Monday, October 27, 2014

Chameleon #3: Garde Save The World!

Chameleon #3: Garde Save The World!, by Jerry LaPlante
No month stated, 1979  Zebra Books

The third volume of the short-lived Chameleon series was also the last – and it appears to be the most scarce, these days. But when I read that narrating hero Vance Garde took on an army of female villains in this one, I knew I had to get a copy. Unfortunately, author Jerry LaPlante doesn’t turn in the story I was expecting.

For one, whereas the previous volume was goofy fun, if a bit overlong, this one’s just plain overlong, and the fun element seems forced. Even with a more promising foe and a broader canvas of action, Garde Save The World! is just sort of bland, a feeling not helped by Garde himself, who is particularly ineffectual this time out. Seriously, he spends the entire novel either getting knocked out or finding himself several steps behind his enemy, a militant feminist group calling itself DELILAH.

These evil women are another of the novel’s many failings. Instead of the rapacious, lustfully cruel pulp-style female villains I wanted, they’re more of a cold and monstrous sort, without even the flair of the villains in The Savage Women. They are, basically, Rush Limbaugh’s worst fears come to life, a legion of liberal feminists who studied engineering at Columbia and have now banded together to kill men so that women can control the world. But there is nothing fun about them, LaPlante apparently unwilling to capture the pulpish vibe he’s created; none of the “We’ll kill you, Garde, but first we’ll enjoy you,” sort of thing you’d expect, given the genre.

But then, Garde spends the majority of the novel not even knowing what DELILAH is; a recurring but unfunny joke is him saying “Who’s Delilah?,” as he thinks it’s just some woman. Meanwhile the back cover has clearly stated it’s a group of women, thus ruining this endless joke. This is just one of Garde’s many problems in this volume, as overall he’s on a higher buffoonery level than he was in In Garde We Trust, and spends practically the entire novel wandering around the globe in confusion. And getting knocked out.

LaPlante does open the novel with an interesting fake-out, though. Actually, he opens the novel with a flashforward toward the end, same as he did last time, with Garde about to buy it while scuba diving somewhere. But when LaPlante jumps back in time and starts the story proper, Garde is happily informing us of how he’s just gotten laid, and by one of his employees no less. Readers of the series will instantly assume he’s referring to Ballou Annis, Garde’s “assistant” whom he’s been trying to screw since the first volume. Instead, LaPlante pulls the rug out and informs us that it’s some recently-hired scientist-type lady; Garde and Ballou have still failed to fully consumate their mutual attraction.

Once again we get little understanding of how long after the previous volume this one occurs, and also once again Garde is pondering if he should disband his secretive VIBES initiative. I wonder if this would’ve been a recurring theme, had the series continued. If so, it would’ve become very annoying, as it’s already frustrating a mere three volumes in. Anyway, Garde is more concerned with his main venture, GSA, especially a project he’s working on with another recent employee, a gorgeous Iranian lady named Petrolea(!) who is helping the company with a new pultonium initiative.

Anyone who has read the back cover will of course realize Petrolea is a villain – we’re immediately informed she graduated from Columbia – but of course Garde doesn’t know this. To his credit, when the plutonium is later stolen from the GSA vaults (Garde and Ballou in the middle of a little sixty-nining when they’re interrupted by the phone call informing them of the theft), Garde soon deduces that Petrolea was behind it. Now begins the major thrust of the novel, which sees Garde chasing her and her DELILAH comrades around the world. He doesn’t go to the authorities due to the muddled reasoning that he could get in trouble for his plutonium being stolen, or something.

There are a lot of missed opportunities here. For one, Ballou Annis. While a vivacious personality in the previous book, this time she’s shoehorned out of the novel quite often. There’s a grating recurring bit where she keeps disappearing, and you miss her when she’s gone, as she’s more interesting than Garde. But then, LaPlante does provide a good running gag for Ballou; in her continuous war against injustice, this time she’s launched a campaign against pay toilets in women’s restrooms. In her pursuit of vengeance she’s arrested twice in the novel, which is the cause of a few of her disappearances from the text.

But as for the missed opportunities mentioned above, Ballou states early on that she knew Petrolea years before, as they both went to Columbia and were part of a women’s liberation group. I instantly assumed this was foreshadowing that Ballou herself might be in DELILAH – an assumption furthered by the fact that she soon thereafter disappears from the novel, during a flight with Garde to Mexico, which is where Garde has traced the stolen plutonium. But nothing comes of this. That Ballou was involved with an early version of DELILAH at Columbia is something that LaPlante does precious little to exploit.

Anyway, Garde, who thought Ballou was on the flight with him, somehow is so tired that he falls asleep before takeoff, doesn’t wake up until landing, and only then realizes his assistant isn’t with him. Now we have more buffoonery as super-intelligent Garde bumbles around Mexico, not understanding the language, and trying to figure out what he should do next. Have no fear, though, as this time Garde has brought along a weapon, one he hasn’t used since the first volume – a studded leather belt.

Yes, friends, Vance Garde’s weapon of choice is a belt.

Immediately hoodwinked by an undercover DELILAH agent, Vance is almost killed by the group’s hulking henchwoman, High Tess, who murders a hapless cab driver for fun. Garde is taken to DELILAH headquarters, which is located in one of those ancient Mayan temples that are hidden within a hill, but apropros of nothing the entire place is attacked by primitive “troglodytes” who attack the women. When these cavemen are later tainted by the plutonium, which they think is a god, Garde is sickened as he watches the DELILAH women use their incredible karate skills to sadistically murder off all of the men.

Garde manages to make off with some of the plutonium without being contaminated, and he hooks up with Ballou only to learn that she’d been chloroformed by a DELILAH agent back at JFK airport. They return to the States to figure out where DELILAH might strike next, and of course Vance and Ballou soon attempt to have sex in Garde’s office, on a couch that has a folding matress inside it. Instead, after much oral chicanery, they both get stuck inside the couch. Here we learn that Ballou has very long and thin nipples and also an “expanse” of thick pubic hair; this being the ‘70s, it must’ve really been something, as Garde several times refers to it as a “forest!”

Anyway, as you can guess, the tricky couch again prevents Garde and Ballou from fully screwin,’ and yeah the joke’s really gotten old by this point. Garde’s always going on about his “anger” and “rage,” which he claims is caused by injustice, but you’ve gotta figure his permanent case of blue balls must have something to do with it. Anyway, he and Ballou next head for Marrakech, where DELILAH has apprently fled to.

This entire sequence comes off like page-filling – per Zebra Books norm, Garde Save The World! is much too long – but it is salvaged by the too-brief appearance of an Arabic Jew who haggles with Garde. And once again Ballou disappears, and once again Garde’s clueless where she went. Of course it turns out DELILAH has her, and the Marrakech sequence culminates in an over-the-top bit where Garde chases Petrolea and her cronies on a plane, and they have Ballou, and they toss her out of the plane, and Garde jumps out of his plane and sky-dives to the rescue!

Finally, we’re in the homestretch. Now Garde has tracked DELILAH down to Florida. He knows he’s crippled their organization, and he’s also taken back most of the plutonium from them, but they still have enough to create a bomb that will achieve their goal to ransom the world (if all corporations and etc aren’t turned over to women, DELILAH will unleash their nuclear bomb). Speaking of DELILAH’s goals, it was interesting to read this book so many years after publication, where the vast majority of the things Petrolea complains about (ie women not in any positions of power in coproprations or entertainment or etc) are no longer a reality. In fact, one could argue it’s now reversed.

The finale features Garde suiting up in scuba gear and taking an underwater channel that leads to the cave DELILAH operates from, which finally takes us back to that very opening scene. But it’s all anticlimactic, with Garde never once in the entire novel actually fighting these women; instead he throws “sonic disruptors” created in the VIBES labs into the cave, and it fucks up the women’s senses good and proper, and as Garde absconds with the plutonium the cave collapses, apparently killing off all of the remaining members of DELILAH. (Oh, and we learn what their acronym stands for: Destroy Entirely the Labia Invading Lordly Ass Holes. Seriously, that’s what it stands for. But don’t you think there should be a hyphen between “labia” and “invading?”)

All that taken care of, Garde and Ballou think they finally have a chance to screw; I mean come on, people, at least they have their priorities in order. So they drive to a nearby hotel and proceed to get busy, LaPlante again serving up all of the juicily explicit details. I thought he might at last just be done with it, have them screw and actually climax together and be done with it, like Charlie Brown finally kicking the football, and the unfunny recurring bit could go away. But nope; after lots of description of mutual noodling and fondling and almost screwing, the roof of their hotel is blown off, Florida being hit by a freak tornado. The end.

While I never applaud the abrupt ending of a series, I can’t say I’m sad there were no more volumes of Chameleon. I’ve only read two installments, and I’ve already grown annoyed with Garde’s constant questioning if he should continue fighting crime, not to mention the dude’s inability to screw a nubile woman who constantly throws herself at him. I mean seriously, what the hell kind of a men’s adventure protagonist is that? No wonder his adventures only lasted three volumes.

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