Monday, April 23, 2018

Waters Of Death

Waters Of Death, by Irving A. Greenfield
No month stated, 1967  Lancer Books

It appears that Irving A. Greenfield started off as a sleaze writer, one of the many authors serving as Vin Fields, before branching out into sci-fi under his own name, then moving into trash fiction in the ‘70s, and finally writing the many-volumed Depth Force series in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Greenfield’s writing though appears to remain consistent no matter the genre or year – slightly melodramatic, at least when concerning the torrid love lives of his characters, yet curiously threadbare in the description and plot departments, with major events (and the deaths of major characters) occurring off-page.

While Waters Of Death suffers from these same things – and more – it did well enough with the sci-fi readers of the day to warrant a few printings. The year is 2167, and Greenfield only gives us the trimmings of this hellish future society; basically, the Earth is overpopulated and undernourished, and all food is harvested from the sea. Society has broken down into rigid, progressivised hierarchies very much along the lines of that seen in the vastly superior After The Good War. But it’s sort of the same thing – there’s a single global government (the horror, the horror), independent thought is prevented at all costs, and any infraction against the government is dealt with quickly and mercilessly.

This is something our hero of sorts discovered two years ago: Dr. Robert Wilde, 35, of the Institute of Oceanography and Marine Biology. We get some vagueries about “independent research” he conducted a few years ago on underwater harvests or something; when the ruling party discovered this, Wilde was drummed out and cast in a loserville sort of purgatory. But in this hellish future society, being a government outcast is akin to being a social leper; Wilde was not only ridiculed, but his wife turned on him and began openly sleeping around. Wilde only stays with her so as to be with his son, because apparently – Greenfield doesn’t elaborate – children are only raised by married parents. Otherwise they are sent to government foster homes to be raised in a hive mentality setting. 

Not that Wilde, as he’s presented to us in the novel itself, appears to give two shits about his son. Greenfield’s characters are as a norm incredibly self-involved; I think my own son, who is only 14 months old now, is more aware of the feelings of others. Rather, Greenfield sort of goes through the motions that Wilde wants to see his son, yadda yadda, but the kid’s in like three pages of the book and, humorously enough, rarely even referred to again. There isn’t even any regret on Wilde’s part when his wife announces she’s to become a government whore of sorts at the local “sex center” – another vaguery of Greenfield’s, that there are veritable temple prostitutes in this future society – and thus the kid will have to go to a foster center, after all. Oh, and Wilde’s wife is pregnant with another man’s child!

But Wilde’s thoughts are more on the new job he’s been tasked with, one that might bring him back into the prominence he once enjoyed. His old boss at the Marine Institute has called him in and offered Wilde the opportunity to redeem himself; the sea farmers in the Caribbean are apparently revolting, as crops are dying and being destroyed by mysterious means. Leading the revolutionaries is Jessup Coombs, Wilde’s old friend; we’re briefly informed that, fifteen years ago, Wilde spent a tenure with these very same sea farmers. After a big blowout with wife Marion (“If you were a real man you’d hit me”) and son John (who screams “I hate you!” when he catches Wilde finally taking Marion up on her offer of hitting her), Wilde says to hell with it and heads off for the Caribbean.

First though he bangs the secretary of his old Institute boss – there’s a lot of secretary banging in Waters Of Death, in fact. As with most sci-fi, this novel is more about the era in which it was written, thus this 2167 is run by straight white males who drink and smoke and keep leggy secretaries in their office, mostly for sexual services. But curiously Greenfield keeps the sex off-page, and even the expected exploitation of the female characters is kept to a minimum; at least, it’s nowhere as explicit as the material he wrote in Depth Force, or another books of his I have from 1973 titled The Pleasure Hunters, which is filled with graphic screwing.

As mentioned, Wilde and Jessup were friends back in the day, but anyone expecting some “how’ve you been, you old so and so?” camaraderie between the two has never read an Irving Greenfield novel. Indeed, Jessup barely even remembers Wilde, and the fact that Wilde once worked beside these sea farmers is a simple plot contrivance that is never expanded upon. Jessup himself fades into insignificance; he’s built up as a revolutionary firebrand, but instead he’s more interested in picking up the wallflower secretary of the local government official. Yes, here’s another secretary prime for the exploiting, though Greenfield builds up a growing love between the two…then doesn’t do much of anything with it.

In fact Wilde’s time with the sea farmers itself is glossed over. What exactly he’s doing here isn’t much detailed, nor is the daily life and tools of the sea farmers. We do learn they are at the lowest strata of society, with precious few rights, something adding to their growing hostility. Jessup claims the farmers are not destroying the crops, and we readers know he speaks the truth, as we’ve seen the perpetrators: a shadowy cabal of government officials who have banded together in the hopes of starving the populace, killing off a large portion of it, and then swooping in to take control of the entire world. They are led by Zahn, global government Security Chief; one of the plotters is named Ahura Mazda, and whether it’s the ancient Zoroastrian god come to life Greenfield doesn’t say. I liked to pretend it was.

So much stuff is unexplored. Before leaving for the Caribbean, Wilde is given this proto-cyberpunk data dump into his brain, the government not only feeding him sea farming data but also secretly implanting pro-government propaganda. This doesn’t go much anyplace. Instead, we have yet another spawning romantic subplot, as Greenfield realizes that Loraine, the young brunette daughter of a sea farmer widow, is a mega babe, with “full breasts” and everything, though again Greenfield curiously leaves the sleazy a-doings off-page.

Action scenes are as outline-esque as those in Depth Force; a bunch of “renegade sharks” attack the crops late in the novel, and Jessup rounds up some sea farmers to hop in their underwater vessels to go fight them, armed with “high-intensity sonic beams.” Here Greenfield proves the sloppy execution he’s sometimes known for, as Jessup is killed – just like that, folks. He goes down to save a comrade, radios to the others that he can’t make it out, and that’s it. I kept expecting him to show up again, sharkbitten but alive, or for Wilde to go to his rescue, but it doesn’t happen. He’s dead, Jim, and that’s that. For that matter, Wilde thereafter leaves the sea farmer community, and we aren’t even properly informed of the fact until he’s already back at the Institute, doing studies on his findings underwater (whatever the hell they were).

The climax is particularly rushed. The shadowy cabal gets their hooks on the new leader of the sea farmers, spurring him to start a revolution, and soon scads of people are dying off-page. In fact, this new leader himself is perfuntorily killed off-page, us readers only informed of the event in passing. This after we’ve gotten a few scenes from his viewpoint which imply he’s going to be a major character. Jessup’s secretary girlfriend is never mentioned again, and we learn, again in passing yet mercilessly so, that Loraine too has been killed (and probably even raped) in the rioting.

Not that Wilde bats so much as an eye. Instead he takes his “findings” to his old Institute boss; he’s learned that man himself is causing the destruction of the sea harvests, due to chemicals being put in the ocean and scaring the aquatic life or somesuch. But he’s again branded a rebel and this time he’s thrown in a government prison. Soon he learns of the rioting going on around the world. And only here, like over a hundred pages later, does Wilde even bother to think of his son again, wondering what happened to him. Dad of the year, folks!

Greenfield goes for one of those downbeat endings that would be all the rage in the ‘70s; the rioters, now that the sea crops have all been destroyed, have turned to cannibalism, and Wilde, thinking he’s being freed from prison by a group of rioters, discovers instead that they’ve come here to eat him. And here Greenfield ends the tale, Wilde getting his “throat ripped open” by the very same government secretary he was having an affair with, early in the novel.

This one was lifeless, folks, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Greenfield was capable of better and one sees why he eventually moved out of the sci-fi field. But you’ve gotta love the cover art on this second edition: “Waters Of Death – starring Drew Carey!!”

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