Richard Blade #8: Undying World, by Jeffrey Lord
July, 1973 Pinnacle Books
Manning Lee Stokes ends his tenure on Richard Blade with a whimper, not a bang; it seems clear to me that the poor guy peaked way back in #5: Liberator Of Jedd and has been coasting ever since. For that one – which in hindsight I’d say is my favorite of the eight volumes Stokes wrote, mostly because I remember it the most – was such a multi-layered, “everything and the kitchen sink” sort of affair that I suspect Stokes was unable to drum up any more enthusiasm.
And sadly this one’s lacking everything we know from the series…I mean it’s all still here, following the usual template, but it’s all so dispirited. Stokes fails himself, really, for the novel opens with Richard Blade, in London some unspecified time after the previous volume, suffering from impotence. Or, “A member of the limp phallus club,” as Blade thinks of himself. Despite taking tons of gorgeous babes to bed, Blade’s been unable to get it up for them, and has even resorted to visiting psychiatrists. One of them suggests “a new setting,” so Blade takes this as the doctor’s unwitting order to get back to Dimension X.
Stokes skips over the usual belabored setup of Blade’s other-dimensional jaunt, other than an off-hand mention that yet another potential replacement for Blade has failed; this one came back from his sole trip to DX repeating “The worm has a thousand heads” over and over. However the psychedelic “trip” scenes in which Blade travels into DX only get more outrageous; this one features a leggy blonde traveling with Blade on a train to Hell. But anyway I say Stokes fails himself because Blade’s impotence is just another indication of the validity of my “alternate reading” of Stokes’s work on Richard Blade: that all these trips to Dimension X are really just the products of Blade’s own limited imagination. Not only would this explain why each and every volume is mostly the same, but it would also explain how Blade’s troubles in Home Dimension are either mirrored or solved in Dimension X.
Thus, Blade has absolutely no problems getting it up in DX – and he even spends the first weeks as a royal stud, his mission to impregnate hundreds of women. Brace yourself for this one, folks: Stokes keeps all of it off-page! Indeed, there isn’t a single “full-on” sex scene in Undying World, not even the previously-mandatory bit where a busty native babe remarks something to the effect of, “You are very big” to our strapping hero. Even though Blade bangs more DX women this time than in any of Stokes’s others, there’s hardly any salacious content.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Upon his arrival in this latest patch of DX, Blade finds himself among a modernistic city filled with “sleepers,” humans with small antennae behind their ears. It’s as if they were all knocked unconscious en masse; Stokes fills pages with Blade exploring the place, finding an eerie scene of people just lying around as if they were frozen in time. There’s also a moon that’s somehow so close that Blade can not only see cities but cars on the road(!). Eventually he encounters the Gnomen, hairy primitives who live in the sewers beneath the sleeping city. The sleeping people are called the Morphi, and they were knocked into a centuries-long sleep by a “sweet-smelling bomb” dropped by the “orbfolk,” aka the Selenes, the high-tech people who live on the moon.
The recurring theme of the series (and Stokes’s work in general) is the “bluff or brawn” ethic, and posthaste Blade puts this to use, challenging the Gnomen who surround him. He kills two in a bloody battle, the Gnomen using hooked spears (as depicted on the cover, once again courtesy Tony DeStefano) and Blade using a sledgehammer. And per the template here Blade gets a loyal native follower: Sart, leader of this group of Gnomen, but per tradition bound as Blade’s slave due to being defeated by him. Regardless of this temporary victory, Blade is soon a prisoner of the Gnomen, who we learn are all sterile, save for their leader, Jantor. Oh, how could I have forgotten to mention this: prior to challenging the group of Gnomen, Blade stripped off his clothes and fought them in the nude…so one gander at that massive wang and Jantor wants to know if Blade can, uh, get it up.
So here is clear indication that all this is a product of Blade’s imagination…I mean he’s suffering from impotence in the “real world,” and here, in this fantasy world that he can only access via his mind, he finds himself in a situation where all other men are impotent, and only he can satisfy the women. You don’t have to be Harold Bloom to see the metaphorical connotations. So he’s put on stud duty, his order to screw an endless stream of Gnomen women. Stokes doesn’t give any details, picking up the narrative thread weeks later, with Blade having banged countless women already. You would think Stokes would’ve at least documented the first such bang, given that the entire first quarter of the novel was concerned with Blade’s concern over his impotence.
This might be because the Gnomen women are “a mangy lot, dirty and stupid” …not exactly the usual DX sort of babes with the bodies of Victoria’s Secret models. Save, that is, for Norn, a Gnomen woman who has “visited” Blade a few times. Given her general hotness, Blade favors her, insisting she take a bath(!) and grooming her a little before the – believe it or not – ensuing sex occurs off-page. I mean WTF, Stokes?? Anyway Blade soon deduces that Norn is spying for Sybelline, the white-haired, half-Morphi sexpot who co-rules the Gnomen. And for all you Richard Blade vets who can see an inevitable Blade-Sybelline boff coming, prepare to be shocked: it doesn’t happen, even though she throws herself at Blade a few times.
Here’s a funny story, friends – I was well over a hundred pages into Undying World when it occurred to me that hardly anything had happened! Blade spends a lot of time serving as Gnoman stud, learning what he can about the Jantor-Sybelline rivalry (another recurring bit – trouble in the palace and whatnot) and learning about the silent Morphi city above, which is powered by this deus ex machina device that can revive (or shut down) the Morphi people with the touch of a single button. I mean there isn’t even a failsafe or anything. Things finally pick up when Jantor summons Blade and tells him that together they’ll rule the Morphi city and etc, and meanwhile here’s my favorite daughter, Alixe – be sure to have a lot of sex with her.
Did I forget to mention that the Gnomen like to scrawl swastikas on their heads and practice incest? I often wonder what the hell was wrong with Manning Lee Stokes. Alixe turns out to be a troublesome, prepubescent nuissance, and enjoys sexually taunting Sark, Blade’s slave. Sark snaps and kills her, and he and Blade must escape deep beneath the Gnoman city, down to the power control center, Sybelline showing them the way. It all gets goofy with quick reactivations of the Morphi, and various turnarounds and betrayals. Soon enough Jantor’s Gnomen are up there raping and looting the silent city. The raping occurs while the Morphi women are still comatose, and they wake up to find that countles Gnomen have been at them, so they commit suicide by jumping off buildings, per Morphi custom. Again, I often wonder what the hell was wrong with Manning Lee Stokes.
As if things weren’t weird enough, Blade even goes to the trouble of shaving off his hair and smearing blood all over his half-nude body, so he can blend in with the raping and pilaging Gnomen. Then we have an arbitrary “Blade to the rescue” bit where he saves Norn, who has grown to love Blade (even though we’re reminded again and again that he doesn’t love her – I mean, as if!). She’s dangling over a pit of “mole rats,” ie the feral creatures depicted on the cover, clearly used as bait by Jantor. Things get even more haywire here with the surprise reactivation of all the Morphi, and a pitched battle ensues…then Stokes, even though he’s pages away from the end, realizes he forgot all about that moon with its high-tech Selenes, so he has Blade summoned up there by its godlike rulers.
At this point the reader wonders why the entire damn book hasn’t been set up here…not only are the Selenes, aka the orbfolk, so technologically advanced that they have spaceships and sci-fi weaponry, but they even have their own DX technology, and have sent their own people out into the various dimensions!! I mean folks, this is the sort of thing you focus an entire novel on, not just the last five or six pages. Blade has a glib conversation with his Selene handler, his head pains alerting him to the fact that his return to HD is imminent, and sure enough he’s zapped back. The novel ends with our reassurance that Blade’s impotence has been cured; the scientific formula he brought back from the Selenes may “gibberish,” but by god he gets a hard-on at the sight of a hot nurse…
And this is the sad end of Manning Lee Stokes’s duty on Richard Blade. At least he ended where he began, focusing on Blade’s dick. But his exhaustion is evident – he never showed much variety in his novels, and there’s only so long you can keep banging out the same story. My assumption is this book, like the previous volume, was one Stokes wrote a couple years before publication; note Pinnacle published both volumes the same month. He would be replaced on Richard Blade by Roland Green, who wrote the series until Pinnacle cancelled it a decade later; I look forward to seeing how his work compares to Stokes’s.