Thursday, August 25, 2016

Richard Blade #5: Liberator Of Jedd

Richard Blade #5: Liberator Of Jedd, by Jeffrey Lord
October, 1973  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication 1971)

The fifth installment of Richard Blade is once again courtesy Manning Lee Stokes, who appears with this series to be writing his own Voyage to Arcturus. Liberator Of Jedd takes all the macho themes and subtext of previous books and brings it all so to the fore that even Richard Blade himself notes it – indeed, Blade notices here how each “Dimension X” he visits is basically the same as the last, and that his exploits in each dimension all follow the same pattern.

Surely this is yet more commentary from Stokes on his own work, but as ever the man has invested so much of himself in his writing that you enjoy it all despite the repetitive nature. And Stokes, normally known for his high-brow style, appears to have challenged himself to use even more obscure words this time around; the novel is peppered with highfalutin words and prhases that you won’t encounter in too many other Conan ripoffs, that’s for sure.

More importantly, where other writers might be content to churn out a piece of hack-and-slash fantasy, Stokes goes to great lengths to make Liberator Of Jedd something more, with Blade this time ascending from the stone age to a bizarre future, all in the same world. It comes off like an allegory or even a myth – again, very much like Voyage To Arcturus. (Which also was a big inspiration to literary heavyweight Harold Bloom, whose Flight To Lucifer was inspired by it; several years ago I exchanged a few emails with Mr. Bloom, who was kind enough to provide more details about his obscure, overlooked novel.)

Liberator Of Jedd opens six months after the previous volume, the events of which aren’t even mentioned here. These opening quarters of the Richard Blade books are the only parts to feature any continuity; here we learn that Blade ventures to Dimension X once every six months, this rule enforced by MI6A boss J, much to the chagrin of the project’s chief scientist, Lord Leighton. But Blade has had a rough go with these sixth months of rest, and is now basically a drunk, given to “satyriasis,” which we’re informed is an all-consuming drive for sex.

In fact Blade when we meet him is shacked up in a cottage in the country, eagerly boffing latest bedmate Viki (who has “spectacular breasts”), to the point that the poor girl can’t take anymore of his good lovin’ (“You have made me so sore now I can hardly walk,” she complains). But no fear, as Viki is an “accomplished fellatrice,” and thus can take care of Blade in other ways – as ever, Stokes throughout treads the line between sleaze and literature in the infrequent sex scenes.

The opening half of Liberator Of Jedd is a bit different from what’s come before; Blade is strapped into his chair and about to be sent again into Dimension X – Lord L hopes for a return to Alba – but something goes screwy and instead something from Dimension X is brought over here. It’s a “hairy demon” that almost tears the control room apart before Blade smashes it down. Gradually – Stokes as ever takes his sweet time, so that the book really does appropriate the feel of an epic – we will learn that this creature is akin to very early proto-humans, sort of like the monkey-men in the “dawn of man” sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lord L will name the creature “Ogar,” after the sound it makes when hungry. Incapable of speech, Ogar has the rudiments of intelligence. Lord L insists upon studying him, leading to the strange outcome of Blade, clad only in a loincloth, living with the thing for a full month in a faux cave built beneath the Tower of London(!). Like a very bizarre sitcom or something.

After this month of bonding Ogar sufficienty sees Blade as his master, so it’s high time for the two of them to head back to Dimension X and exploit the hoped-for “mineral wealth” of Ogar’s home, wherever/whenever that might be, to of course be exploited for “H Dimension,” ie “Home Dimension,” use. But true to Stokes’s usual template, Ogar, despite such heavy buildup, is casually dispensed of, eaten by a strange beast mere moments after returning to his home dimension. Liberator Of Jedd also eschews the template of previous novels, with Blade this time venturing into more of a Stone Age than the faux-Hyperboria of earlier books. It’s a wild planet, populated by slavering, blood-hungry beasts, and the only humans Blade can find appear to be subservient to more apes, these ones more along the lines of the ones in Planet of the Apes.

Stokes indeed appears to be writing his own variation of that Pierre Boulle classic, only to change his mind midway through; indeed, these apes, which live along the coast and use humans as their slaves, are quickly cast from the book. (And they’re a sadistic bunch, too, even beating a female slave to death while Blade secretly watches and then gang-raping her corpse!) Instead Stokes focuses on a busty, nubile slave-babe who escapes the apemen, running of course right into Blade, who has sequestered himself in a hollowed-out colossal statue shaped like a man which lurks over the coast. The hot runaway is named Ooma, and when Blade catches her in one of his snares Stokes delivers one of his patented WTF? bits that are so strangely endearing – not to mention a reminder of the strange vibe of the series:

At that moment the breeze backed around a point or so. Blade stepped back a pace and sniffed at it – her odor was that of musky female secretions, natural, and not subject to the lavage of H-Dimension antiseptics. He sniffed again and felt desire rise in him. And knew that he was, at last, fully adapted to this particular X-Dimension.  

As we’ll recall, Richard Blade’s brain is uniquely suited to adapting to any dimension, thus he can communicate with the natives in their own language. He learns the girl’s name is Ooma and successfully cows her with his manliness, she being unable to defend herself in the savage wilderness. Indeed she will learn to call him “Blade master,” particularly after she tries to run away from him…and then has to come crawling back to him, more terrified of the forest monsters than Blade himself. The subjugation of the female is the central edict of the Richard Blade series, but this time out I also noticed another bit of subtext Stokes has so cleverly worked in – namely, that Blade can only fall in love with Dimension X women. This of course leads to a patented Stokes sex scene, which per his usual style goes from sleaze to profundity:

Ooma had none of Blade’s reservations. The more she caressed him the more her ardor grew. Her voice went high-pitched and her breath sobbed and whistled in her throat. She licked his body with her moist tongue and murmured words he did not understand. She stroked his swollen testicles with her fingers, performed a brief, but avid, fellatio, and then dug her hands into his hair and pulled him down atop her. She guided him into the sleek, wet, tight and rough-walled grotto. Blade was huge and Ooma small and the fricative sum was an unbearable agony of pleasure. It seemed to Blade, trying to prolong the blissful pain, that Ooma spent incessantly without ever losing her grip on him. Her muscular control was beyond anything he had ever experienced; she squeezed him and milked him and, when he could struggle no longer, she took the final gush of his sperm with a high-ringing cry of pleasure that skewered the forest night.

Blade lay on top of her, sweating and panting, still twitching and mindless, fighting his way back from the little death. It had been sex such as few men were privileged to know – barbaric and primitive sex with a unity, a wholeness, a lack of inhibition that even Richard Blade did not often come by. He was grateful. He was also wrung out, depleted, wasted and weary. His massive body was a cocoon nurturing an ennui and death-longing beyond all measure or telling. The past was blotted out, the present did not exist, the future would never be. The great lie of living was over. He could rest now. Sleep now – rest now – die now – 

Boy, no wonder Blade only falls in love with Dimension X gals! Ooma sticks with Blade for the majority of the middle half, which for the most part is a very long sequence of survivalist fiction; Blade and Ooma make their way through the dangerous forest, ascending to higher and higher terrain. The allegorical nature of the novel is brought to the fore, here, with Blade himself reflecting on the fact that, the higher he climbs on this strange world, the more advanced its people become. So that by the next time they meet foes, this time they’re of a higher evolutionary level than the apemen of the coast: these are the Api, 8-foot tall creatures that are a “cross between a gorilla and a baboon,” who go about wearing horned helmets and carrying swords (ie the cover image, perhaps once again drawn by Tony Destefano).

Here Blade has his first major action sequence in the novel; the Api are hired mercs who protect the land outside Jeddia, ie the capitol of Jedd, Ooma’s home. But the Api are notoriously bloodthirsty. Ooma is certain that they will kill Blade and rape her to death – the Api, monstrously endowed, are known to rip their female captives right in half. Thus begins the other main motif of the Richard Blade series, again aptly summed up by Blade himself: “Dominate or die.” As I wrote before, this series could almost be a balm for the rampant male emasculation of the modern day; Richard Blade, with his casual misogyny, his constant resort to “bluff or brawn,” has nothing in common with the domesticated heroes of today’s liberalized and feminized popular entertainment.

So Blade fights the Api leader, despite that the creature is much bigger and stronger than him, first bluffing that he, Blade, is an important notable on his way to Jeddia – and you damned apes will kindly keep your dirty paws off the girl. This goes on for quite a while, the Api not sure if they should believe Blade’s story or not, but it culminates just like you expected it would: Blade and the Api captain engage in mortal combat. This fght’s cool, with Blade even knocking the poor bastard’s eyeballs out before finishing him off. Afterwards it’s back to the “bluff,” with Blade, gifted with a silver tongue (among other things), succeeding in making the other Api fall for his story.

The land of Jedd continues with the evolutionary concept, as it’s somewhere in the Iron Age, per Blade’s reckoning. It’s also a dying city, the Yellow Plague having hit it recently. People turn yellow and then die cackling insanely. Blade stays with Ooma’s uncle and aunt for a while, and then ditches the girl, deciding to head on to the capital city of Jeddia – and hope you enjoyed Ooma while she was around, because she’s jettisoned from the narrative posthaste, never seen again (sort of). Instead Blade heads into Jeddia and checks out the scene: the ancient Empress is dying, and a grand vizzier sort named Nizra appears to be scheming for her power. There’s also “Child Princess Mitgu,” sequestered in her palace, who will supposedly assume control of Jedd.

Even here Blade muses how similar this is to all the other Dimension X worlds he has visited. In fact the guy is such an old hand at dealing with these situations that he immediately succeeds in his plan: gutting a few innocent guards and coating himself in their blood, he wakes up Nizra in his private chambers, presenting himself as the blood-spattered “avatar” of myth who was long ago prophecized to come save Jedd. This itself is yet another recurring theme – it’s amusing to think that all these dimensions have similar setups because all the worlds are the products of Richard Blade’s limited imagination, but the presence of Ogar earlier in the book negates that (not to mention the Russian agent who went to Dimension X, last time).

As in previous installments, Liberator Of Jedd becomes real heavy in the court politics in its final quarter, with Blade working a deal with Nizra. If the vizzier presents Blade as the promised avatar, then Blade will confer power to Nizra upon when the old crone dies. Of course, the two men will harbor great distrust for one another. When the Empress meets Blade, she tells him that, upon her death, he must marry the Child Princess and then take the Jeddians north, to the Shining Gate. Blade promises to do so; then he gets a gander at Mitgu, who you won’t be surprised is a little sexpot who likes to flounce around nude and promptly offers herself to Blade. He turns her down – due to the little fact that Mitgu’s like ten years old! But, as Blade’s Jeddian friends keep telling him, young Jeddian girls are much more mature than their years…indeed, only now does Blade realize that Ooma herself was barely in her teens, if that.

The biggest action scene is also the last one. Blade is lured into a trap, told that Ooma needs him – Blade has told no one of the girl and thus should have suspected something. But Blade, despite all that “bluff and brawn” and macho mystique, isn’t too sharp at times; more than likely this is more sly subtext from Stokes, the subtle chink in his hero’s armor. It’s a setup, courtesy Nizra; Ooma’s family is dead of the plague, forcibly given them by the Nizra-loyal Api, and plus poor Ooma herself has been gang-raped by the Api and tossed in the charnel pits! Good grief! It’s a hellish, desperate battle, as Blade and just a few loyal men are holed up in the cottage of Ooma’s family, heavily outmanned by the attacking Api. It’s a brutal fight, too, with Blade coaching his men on defensive strategy and whatnot.

As for Ooma, the poor girl’s dead when Blade finds her, but enough about her – he’s got to get to marrying Mitgu and all. Stokes at least wisely skips over describing the sexual shenanigans of the wedding night, what with his just having killed off Ooma so horribly. (Have no fear, he gets to it eventually, once he’s given his readers a moment to regather themselves – and the sex scene isn’t as long as the one with Ooma, and besides which it’s unsettling because Stokes has constantly reminded us that Mitgu’s a prepubescent…though with a “woman’s body,” of course….) Anyway it’s two weeks later and Blade has led the Jeddians to the Shining Gate, the captured Nizra and Api in tow. The Gate turns out to be a stainless steel wall – protected by a disintigrator ray!!

As mentioned, Liberator Of Jedd is very allegorical; now Blade has ascended into a future, sci-fi realm. Having made Nizra and the Api the unwitting guinea pigs for that disintigrator ray, Blade determines he and he alone is the only man who can safely enter the Shining Gate, ie the land of the Kropes – who turn out to be robots! But Blade, entering the silent, still city, is suddenly sick – he has the Yellow Plague(?!). He stumbles along, coming to a moving sidewalk, and approaches a mile-high tower fortress in the distance. A voice speaks in his mind, guiding him – a voice that claims to know who Blade is and where he has come from.

The voice belongs to a massive brain that rests alone inside a 40-foot tall metal tank on the top floor of the fortress. The brain relays it’s long story to Blade – the Jeddians of old were much more advanced, and built robots to do their work. The Jeddians would dispose of old parts, and thus tossed an old robot brain into a pond(!?)…the brain, you see, somehow kept its sentience, and slowly grew more powerful. Somehow it was able to gather the other robots together in revolt, to the point that the Jeddians were kicked out of their own advanced city and regressed over the centuries into this Iron Age.

But the brain, which grew bigger and more powerful, now has a problem – a tumor has been growing within it. The brain wants Blade to hop in the tank and cut out the tumor. In exchange the brain will turn off the disintigrator ray, open the Shining Gate, and welcome the modern Jeddians back into their ancestral home. Blade, half-dead from the fast-acting plague, hops in the tank with sword ready – and decides to hell with it. If he’s learned one thing, it’s that you can’t trust a giant robot brain that started life lying discarded in a pond. So he starts slicing and dicing, brain matter splattering everywhere – and at that moment he’s zapped back home by Lord L, who has been trying unsuccessfully to summon Blade home for weeks.

The finale of Liberator Of Jedd is given to J, who when we last see him is drunk as a lord and being shown home by a kindly police officer. It’s a week or two later, we learn, and Blade when he materialized back in the control room beneath the Tower of London was almost dead of a plague so unknown that specialists from America had to be flown in to combat it. But the old boy’s okay and expected to pull through – J you see thinks of Blade as a son, we learn this time, and has grown very protective of the guy.

And that’s that. No doubt written to a tight schedule like all the other installments in the series, Liberator Of Jedd nonetheless burns with a weird fire unexpected from the average Conan ripoff. Hell, if a known or even “literary” author had written this novel, academic eggheads would be debating the “hidden meanings” to this very day. But instead Liberator Of Jedd has been consigned to the dustbins of fiction like the rest of Stokes’s work, and more’s the pity – the guy, despite the inordinate padding of his books, the casual disregard for plot and payoff, was a damn talented writer, and I always look forward to reading his work.


Johny Malone said...

Very interesting. Great post!


I love your reviews of this series. When does Richard Blade get an HBO series?

Peter Brandvold said...

Great post! I'd love to know more about Manning Lee Stokes. Not much about him on the Net, as far as I can see.

halojones-fan said...

The video game series "Assassin's Creed" has a pretty similar premise.