Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Guns Of Terra 10

The Guns Of Terra 10, by Don Pendleton
No month stated, 1970  Pinnacle Books

Just when he was getting started on The ExecutionerDon Pendleton turned in this standalone sci-fi paperback that attains to be more than its action-centric cover painting might imply. While it does indeed have uniformed men and women taking on robots and battling on ships in outer space, The Guns Of Terra 10 is actually more concerned with what it means to be a human in a homogenized future era.

Actually – make that what it takes to be a man. In what would no doubt be mocked and derided in the “advanced” modern era, Pendleton’s characters in this unstanted far future still talk about concepts of manliness; the women are still in subordinate roles, very seldom taking part in any decision-making. In a way it’s odd that Pendleton failed to see this encroaching equality of the sexes; his future world has been “homogenized” via genetic programming so that humans are now “homans,” ie “homogenized humans,” the various ethnicities wiped out so that all people are of equal skin color (a tan sort of brown), height (around 4 feet), and weight (about 90 pounds). This has been done so there can be true equality. Also, women’s busts have been so drastically reduced that “only the faintest swelling just behind the nipples [marks] the vestigial female breast.”

This is the future of The Guns Of Terra 10, in which the Solan Corporation rules the solar system and Earth has been abandoned, save for a few humans; it is now solely used for mass production of food for the star-flung peoples of Solan. Peace reigns, and “taking human life is a high crime.” Homans have been so roboticized that speech is now “image based” rather than “language based,” meaning that everyone speaks in this annoying, rushed style, ie “Right, is like same.” Also, proving that he’s read Stranger In A Strange Land, Pendleton gives us the irritatingly-overused word “Skronk,” which basically means the same thing as “Grok.”

Not all humans are homogenized; in particular our protagonist, Zach Whaleman, is a hulking, redheaded 25 year-old who is much brawnier than his fellows. This is because Zach too has been genetically programmed, born and bred specifically to man the guns on Terra 10, a “deepspace super-dreadnaught” developed for the possible invasion of an alien fleet – not that any aliens have ever been encountered, but still. There are also the Reevers, aka “reverts;” those freaks who have either never been genetically programmed or who rejected their “GPC” programming and so grew larger than the homan average, got bigger boobs, etc.

It’s all a bit overwhelming at first, what with all the acronyms and stilted speech, and Pendleton does a good job of showing instead of telling. Yet at the same time it’s not very compelling, at least not to me – it’s hard to care about any of the characters in this bland future. And Whaleman is a bit too naïve to root for, though of course that’s not his fault. The crux of the story is his awakening to his humanity – actually to the fact that he’s a man.

Terra 10 has just been completed and when we meet him Whaleman’s firing its AGRAD (“anti-gravity diffusioner”) guns and whatnot in trial combat; he’s on Board Island, somewhere on Earth, his first time here since he was a child. In this future, children only spend a couple years with their parents before being sent off to be indoctrinated into whatever field it is that’s been chosen for them. There is no free will and each person is literally created to fill a function. It is all frighteningly progressive – all races gone, all people literally the same, all imaginative thought curtailed, all independence eradicated. Everyone the same, serving the same goal.

But Whaleman is abducted by Tom Cole, a towering giant with “spaceblack hair;” the “King of the Reevers,” Cole lords over a small commune here on Earth that is composed of reverts. Forbidden to travel in space, the Reevers are segregated here on Mother Earth; there are around 80 of them, but only a few pop up in the narrative: in addition to Cole, there’s big blond Hedge; a little Homan named Blue, and most importantly (so far as Whaleman will be concerned), a stacked blonde named Stel, who goes around in a “black crotchguard” and nothing else, showing off her “exquisitely formed mammalia.” These reverts are, of course, what humans once were, and they seem positively bizarre to Whaleman. (Humorously, whoever wrote the back cover copy of the book got pretty much all of this wrong.)

The Reever commune is straight-up Haus-Rucker Co.; people sit around on “plastic bubblechairs,” live in plastic domes, and wear “transparent vests” and those ever-present “black crotchguards.” Cole and the others try to get through to Whaleman that he’s a man like them, that he needs to break free of those Solan Corp controls. The Reevers want the Terra 10, we’ll learn, as a bartering tool – they’ll take it, with Whaleman’s help, and only return it if they are granted certain freedoms. Whaleman’s mind is mostly blown by Stel’s big boobs, though. He just can’t stop gandering at them, and Pendleton serves up a few riotous descriptions of those glorious orbs for the reader’s enjoyment. 

Interesting to note, The Guns Of Terra 10 is copyright Bee-Line Books, Inc, with the specification that “Pinnacle Books are published by Bee-Line Books, Inc.” As sleaze readers know, Bee-Line was a smut peddler, eventually supplanted by Pinnacle (which per Pendleton was specifically created for the Executioner series), however be aware that there is zero sleaze, sex, or general tomfoolishness in The Guns Of Terra 10. Just a couple descriptions of Stel’s boobs, which Whaleman usually appreciates from “an engineer’s point of view,” don’t ya know. Long story short, he’s never seen such big ones, and his interest is piqued. Even Whaleman’s subordinate on Terra 10, a raven-haired beauty with the typical small Homan bust, can’t stop staring at Stel’s rack.

Even in a sci-fi setting Pendleton is still Pendleton; there are copious scenes of characters talking and arguing and punching each other when they want to press a particular point. Speechifying runs rampant. We’ll have a few action scenes, and then chapters in which other characters stand around and recap the stuff we just read. This is just Pendleton’s style, and it must be said that, despite being an inordinate 180+ pages, the novel moves at a snappy pace. The action though lacks the gunplay of The Executioner; mostly it involves the Reevers running afoul of “the Boob,” a massive insectoid robot that fires ultrasonic beams which scramble Reever brains. Whaleman can’t believe the unjustness of this, and it is one of the things that makes him rally for the Reever cause.

Eventually Whaleman is discovered by a passing government patrol, and when he pleas for the Reevers, his words falling on the deaf ears of the Solan Corp Chairman – who is never seen and speaks through an “automat” – Whaleman is sent to a Lunar rehab joint where he’s to have a bunch of rest and sex and whatnot. But another thing Pendleton fails to foresee is the 24/7, Big Brother surveillance of the actual future; security is laughably lax in this fictional future, with Whaleman almost casually escaping his Lunar pen and able to get around on Earth without much fuss. He finds that the government has attacked the Reever commune, but meanwhile Cole, Stel, and the others have made their way to Board Island, hoping to commandeer the Terra 10.

But a “Solan Emergency” changes everything; as deus ex machina as can be, an alien invasion fleet just happens to enter our star quadrant at this very moment. And only the Terra 10 can stop it. So there ensues this chaotic part where Whaleman and the Reevers separately converge on the space-dreadnaught, which has gone into a glitch “runaway mode” and headed for Venus – only Whaleman, who was literally bred for such things, can successfully stop the ship. He then quickly instructs the Reevers on how to man the various guns – even finding the time to explain warp drive to them(!) – and together they stave off this alien invasion.

But man is all this so arbitrary. Pendleton doles out the alien stuff almost in passing; we’re informed at the last moment that this invasion fleet, which is “two full flotillas,” is “fully automated,” meaning there isn’t a single alien onboard – much to Stel’s relief, as she frets that the aliens on the opposing ships “might have wives at home worrying about them.” This is her sole contribution to the climactic battle scene. To tell the truth, though, it was a nice change of pace from the commonplace gender-bending of the action epics of today, where kick-ass women call all the shots. 

The climactic battle lacks much spark because most of it is relayed via jargon-filled dialog, ie “It won’t take Scale Max!” At any rate Whaleman successfully commands his Reever troops and the Terra 10 wipes out the entire alien fleet; after which Whaleman is seen as a hero. He uses this status to argue his case at a tribunal in which the Solan Corp Chairperson once again appears via automat; the Chairman turns dictator, demanding that the Reevers be destroyed and Whaleman jailed. Then it’s discovered that the Chairperson is now “99% machine,” and has been for perhaps centuries; the Solan board of directors decide at that moment to change their ways, and the Reevers are brought back into the fold – for, as Whaleman declares, “Reevers are highest expression of human spirit.”

And that’s that – as for the aliens, Pendleton briefly explains that the invasion was an accident(!?) and no more flotillas are forthcoming. Meanwhile the human race will get around to finding what it has lost – and Whaleman can get back to oggling those “impressive mammalia” on Stel, whom he plans to marry (another forgotten custom, and one that immediately appeals to Whaleman).

Overall I enjoyed The Guns Of Terra 10, which is just one of a few sci-fi paperbacks Pendleton wrote at this time, but to tell the truth I enjoyed The Godmakers a lot more.

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