Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Soul Stealers (aka Space Probe 6 #1)

The Soul Stealers, by Charles Huntington
No month stated, 1972  Award Books

Friends, I’ve stumbled upon yet another forgotten book series “produced” by book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel. Space Probe 6 ran for a whopping two volumes, both published at the same time, and came out through Award Books, which had enjoyed much greater success with Engel’s earlier series Nick Carter: Killmaster.

The two volumes were credited to Charles Huntington, and were copyright him as well, but if Space Probe 6 is like any other Engel production it’s likely Huntington was a pseudonym. If this is true, then it must’ve been by an Engel author I’ve not yet read; the closest author I can think of in Engel’s stable at that time would be Dan Streib. For The Soul Stealers is written in a clunky, sort of lifeless style, devoid of much description or spark, and does not have that professional polish so common in the other novels I’ve read produced by Engel.

Anyway, Space Probe 6 is basically Star Trek whittled down to just Kirk and Spock, with an Engel-mandatory sprinkling of sex and sadism added in. Instead of Captain James Kirk we here have Captain Matt Foyt, rough and tumble captain of the Scorpio, a barely-described spaceship which apparently has been sent deep into space to find a new home for humans, or something – again, the novel is so poorly set up and developed that you have no idea what’s going on. We’re told Foyt is a strong commander, chosen due to his heartiness (as displayed in the “Millennial Olympics”), but in truth the dude spends the entirety of The Soul Stealers either getting knocked out or sitting around in a “Detention Center” (where he also gets laid – a lot!).

Serving as the Spock to Matt’s Kirk is Ivan 3-69(M), an android who looks just like a man – indeed, he looks almost identical to Matt (average height, brown hair and eyes), which should give an indication of Huntington’s meager imagination and descriptive powers. “Ivan” is an anagram, for “Intra-Vehicular Android Navigator,” and he talks exactly like Spock, with a bit of the future Next Generation’s Data thrown in for good measure. But Ivan lacks the memorable charm of either, and for the most part is as bland as wallpaper, save for the fact that he’s a walking weapon of mass destruction:

Upon Matt’s command, Ivan could destroy an object with the deadly white omega ray (the same power used in Matt’s DSA and in the ship’s cannons); inject a dozen lethal or stunning poisons into an enemy with a mere touch of his hand; induce catatonic trance electronically; expel fatal nerve gas, virus, and bacteria; and last but not least, in a last-ditch emergency, dissolve himself in a thermonuclear cataclysm capable of completely disintigrating a land mass the size of Connecticut.

Matt’s “DSA” by the way is his Disintigrating Sidearm (Huntington is very fond of acronyms), not that he uses it much. The novel opens with the Scorpio running into “white-hot galactic waste” in deep space and having to make an emergency landing on the nearest planet. Luckily, the place turns out to have breathable air – not that Matt bothers to check any of this before leaving the ship. Actually Matt stumbles off the ship between chapters; having banged his head in the crash landing, he apparently lost his senses and wandered off the ship while Ivan was otherwise engaged with repairs.

But all this is just convenient setup so Huntington can get to the sadism more quickly. Matt is promptly captured by a pair of bland-looking humans in identical uniforms (again, the meager description and imagination, which is displayed throughout) who turn out to be androids themselves. These are the Zorrans, who rule this world, having conquered the Plantarns, ie humans. Matt has a convenient gizmo on his wrist which automatically translates any language spoken into English, and also translates his own words back into the alien language, but we’ll overlook the fact that this is a previously-undiscovered planet, so how could the language be in Matt’s gizmo?

It ultimately doesn’t matter. Matt is taken through a city in which humans are tortured and killed in public. Huntington writes as if this book were coming out through a grungier imprint like Belmont Tower, with lurid stuff here like a bound woman being raped to death by a gorilla. It’s not overly explicit or graphic but it’s sure as hell rougher than anything you’ll ever read in a Star Trek book, that’s for sure. Gradually Matt will learn that the Zorrans are “part human, a grotesque hybrid of electronic gadgetry and biology,” and they harvest the human Plantarns for their glands and other innards.

Accused of being a Plantarn spy despite his insistence that he’s a peaceful visitor from space, Matt is tossed in a Detention Center. He’ll spend the duration of the novel here. He’ll also get laid a lot here. After meeting some of the captured Plantarns in the place, Matt is quickly propositioned by pretty redhead Nyama, who informs Matt she is in her “heat period” and needs satisfaction. The ensuing sex scene lasts a sentence or two and is not at all descriptive, which makes Huntington’s focus on the rape and sadism elsewhere in the novel so strange. Afterwards Matt learns more about the Zorrans: originally created by the Plantarns to help with things, the androids eventually took over and began harvesting organs. Now they’re on a hunt for the human soul, which they further hope to augment themselves with.

Huntington opens up the novel with lots of back-and-forth between Matt and Konar, leader of the Zorrans – that is, the man who speaks for Zorr, “their supercomputer god and leader,” a massive computer panel with a large molded human head sitting on it; humorously enough, Zorr lurks behind a curtain, just like the Wizard of Oz. Konar is a little more believing of Matt being from another planet, and to get more out info of him he sends in his own sexpot – Lorya, “quite literally a sex machine,” an android programmed for sex. Will you be surpised that she looks basically the same as Nyama? At any rate, more naughtiness ensues:

The contact with her seemed to make an animal of him – he was driven to a frenzy, and she was perfect in every detail, as only a machine can be. Matt felt as though he would tear her to pieces before he was through, but she had been built to take punishment, and she lasted. Finally, when Matt’s explosion came, it was like a hot comet ravaging the deep tunnels of space.

Meanwhile Matt makes contact with Ivan – who himself is promptly captured. As if showing how bored he is with the entire affair, Huntington now has both captain and android in the Detention Center, but gradually Konar and the Zorrans want to get Ivan over to their side, mostly because they’d discovered he’s such a kick-ass android, what with those lasers that shoot out of his hands and stuff. So while Matt continues to sit around in the Detention Center, occasionally having more barely-detailed sex with Nyama, Konar and the Zorrans court Ivan, making him a general in their army. Huntington doles out a half-assed subplot where Ivan might be interested in joining the Zorran cause, what with him being a fellow android and all.

More sadism is displayed with periodic trips to the various experimentation rooms, where a sickened Matt sees Plantarn women put through various tortures, usually of a sexual nature. He also finds trash bins filled with Plantarn corpses, their innards harvested for Zorran use. It’s all very nightmarish, yet it’s all undone by the fact that Matt is such a cipher that you could care less about him, much less become concerned for him. There is I say a general air of “who gives a shit?” to the entire book.

But some of it’s so dumb it’s funny. Lorya is sent to Matt yet again, for another paragraph of sex, but this time the android appears to get off on it – another half-assed subplot has these Zorrans yearning to achieve real feelings, or something – and after the whopping orgasm she begs Matt to take her with him, beings that she’s in love with him. Then the Zorrans remote-control kill her and smoke comes out of her mouth! The sex scenes are themselves pretty funny, like yet another Matt-Nyama bout, while they’re still in the Detention Center:

And then Matt united with his Plantarn girl, and they both sucked in their breath at the pleasure of entry. Matt forgot the escape plan and Konar and Ivan’s separation from him, and thought only of the warm, writhing girl under him. And it was more beautiful than either of the other times, a space probe adventure of its own, finite and infinite, temporal and eternal, a thrusting, plunging, fulfillment of universal desire.

After over a hundred pages of sitting around (and getting lucky), Matt finally escapes the Detention Center, Ivan, Nyama, and other Plantarn redshirts in tow. Armed with his Disintigrator gun, Matt vaporizes several Zorrans, but there’s a lack of gore here, given that heads and whatnot just evaporate when Matt shoots them. From there the book becomes this drawn-out sequence of military fiction where Matt, in the Scorpio, leads the Plantarn forces in revolt against the Zorran overlords, crushing them. This all goes down in like six or so pages – not to mention a farewell boff from Zyama, who gamely enough accepts that Matt will leave her after all this is over.

Matt kills Konar in a belabored fight, and the Zorran cause is in ruins, and that’s that – Matt and Ivan strap themselves into Scorpio and blast off for their next (and last) adventure, in Nightmare On Vega 3. Boy, The Soul Stealers is 156 pages of tedium, a rare miss on Lyle Kenyon Engel’s part, and having read the book I can say there’s absolutely no mystery why it didn’t last beyond two installments.


Unknown said...

Hey Joe, another good review! One small thing: when you're describing Ivan, the word you're looking for is 'acronym', not 'anagram'.

Joe Kenney said...

Dammit! In my defense, though, I did at least get "acronym" correct later in the review! Thanks for the comment!