallout in 1982.

In the 20 or so years since the nuclear holocaust, the Servants of Wrath have overtaken Christianity, the most prominent faith in the United States, especially in Charlotteville, where Tibor is slaving away on a mural of their God of Wrath. When Tibor has completed all of his mural except for the face of Carleton Lufteufel, it is decided that he will have to journey into the wastes and find the man himself, as none of the photographs the Servants of Wrath have are satisfactory.

After a brief loss of faith, in which Tibor expresses interest in joining the handful of Christians on the outskirts of town, the “inc” (short for incomplete human) gets on his cow-driven cart, and slowly begins his quest to find the God of Wrath himself. From this point on the religious musings, previously the driving force of the story, take a backseat to a twisted Wizard of Oz-style journey—plenty of chatty encounters with giant mutated insects, an automated repair facility with a haywire AI, giant mutated lizards, a telepathic packs of rats, another AI that feeds off the acid dissolved flesh of wanderers, and a crazy old drunk guy in a barn.

If that sounds entertaining whatsoever, then I recommend you pick up this bizarre little novel and get ready for a post apocalyptic romp through the paranoid and drugged out wasteland of Dues Irae

I am rather surprised that Deus Irae isn't touted as highly as some of Dick's other later works, and it made me interested in reading more Zelazny, an author I have yet to delve into. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Dreaming Jewels By Theodore Sturgeon

Placeholder for my own photo
“The Freak-

They caught Horty doing something disgusting out under the bleachers. He had to leave home after that—especially after his guardian "accidentally" maimed the boy’s hand.

By luck he found the perfect place to hide—a travelling freak show. With Zena the dwarf, Solumn the Alligator-Skinned Man, and the others, he gained sanctuary for himself... and for the glittering-eyed jack-in-the-box that was his only possession.

What he could not know was that his cherished toy was the clue to his incredible destiny—and that his refuge was dominated by a man who would stop at nothing to find out what made Horty... different.

The Dreaming Jewels is one of Theodore Sturgeon's most moving and compelling works—a novel of surpassing warmth and strangeness by a master of imagination."

--The Back Cover

1950, my edition 1977. 188 pages $1.75 cover price.

Sorry about the delay in between posts recently, I have had real life going on this last month, which has taken up most of my blog time. Expect me back in the saddle with weekly updates by the end of September. 

I’ve read some short stories by Theodore Sturgeon in the past, and enjoyed them a little. He strikes me as a poor man’s Ray Bradbury, though a little less creative and slightly darker. The Dreaming Jewels felt like a fleshed-out short story—the premise was flimsy, the characters thin and the prose verbose, seemingly just to get the word count up.

The main character Horty has supernatural powers (telepathy, shape-changing, regeneration) that, for most of the book, are attributed to his being “special.” The final explanation of Horty's powers, which involved sentient crystals from a meteor, lacked the punch I had been hoping for.

The “freaks” from the carnival (a lizard man, a few little people, a fish boy in a tank) were malformed and incomplete creations of the same crystals, which had something to do with their mating. The details of this process were vague at best.

The main motivation for Pierre Monetre, the antagonist of the story who was obsessed with the crystals and ran the carnival in order to study them, has a general hatred for mankind. Yep, thats it as far as motive. Sturgeon definitely phoned this one in (just like I am phoning in this post!).

Though the beginning of The Dreaming Jewels was intriguing, I was very disappointed by the conclusion, specifically the lame happy ending in which everything works out for Horty and his friends. Two-thirds of the normal human beings in the book made up all of its villains, which made The Dreaming Jewels a rather boring book created for child outcasts and teenage misanthropes who consider themselves “different.”

I know that Sturgeon did better than The Dreaming Jewels in his career, and hope to highlight some of that here, as this book just isn't a good example of his career as a whole.