Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Proud Enemy (The Demu Trilogy #2)

The Proud Enemy, by F.M. Busby
June, 1975  Berkley Medallion

The Demu Trilogy continues with this second installment, which was published as a paperback original two years after Cage A Man.  Once again, though, I read the complete reprint of the novel as found in the 1980 Pocket Books paperback The Demu Trilogy.  Before The Proud Enemy, this anthology also features a mostly-forgettable short story titled “The Learning Of Eeshta,” focused on the young “female” Demu introduced in the first novel, and how she goes about learning of mankind; it originally appeared in If Magazine, and takes place in the final quarter of Cage A Man.

As for The Proud Enemy, it opens right at the ending of Cage A Man, thus giving the impression that this trilogy is indeed one long book.  As we’ll recall, that novel ended with hero Barton commanding the Demu starship he escaped from captivity, in, and now part of a fleet of 40 Earth starships that was about to set off on an assault upon the Demu homeworld.  However, more focus was placed in that novel on Barton's alien girlfriend, Limila, getting a bunch of plastic surgery to look human again, rather than this interstellar war plot.

Ultimately this will prove true for The Proud Enemy as well, but initially Busby does follow on with the space combat stuff. But it’s goofy and continues the juvenile tone of Cage A Man (ie, where Barton took over a Demu spacecraft and managed to fly it back to Earth and land unscathed). For, moments after the fleet launches into space, they all sort of hover there for a bit and Barton and Space Agency rep Tarleton get on the viewscreen and brief the other 39 ships on the objectives of the mission, complete with a rundown of Barton’s captivity and who the Demu are – and also the fact that there are a few aliens with Barton on his ship. 

This all made me laugh out loud. I mean folks, don’t you think such a briefing should’ve taken place before the armada took off from Earth? I mean clearly it’s all here for the readers who bought The Proud Enemy but hadn’t read the previous book; catchup material that just comes off as doubly ridiculous when collected here in The Demu Trilogy. But man it really is ridiculous, complete with Barton calling little Eeshta over to the viewscreen and having her pull up her robe so he can show the viewers her lobster-like exterior shell and talk about the sexual apparati of the Demu race! 

Actually, around this point something occurred to me about The Demu Trilogy. This juvenile tone, where a “regular” guy can escape alien captivity, steal one of their ships, hook up with another alien babe, and then fly back to Earth where he ultimately becomes the boss of a space armada – all this, really, could be seen as coming from Barton’s own imagination. In Cage A Man Busby stressed that Barton was able to survive his eight years of captivity via his skills with “hallucination,” where Barton would create a reality in his mind and escape there. So who’s to say the events of the trilogy itself aren’t just the product of Barton’s imagination, still trapped there in his Demu cell? But then again, as Alan Moore once said (no doubt while stroking his beard in deep thought): “Aren’t all stories imaginary?” 

I could press my theory without much effort. I mean, even though Barton et al are on a spaceship headed off into another galaxy to kick some alien ass, the plot soon becomes focused on…who sleeps in what bed. Barton’s ship, Tarleton explains, is special because it’s equally made up of men and women…so Barton can sleep with Limila and the other men and women can sleep with each other. Seriously, a whole bunch of narrative space is focused on this, and little details like description of the ship’s interior and etc are pushed to the side. And once again F.M. Busby is a “cut to black” author when any of the sexual material arises; there is absolutely nothing in the way of explicit material. 

Since the voyage lasts a long time, we also get material on how the bedmates are free to, uh, swap, though Barton doesn’t partake because as we’ll recall he’s in love with Limila, she of the 60 teeth, six fingers and toes, half-bald head, and boobs that hang low on her rib cage. Busby goes to great pains to show Barton’s complaceny with Limila’s alien nature, totally devoted to her and all, and it just seems strange to me because I must’ve missed the part where he fell in love with her in the first place. As stated in my review of Cage A Man, Barton and Limila’s star-crossed romance was forced into the narrative with little setup or explanation. 

Not that this stops Barton from some action on the side. Limila’s people, the Tilarans, are kind of reserved and overly formal, yet casual sex is the rule. Male and female Tilarans will openly fondle a person, moments after meeting them, if they find them attractive. Kids, don’t try this at home! My impression was Busby was taking the ‘70s swinger vibe into a sci-fi setting, and Limila takes off with an old boyfriend to spend the night with him the night they land on Tilara, and Barton meanwhile scores (off-page, naturally) with some Tilaran gal who starts fondling him. 

Busby’s powers of description are pretty weak throughout. Tilara is hardly described, and again, what we do learn is filtered through the rudimentary prism that is Barton’s mind – he can’t make “much sense” out of Tilaran traffic and architecture and whatnot, so Busby just leaves it at that. Again, one can easily argue that such topical details are limited because Barton’s imagination is limited, and he’s the one creating this entire scenario in his mind. But it is really lame; like a part where Barton goes to a Tilaran hospital and Busby notes that a Tilaran is sitting there, “reading,” and you’re left wondering, “Reading what?” I mean, do they have lurid-cover paperbacks on Tilara? Is the guy reading a notepad? Have they advanced to display screens? It’s just all so vague as to be maddening. 

Oh but I forgot: that bedswapping scenario on the ship leads to some confrontations. A young hothead named app Fenn, son of a Space Agency bigshot, bullies his way from one gal to the next, wanting to get all the sex possible. This frustrates the woman who was previously rooming with app Fenn, and Barton goes to soothe the guy, instead getting in a fight with him – Barton smashing app Fenn in the face with a chair. Later Limila goes to app Fenn to offer herself to him, explaining to Barton later that this is a time-honored Tilaran custom in which women call off the blood feud between two men. But when app Fenn sees that Limila does not have breasts (which we’ll recall were lopped off by the Demu in the previous book), he sends her back to Barton with the message that Barton can keep his “plastic woman.” 

Whereas this would lead to a violent confrontation in a typical novel, Barton instead seethes for a bit…and then Busby drops the ball entirely, with app Fenn getting in some other trouble when the crew lands on Tilara. Barton and app Fenn never even have a proper squaring off. As for Limila’s boobs, we get a repeat of the plastic surgery onslaught of the previous book, as Tilaran doctors graft on a new pair for her and put in teeth buds to regrow her second set of teeth, and yada yada yada. So much of this stuff is just retread of Cage A Man, I mean two volumes of this “trilogy” are devoted to Limila being turned into a Demu, then into a human, then finally back into a Tilaran. 

Things pick up when Hishtoo, the surly Demu captive, steals a ship, along with a few Tilaran hostages. Here Hishtoo gets his revenge, messaging back that he, too, will eat his captives, same as Barton did in Cage A Man. Barton gives chase in his own ship – and here we learn that space travel doesn’t make for the most thrilling action. Like when they spot Hishtoo’s ship, eventually, and to decelerate so they can come abreast him will take…approximately thirty-some days. It’s sort of like that throughout; Busby spends more time on characters sitting around in undescribed rooms on the ship, drinking stale coffee and eating various alien cuisines. 

Even crazier, The Proud Enemy doesn’t even lead to a thrilling conclusion. Instead, it sees Barton and comrades disguised as Demu and walking around on the Demu homeworld of Sisshain, where they come upon a massive spaceship that clearly was not made by the Demu. Instead, some ancient race preceded them and the Demu stole their tech from them; something that was alluded to by Tarleton in the previous book, but apparently a secret so devastating that the Demu are willing to sue for peace to keep it all a secret. 

So this second installment of the trilogy was pretty lame. Not much in it really happened, and what did happen mostly came off as a replay of stuff in Cage A Man. The trilogy concluded with End Of The Line, which appeared five years later in The Demu Trilogy. Since I’ve gotten this far I’ll be reviewing that one soon, too.

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