Thursday, January 4, 2018

Nightmare On Vega 3 (aka Space Probe 6 #2)

Nightmare On Vega 3, by Charles Huntington
No month stated, 1972  Award Books

The Space Probe 6 “series” limps to a close with this second and final volume that appears to have been published at the same time as the first volume. Perhaps Award Books wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. One wonders if producer Lyle Kenyon Engel had more volumes of Space Probe 6 in the pipeline, or if he too realized these two books were probably the worst things he’d ever associated his name with.

Because folks I hate to say it, but Nightmare On Vega 3 is, unbelievably, worse than The Soul Stealers. At least that first volume attempted to be science fiction; once it got out of the sadism and vaguely-described sex, it featured robots and space battles and whatnot. But man, Nightmare On Vega 3 is nothing but sadism and sex (a bit more described, this time), with the sci-fi vibe of the series gone and forgotten.

I’m not sure, but I think this one was written by another author than the first volume. Don’t get me wrong, the style is still clunky and the writing itself is bad, with hardly any description (except, curiously, when it comes to descriptions of the various clubs which are used to beat around our protagonist). If I had to make a guess, given Engel’s writing stable at the time, I’m wondering if Nightare On Vega 3 (and perhaps its predecessor) was written by Arnold Marmor, particularly given the sleaze angle. Marmor wrote a ton of sleaze, and while it wasn’t on display in the one volume of Nick Carter: Killmaster he wrote for Engel (Peking and The Tulip Affair), the same sort of clunky and bad style was on display throughout – in particular when it came to the vagueness of description and the paper-thin characters. 

One thing that makes me suspect this is courtesy a different author is that this one doesn’t seem to know what the hell to do with the series concept; at least The Soul Stealers made clear that Captain Matt Foyt and android Ivan 3-69(M) voyaged around the cosmos aboard Space Probe 6, looking for…something. Actually that part wasn’t made very clear. But at least there was a dymanic between the two, even if they were basically clones of one another (as mentioned, the author proved his lack of imagination with these two not only described as looking similar but also basically acting the same). This author however seems unsure what to do with poor old Ivan, and leaves him off-page for the entire narrative.

Instead, the focus is on getting Matt Foyt onto a planet he dubs “Vega” and having him screw a busty native gal, while at the same time engaging in a plot that is wholly ripped off from The Tenth Victim. One holdover from the previous book is that Matt is not presented as the most capable hero; in the first one he was arrested and spent the majority of the book in jail. In this one he briefly ventures around Vega, a planet he and Ivan come upon after getting sucked into a black hole (man I hate it when that happens); immediately he gets chased by a pterodactyl, falls while running from it – and gets amnesia. Yep folks, he gets amnesia, like right off the bat. (Oh, and he eventually gets put in jail in this one, too!)

As mentioned Ivan is back on the ship, where he stays throughout. Matt’s named this place Vega, and it’s the third planet in this new solar system – methinks, per Engel’s Book Creations Inc. norm, that Engel must’ve come up with the “Vega 3” title and story outline, and the author filled in the blanks. For humorously enough “Vega” turns out in reality to be the planet Alcantarn, thus named by its natives, human-like beings with yellow eyes. So “Vega 3” has nothing to do with anything, as the planet’s referred to as Alcantarn throughout. Matt, after waking up with no memory of Ivan or his still-undescribed Space Probe starship, finds himself in the undescribed city that is apparently the capital of the planet – the author doesn’t really bother with any details.

Rather, “Charles Huntington” wants to get to the sadism, same as last time – as we’ll recall, there were periodic depictions of public torture and extermination in The Soul Stealers, so hell, maybe it’s the same dude writing this crap after all. But Matt discovers these yellow-eyed locals murdering each other in wanton acts of cruelty, and strangely, no one bothers to help the victims. Matt does, though, getting in a couple fights, sticking out like a sore thumb due to his dark hair, eyes, and “blue uniform” (at least this time we learn his uniform is blue). But the action scenes are woefully inept: “The crunch of nose bone and a muffled yell from the fellow was heard, and he fell backwards.” Folks, when writing an action scene, don’t ever use phrases like “was heard.” Or describe your protagonist’s opponent as “the fellow.”

After beating up a few random would-be murderers, Matt next stumbles upon some guy trying to torch a friggin’ school. From the conflagration he saves the pretty, busty teacher – her name is Ryana, she’s a redheaded beauty, and she takes Matt back to her place. She explains that on this planet one can buy a license to do anything; given the levels of corruption, if you can pay the government to do something, no matter how horrific what you want to do is, they’ll let you do it. (Boy, sounds like a certain political party run amok – talk about “pay for play!”) So if you want to torch a friggin’ school building filled with kids, you can do it, as long as you can pay for it. And no one can stop you, unless they have a license to do so. However if you are the “victim” being “hunted,” you do have the legal right to defend yourself. (I wonder if Robert Sheckley was aware he was being ripped off?)

Actually the author isn’t just ripping off The Tenth Victim; he also rips off Logan’s Run, at least briefly. For Alcantarn also has an enforced termination once you reach a certain age, and guess what – Ryana’s mom has hit the age. What’s more, she’s due for extermination in a day or two, so how’s that for convenient plotting. Matt beats up the government thugs who come to collect her, then kills them with his DSA pistol, which as we’ll recall disintigrates people. Meanwhile the government thugs have batons (curiously overdescribed by the author, as are the clubs used in the previous street fights Matt gets in with would-be murderers – let’s’ all say “hmmm”), as well as guns called Tempistols that can freeze or enflame. It’s stupid.

Even more stupid, but hilariously so, is that Ryana’s friggin’ mom stumbles out of her room just in time to get blasted by a freeze ray, turns into a statue of ice, topples over, and her head smashes off!! Well, so much for Ryana’s mom. Matt “cleans up” Ryana’s apartment so no one will know there’s been a fight here, Ryana mourns her mom for a hot second – “It was her time to die soon anyway,” being her outlook on the sad situation – and then Matt and Ryana get down to the serious business of screwing:

Matt moved onto the girl decisively and thrust his manhood into her; he thrust it hard and deep, and a second gasp escaped her lips, this one more audible. 

“Ohhh!” she moaned. 

Matt thrust deeply and stayed there. And then it began happening. Her interior muscles began moving rhythmically all along him. The motion increased in intensity, and then something else deep inside her was caressing the most extreme part of him. In moments she was driving him crazy with the internal manipulation and caresses. 

She saw his face. “Now,” she gasped. “Now ravage me!”

Well, now! It goes on for a bit, and the two get along so famously that, I kid you not, practically every scene ends with them rushing back to Ryana’s place for another somewhat-explicit sexual excursion. But that isn’t even the funniest part – Matt gets his memory back thanks to Ryana’s incredible skills in the sack! So now Matt remembers he’s on some still unspecified mission and even has a spaceship nearby, complete with an obedient android best bud who is no doubt waiting frantically (or at least as frantically as an android can wait) for word from Matt.

So what does Matt do? He dials up Ivan on his handy belt communicator and tells the android to hang on for a bit. Why? So “Charles Huntington” can get back to more sin and sadism. Ryana’s got a brother who was banned from society for goofy reasons, and she wants to visit him with his fellow outcasts in the cemetery they’re hiding in. Matt goes along, and on the way out of the place they’re nearly caught by a trio of hunters who go after outcasts for sport. Ryana’s nearly raped, the author going full-bore with this particular grimy angle.

This is just the start of Ryana’s problems: first her mom buys it in spectacular fashion, then she’s almost raped, and now an old flame named Megnus shows up – and displays the license he’s just purchased which grants him the right to murder her! This sadly proves to be the plot of the remainder of the book; Megnus, a wealthy sadist, makes periodic attempts on Ryana’s life, Matt saving her each time. Our dumbass hero tries again and again to plead for Ryana’s life, trying to talk “sense” into Megnus before finally realizing he will need to kill him. Matt even visits the local government offices to try to get the whole thing called off. He proves himself a complete buffoon.

Not that this stops Matt and Ryana from screwin’ as often as possible. Each time we get reminders of those “internal manipulation” skills of Ryana’s; Matt thinks to himself that there can be no better lay in the entire galaxy! So you’d think he’d be a bit more determined to protect the poor girl from harm. But Matt is a buffoon, remember, and after dinner one night Ryana is abducted by some men Megnus has hired – and when Matt finally tracks her down to the abandoned warehouse where she’s been taken, he finds that Ryana’s already dead, her head crushed by Megnus.

I actually found this upsetting, which is more than can be said for Matt himself, who after a second of remorse finally gets hold of Megnus and puts him to death in one of Megnus’s own torture devices. I forgot to mention, but part of the uncountable annoyances in Nightmare On Vega 3 is that Megnus constantly escapes Matt in all the prior action scenes; he’ll make an attempted hit on Ryana’s life, Matt will stop it, Matt will then pursue Megnus, but Matt will lose him in some contrived fashion. This happens many, many times. So you’d think the author would let us relish Megnus’s long-demanded comeuppance a bit more. But nope – don’t forget, this author sucks, and he is incapable of delivering on any expectations. Except of course the expectation that his work will suck. He doesn’t disappoint on that one.

But since the book isn’t dumb enough yet, Matt’s arrested due to his various infringements upon the law, and he’s thrown into prison. There is no reflection on his part that he spent the previous book in prison. He’s to be exterminated publically as an example, and the natives gather in an excited throng. Here comes Ivan to the rescue, finally showing up in the text, skimming over the crowd in a flyer and dousing them with poisonous gas. Matt manages to escape, tells Ivan thanks, and doesn’t regret murdering all these bloodthirsty Alcantarns. Now the two of them head on back to Space Probe 6 to get back to that game of chess they were playing before the black hole interrupted them(!).

And that’s it for Nightmare On Vega 3, which truly was a nightmare, but I have to admit there was a clunky charm to it. I mean any book where an old lady’s frozen head shatters can’t be all bad. And the frequent Matt-Ryana bangings also had their own sleazy charm. But otherwise this was a bad book, and Space Probe 6 was a bad series. There is one mystery, though – namely, the cover art clearly seems to have been intended for the first volume, which did feature scenes of Matt Foyt blowing the heads off androids. No such scenes occur in Nightmare On Vega 3, so who knows what happened, there.


Drew Salzen said...

This sounds truly awful, but I've never read it (or intend to - you did that for me!) and my comment has to do with the matter of seemingly disparate artwork that has nothing to do with the book. I once wrote a book for a publisher who wanted Harry Potter meets Judge Dread, but was unclear and got John LeCarre with wizards... Anyway, this notwithstanding, when I saw the cover art I was impressed: it had a gleaming golden robot standing by the hero. There was only one problem: there were no robots in the book. I pointed this out to the editor, who replied: 'Our readers like robots. They won't notice. And if they do, they've already bought the book.' Well, quite... I attribute its appalling online reviews to things like this, and not its intrinsic qualities. Honest.

Anyway, a happy new year to you and yours, Joe - keep 'em coming...

Joe Kenney said...

Drew, sorry for the delay -- thanks for the comment! Enjoyed reading it. Would love to know the title of this book...

Drew Salzen said...

Ah Joe, it's not worth it... but it can be picked up dirt cheap on Amazon (yes, it was THAT successful). It's called 'Dreams Of Inan: A Kind Of Peace' under my real name Andy Boot. But I warn you... No robots!