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!

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