Monday, October 30, 2023

The Neural Atrocity (The DNA Cowboys #3)


The Neural Atrocity, by Mick Farren
No month stated, 1977  Mayflower Books

The DNA Cowboys “trilogy” wraps up with this third installment that begins soon after Synaptic Manhunt. In fact the two installments come off as one novel, whereas first installment The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys still seems like a book disconnected from the series. Even more so with this last one, as all the characters continue with the retconning that occurred in Synaptic Manhunt; The Minstrel Boy is a “nothings”-navigating “tracker” and prepubescent adult AA Catto is a would-be conqueror, looking to dominate the entire ruined Earth with her minions of black-armored shock troops. 

Catto is even more unhinged this time around. Mick Farren clearly intends her to be some sort of post-apocalypse Hitler, and her scenes, which all take place in the city of Quahal (which she first conquered last volume), are certainly inspired by Hitler in the bunker in the final days of the war. Catto becomes increasingly insane as the novel progresses, her only ally Nancy, the pearl-skinned hooker who joined up with Catto last volume. The two enjoy more lesbian shenanigans, but Nancy finds herself more and more the victim of Catto’s frequent tantrums. 

Speaking of which, Farren continues pushing buttons: The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys featured a random part where Reave, one of the titular “DNA Cowboys” (though the phrase has still not appeared in the books themselves), had sex with some albino dude. Well late in The Neural Atrocity, the Minstrel Boy and Billy Oblivion are approached by monks who claim to be there to serve their every need (male monks, just to confirm), and the Minstrel Boy puts them to the test by having one of them give him a blowjob! 

One new thing Mick Farren introduces here is that Catto has developed a penchant for having Stuff Central (ie the vast computer that serves up whatever a person orders) create clones of previous celebrities, and Catto will have her sadistic way with them until she has them dumped in the compost bin or whatever. So there’s lots of annoying stuff where Catto will have this resplendent meal with all these clones of long-dead notables, and the one that gets the most attention is the clone of Elvis. Catto and Nancy enjoy this one the most, so there’s a bit of clone-sex and sadism at play too. 

But for the most part The Neural Atrocity is focused on war and carnage; when we meet Billy and the Minstrel Boy, they’re in a new city that is being waylaid by Catto’s shock troops. Once again they’ve hooked up with, uh, hookers, and once again Billy’s become the pimp of the one he’s with – a recurring bit from the previous book. Despite the war raging outside, Billy is more upset that the Minstrel Boy has two girls in his room, while Billy is stuck with just one. 

There’s a goofy part where Billy has sex with this hooker…but he’s had so much sex with her over the weeks (as it’s literally all she wants to do) that he’s grown bored with it. So Farren actually writes an entire scene in which Billy goes through the motions, humping dutifully away just to get it over with. Almost as if Farren were spoofing the entire “exploitative” angle of pulp – I mean there’s nothing like a fairly explicit sex scene in which the protagonist is bored – but also it ties back to the previous book, where Billy was bored being stuck with his previous hooker girlfriend. Maybe Farren’s trying to tell us that hookers are only fun if you don’t start a relationship with them… 

As ever though our heroes are kind of lame. Billy and the Minstrel Boy do little except hide and have sex with their hookers; there’s no part where they decide to wipe out their old enemy Catto. This job falls to that other loser from the previous book: Jeb Stuart Ho, the kung-fu monk who was introduced as such a badass but ultimately turned out to be a buffoon…one who didn’t even succeed in his mission to kill AA Catto, but instead went back to his temple to report his failure. This time he’s given a pep talk by his leaders and goes back out into the fray again, determined to stop Catto and her attack on the world for real this time. 

Action is given more focus this volume, but again Ho carries the brunt of it. There’s a bit of kung-fu and swordplay, and again he uses a pistol. But Farren is more focused on the atrocities carried out by Catto’s troops, and the relish Catto takes in hearing about them. But as mentioned she becomes increasingly nuts as the book proceeds, with Farren hammering the “Hitler in the bunker” stuff, complete with Catto being whacked-out on various drugs and paranoid to the point of delusions. Catto carries the brunt of the narrative; her or Jeb Stuart Ho, to the point that the supposed DNA Cowboys – Billy and the Minstrel Boy – barely appear. 

You’ll notice there’s one DNA Cowboy I’m not mentioning. SPOILER ALERT – skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know. But anyway, I have not mentioned Reave. This is because he was killed off in the final pages of Synaptic Manhunt. But it happened so casually, with such little exploitation, that it almost seemed as if Farren were implying that Reave was just injured and not really dead – as it happened, he was shot at while escaping with some others, and fell down, but he was off in the distance and it’s possible he could’ve just been hurt; even Billy seemed unsure. Well, Reave isn’t even mentioned in The Neural Atrocity, which would indicate he’s well and truly dead…except for the fact that he seems to appear in The Last Stand Of The DNA Cowboys, the fourth volume of this, uh, “trilogy.” 

Well, that’s it for the spoilers, but I’ll also hint that the finale of this one wasn’t very satisfactory. I kept hoping for some comeuppance for a certain increasingly-annoying character, but it didn’t happen, and Jeb Stuart Ho proved himself as buffoonish as ever. Worse yet, Billy and the Minstrel Boy spend the last quarter of the novel just trying to escape the apocalyptic events (Stuff Central being shut down, the vanishing of certain towns, etc),  So the two of them basically disappear for long stretches. 

So then, the DNA Cowboys Trilogy comes to a vague and surreal finale, with Billy and the Minstrel Boy going through the nothings to some new town, with no idea what to do. This is how Mick Farren left the characters for several years…until he decided for whatever reason to revisit them in 1989’s The Last Stand Of The DNA Cowboys. Curiously, this one was initially a paperback original in the US, even though the original books had never been published here. I have that one as well, and will read it anon – it’s longer than the original three volumes, and a glance at its contents would indicate it’s more of a “real” novel, at least when compared to the surreal escapades of the original books.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Terrible Ones (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #13)


The Terrible Ones, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1966  Award Books

I hereby take back my sexist comment that female authors can’t write men’s adventure novels – or at least I’ll amend it to that some female authors can write men’s adventure novels, and Valerie Moolman proves that she is one of those very few with this installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster. Which is ironic, because Moolman is the Killmaster author who inspired my sexist comment in the first place. 

But man, Moolman really delivers this time, with plentiful (and at times quite violent) action scenes and even a sex scene that goes on for pages in fairly explicit fashion. And sure, Nick Carter friggin’ falls in love this time around, but we’ll pass that off as maybe Valerie Moolman having her tongue in cheek, because I think practically anyone who has read a men’s adventure novel can figure out what happens to the girl Nick falls in love with. Otherwise The Terrible Ones indicates that Moolman, who wrote the initial volumes of the series, might have around this time become acquainted with the work of series newcomer Manning Lee Stokes, who delivered a much more brutal version of Nick “Killmaster” Carter than the one depicted in the first volume

What I mean to say is, the “Nick” (as he’s referred to in these early volumes) seen here is not much at all like the Nick in the other Moolman installments I’ve written, and seems more like a prefigure of the arrogant, sexually-baiting Nick of the later Jon Messmann installments. The latter comes to play with his acidic banter with a female guerrilla he hooks up with during the book; their venomous spatting, with Nick heavily laying on the sexual innuendo, reminded me a lot of the stuff in the almighty Sea Trap (still one of my all-time favorite men’s adventure novels ever). And Nick is more quick to fight and kill this time around…though, now that I think of it, Moolman’s Nick was always fairly brutal, like when he “jokingly” gassed to death legions of men in Hanoi

Well anyway, we get into it pretty quick, with Nick when we meet him scaling a cliff on a dark night in Haiti, and he’s just gotten here on a new mission with very vague explanation from boss Hawk, the briefing only shown in flashback. The more important thing here is that Nick’s scaling the cliff with “metal claws” on his hands and feet, and turns into a proto-Wolverine when he gets up top and is discovered by a Cuban. Here’s where I realized this wasn’t the typical Valerie Moolman installment, as Nick hacks the dude up good and proper (“The fellow’s guts were dribbling out”), not to mention a guard dog he later encounters. In fact these metal claws are so focused on in the book that the copywriters at Award even noted them in the first-page preview, “the man with the claws.” 

There’s a definite fun factor throughout as Nick is chagrined to learn that his local contact isn’t “Paolo;” due to a communications snafu it’s actually Paula, a hotblooded (and, naturally, hotstuff) blonde who takes an immediate dislike to Nick. This is where the acidic banter comes into play, as the two constantly try to one-up each other in the putdown stakes, or match their fighting skills. Paula is a member of the titular “Terrible Ones;” the title has you expecting some legion of cruel Chicom sadists (ie the mandatory villains in the eary Killmaster years), but in reality the name is more of an intentionally misleading one, as the Terrible Ones are all…beautiful young women from the Dominican Republic. Or, rather, beautiful young widows, their husbands having been executed for plotting against former Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo. The novel is very much of its time here, as Trujillo is constantly mentioned with no explanation or setup; his name likely resonated much better with readers in 1966 than it does in 2023. 

To clarify, the Chicoms do factor into this one, too; a subplot concerns Dr. Tsing-fu Shu, here in Haiti for something called “Operation Blast,” and also leading a secret operation to find a cache of $100 million in gold that Trujillo supposedly hid here in Haiti – the same thing the Terrible Ones have come to Haiti to find. Indeed, the plot is rather busy, and given that Nick is thrown into it with little preparation or setup, discovering things as he goes along, one can almost figure this is a sign of Valerie Moolman herself winging her way through the plot. I have to admit, though, that the sections with Dr. Shu and his minion Tom Kee were a bit trying, mostly because they took away from the Nick-Paula sequences. 

And these, as mentioned, are pretty great. Moolman does a great job developing the relationship; it is clear as day to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the series that Nick will have sex with Paula. I mean given that we are informed how pretty and busty she is in her intro, it’s really only a matter of when the Killmaster will have her. The fun of it is how it develops. As mentioned there are a lot of fireworks between the two, and Moolman delivers some humorous banter. But when Paula sees the Killmaster in action, her feelings start to change – indeed, to the point of “love!” Yes, folks, the blonde beauty (she explains why she’s blonde even though she’s from the DR, by the way) tells Nick she loves him when she gives herself to him…and, crazily enough, Nick starts to feel the same way about her during the several-page boink that ensues! 

Like I said, you don’t need a master’s degree in men’s adventure to see where all this is going. The important note here is that Moolman ignores the series requirement that Nick enjoy the company of three different women per volume; Paula is his only conquest in the book, but boy does Moolman make it count. It does go on and on, and as mentioned it’s fairly explicit. Nothing to the outrageous levels as seen on later Lyle Kenyon Engel productions like The Baroness, but still more risque than any of the sex scenes I’ve yet read in a contemporary Killmaster

Nick, by the way, loves Paula because she is so much like himself – a resourceful, hardy individual who is caring for others but who can kill when necessary. Moolman does strive to make Paula Nick’s soul mate, but the veteran series reader can’t help but remember Julie Baron, a recurring character in the earliest volumes who was also put across as Nick’s equal, soul mate, star-crossed lover, or what have you. Given that she’s only just been introduced with this volume, and Julie (sometimes “Julia”) Baron had already been in a few volumes at this point – and would be in several more – Paula doesn’t really match up. But man, Nick even talks about being with her “after” the mission and whatnot…it’s like the dude is basically declaring her death sentence. 

Yet at the same time, it’s absolutely without sentiment. This book is such a harbinger of a lost time that Paula is multiple times referred to as a “bitch,” ie “This bitch of a girl,” and at the end of the book (after they’ve declared their love for one another, btw), when Paula taunts Nick that he’ll have to take her and the other Terrible Ones along with him on his climactic assault, we’re informed, “The bitch was smiling at him.” It’s humorous that a female author is able to dole out such misogyny, so again I can only congratulate Ms. Moolman – I was thoroughly impressed. Stuff like this is almost like a slap to the face in our thoroughly domesticated and emasculated era of “strong empowered women” who must never, ever, but ever be questioned or criticized.  Not to mention once-masculine heroes who have been neutered by the adherents of a runaway ideology. 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention something interesting. The cover art for The Terrible Ones was later recycled for The Black Death, a Manning Lee Stokes installment that also took place in Haiti…and included a part where Nick pretended to be a zombie so as to scare some superstitious native soldiers. Early in The Terrible Ones Nick, still with those claws, pretends to be some sort of mountain demon or something, lurking in the shadows and emitting all these unearthly howls and growls to the increasing dismay of the native soldiers who are hunting for him. It’s all pretty goofy but at the same time another harbinger of an early time, as Nick hacks to friggin’ pieces the guard dog the soldiers send into the cave after him. So we have here a “hero” who calls his “one true love” a “bitch” and kills dogs…this is clearly not a hero who would much resonate in 2023, but as mentioned I loved it just because it was so different. 

Action wise the novel’s good but it operates on more of a suspense and tension tip. There’s a great part where Nick and Paula are captured by a trio of Cuban soldiers and Nick undergoes the torture that was mandatory in the earliest volumes; this part sees yet another memorable appearance of Pierre, the tiny gas bomb Nick keeps hidden by his balls. The finale is also pretty cool, with Nick and some of the Terrible Ones congregating on “the temple of the blacks,” which is an old monastery populated by monks in face-covering black cowls. Again Moolman here delivers a bit more violence than in the previous installments of hers I’ve read – and also she attempts (and mostly succeeds) in giving the end of the book much more of an emotional impact than the series norm. 

Overall I really enjoyed The Terrible Ones, and I was happy to be reminded that a series ghostwriter can throw a curveball and turn in something not at all like what you expected.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Slaughter Realms: The Post-Nuke Pulp Spoof That Never Was

 

Slaughter Realms: The Post-Nuke Pulp Spoof That Never Was 

Back in the early days of the blog I came across a website dedicated to “Slaughter Realms,” which was purported to be “a seminal pulp series during the heyday of post-apocalyptic fiction,” one that was “almost forgotten now.” Clearly a spoof of Gold Eagle’s Death Lands (which I so dislike I’ve never reviewed a single volume of it in the 13 years of this blog), Slaughter Realms was a facetious spoof of the pulp-fiction factory…courtesy a former Gold Eagle/Death Lands writer: Alan Philipson, whose work I mainly know from Gold Eagle series SOBs

The Slaughter Realms website was centered around a “lost” final manuscript for Slaughter Realms, written by the longest-running author on the series: Daniel Desipio. The schtick was that “newly-discovered” chapters would be published each site update, but only five chapters (plus a Prologue) were ever published. 

It was an interesting attempt on Philipson’s part, both satire and tribue to the genre that he’d worked in for decades. The series setup was incredibly busy, more fantasy than the post-nuke pulp one might expect, featuring “Martian Time King” villains, Runic weapons, an “Iroquois Ninja Princess” protagonist, and taking place in the future. The humorous background “history” for the series has it that Slaughter Realms was the work of “eight anoymous English Lit majors – hyper-caffeinated, half-starved, sans sleep for 36 hours and locked in a windowless, basement conference room,” who wrote the series “in return for five ‘Meat Lovers’ pizzas with double cheese, a six-pack of Olde English forties, and their promised eventual freedom.” 

In fact, I got more enjoyment out of this spoofy metatextual background than the “lost chapters” themselves – I never actually read them, and indeed forgot about the entire Slaughter Realms enterprise. (Fortunately, though, I saved the website to my Chrome favorites.) As I recall, there was also a forum on the site, and I remember going on there and seeing comments from readers, so hopefully some of you out there remember Slaughter Realms and we can get some kind of closure on what happened to it. 

It’s clear though that Alan Philipson shut it down some years ago – my assumption is he wasn’t making any money off it or he just lost interest. The site appears to have last been updated with a new chapter in 2009, and then was taken offline in 2013. The site is gone, but hey – that’s why god invented the Wayback Machine. Luckily I still had the old URL address! 

So, here is the website as it was last captured, where you can read the various background sections and the five completed chapters: 


On a bummer note, you can only read the first page of those five chapters…due to how Philipson created the site, the chapters are pop-ups, and the WayBack Machine is only showing the first page of each. And even worse the “plain text” link for the complete five chapters does not work in any of the site captures the WayBack Machine made of the website. Did anyone out there save the Prologue and five chapters as a text file? If so, please let us know! But it is kind of ironic, isn’t it – a pseudo “lost” novel has now really been lost. 

As I mentioned here before, Alan Philipson’s real name is Mark Mandell. He’s published men’s adventure novels under both names, but the About Alan Philipson page on the old Slaughter Realms site actually provided a very subtle clue that “Alan Philipson” was really Mark Mandell. There we read that Philipson “was waylaid by rock and roll…during his university years,” and “a song of his was released on a compilation CD set Love Is The Song We Sing by Rhino Records.” 

Off to Discogs.com I went to research this release – and there found “Mark Mandell” credited for lead vocals and rhythm guitar (as well as for writing the song) as a member of the group Notes From The Underground, on the 1968 track “Why Did You Put Me On:” 


Pretty cool – who would’ve thought this guy would go on to write violent action novels in the ‘80s??

Anyway, let me know what you all think of Slaughter Realms, and if anyone out there remembers it, or has the published chapters to share…and also if Mr. Alan Philipson is out there and would like to comment, that would be awesome, too! Maybe he could consider finishing the project and putting it out there for all to enjoy – I’m sure there are some modern pulp publishers that would be happy to talk to him about it!

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Synaptic Manhunt (The DNA Cowboys #2)


Synaptic Manhunt, by Mick Farren
No month stated, 1976  Mayflower Books

The DNA Cowboys “trilogy” continues with this second installment that was supposedly written right after the first. But if I didn’t know any better I would’ve assumed that Synaptic Manhunt was written at some much later date, as it introduces new characters to the series and changes previously-established characters to fit the whims of the new plot. Whereas The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys flitted from one surreal adventure to the next, this one follows more of a standard plot with actual repercussions for the characters. It’s almost like the previous book was a warm up and Synaptic Manhunt is the actual start of The DNA Cowboys

The biggest change is that we suddenly have a new protagonist: Jeb Stuart Ho, a kung-fu monk who lives in a monastery and is sent out on his first mission as an “executive,” his goal to assassinate someone who threatens the entire world. And who is this global threat? None other than AA Catto, the self-involved socialite woman in the body of a 12-year-old girl. Whereas The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys merely had it that Catto was a narcissitic and depraved wanton, the sudden revisionism now has it that she’s like a female Hitler or somesuch, one with delusions of grandeur and dominance, and it’s only a matter of time before she puts together an army and tries to take over the world. 

So it’s Jeb Stuart Ho’s job to keep this from happening – and once again, it’s “Jeb Stuart Ho” every single time this guy is mentioned in the narrative, same as it’s “AA Catto” every single time Catto is mentioned. Not sure why Mick Farren has this strange authorial quirk, but it’s annoying. Ho (as I’ll refer to him!) is clearly inspired by David Carradine in the contemporary popular culture hit Kung-Fu, but Farren doesn’t spend as much time on his background or training or whatnot. Instead, Ho gears up in an armored leather suit, grabs his sword, nunchucks, and pistol (I love it that “executives” don’t relegate themselves solely to bladed weaponry) and heads out into the nothings to track down and kill AA Catto – who meanwhile has moved into a new city, where she’s again looking for the latest kick. No mention is made of her brother or the other recurring characters in the Catto sections of the previous book, again giving the impression that Synaptic Manhunt is from a different series entirely. 

On that same note, whereas The Minstrel Boy was an aloof, sometimes inexplicable presence in that previous book, here Farren has turned him into one of the main characters. Not only that, but he’s suddenly gained superpowers; we learn here that he’s a “searcher,” able to divine his way through the “nothings.” Finally Mick Farren bothers explaining the surreal fabric of this world. Apparently it’s some centuries(?) after things fell apart due to some catastrophe, and now locations are separated from one another by the dizzying non-space of the “nothings,” and the Minstrel Boy is one of the very few who can actually find his way through the nothingness. 

This, then, explains how he was able to constantly show up in various places in The Quest Of the DNA Cowboys, at least sort of. Here he’s drafted by Jeb Stuart Ho to find the city AA Catto is now in – the book is so disconnected from the previous one that Catto isn’t even in the same place anymore, but has abruptly moved to a new place called Lutz, where she’s again on the endless hunt for depravity. Another thing that Farren adds to the books, which is quite prescient, is that credit cards are very important; it’s a cashless society, and the Minstrel Boy will only take the job if Jeb Stuart Ho, who is financed by his wealthy temple, agrees to allow the Minstrel Boy to withdraw whatever amount he wishes upon completion of the job. 

A funny thing about the novel is the subtext, early on, that Billy and Reave, the ostensible heroes of the previous book, are both ensnared by women at the start of Synaptic Manhunt. Reave has become the literal plaything of AA Catto, who controls Reave with a collar he wears around his neck and can’t remove; Catto has a ring that allows her to send flashes of pain through the collar, the level of pain depending on how angry she is. Meanwhile Billy, who split off from Reave at the end of the previous book, happens to be in the same city, but has become “Billy the Pimp” because he oversees the business affairs of his girlfriend, a hooker named Darlene. Even though he’s not in a pain-collar like Reave, Billy is still at the beck and call of his woman; one could almost see this as Farren’s subtle message that young men should stay focused on their quest for fun and thrills and not get tied down with one single woman, as nothing but pain and misery will result. 

This setup doesn’t last too long, though; an interesting thing here is that characters who were previously friends are set against each other. AA Catto, learning that a temple assassin has a contract on her, hires a group of local toughs – including Billy – to serve as her security. And meanwhile the Minstrel Boy is working for the man who wants to kill Catto. However Farren doesn’t make much out of his three heroes reuniting; indeed, Billy and Reave reunite off-page, and there’s no camaraderie between the two, let alone with the Minstrel Boy when he shows up. For the most part the Minstrel Boy is here reduced to being Ho’s sidekick, and worse yet there’s a part later on where the Minstrel Boy is drugged so that he has laser-focus and can doggedly track down one particular person in the nothings – a dangerous drug that could potentially kill him, but also turns him into a veritable zombie while it’s in effect. 

Another new character shows up, another hooker: Lame Nancy (later just “Nancy”), an acquaintance of Billy’s hooker girlfriend, but one with more of a fondness for women. She’s “all white,” with crewcut white hair and “pearl” skin, all of it set off by the black brace she wears on her withered leg. I’ve now finished the trilogy and Nancy turns out to be a main character, which is funny because when she’s first introduced you figure she’s just going to be another one-off character in the sprawl of the narrative. Eventually she hooks up with AA Catto and becomes her closest confidant and bedmate; Farren is sure to turn in a few sapphic trysts between the two, but once again the novel is not very explicit, at least not when compared to some of the other stuff I’ve reviewed here. 

Action is sporadic and it too isn’t very exploitative. Another funny thing is that Jeb Stuart Ho is introduced as this total badass, but he too turns out to be the typical Mick Farren loser protagonist, bumbling through his adventures and being reprimanded by the people he encounters, in particular The Wanderer, an old man who is a fellow “searcher” like the Minstrel Boy. The picaresque vibe of The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys is for the most part gone this time, as Farren really focuses on the “manhunt” for AA Catto, including such memorable scenes as Catto commandeering an airship in her escape from Lutz. 

The final quarter of the book takes place in Quahal, a place where all “advanced” technology is forbidden, destroyed by floating robot-things that show up, confiscate anything high-tech, and incinerate it. That said, they seem to leave guns alone, deus ex machina be damned. Here Farren indulges in what appears to be a sudden decision to write a fantasy novel, as Quahal is run by armored knights on horseback, and AA Catto challenges their queen to rule the place. After which she has her own army and is finally free to conquer the world, something which she’s apparently wanted to do for a long time, though you never would’ve gotten that idea from the previous book. 

Another new element this time out is Stuff Central, which reminded me for all the world of the Acme mail order stuff in old Looney Tunes cartoons. Basically it’s a computer that spits out whatever you request from it, and ultimately Catto starts putting together her own made-to-order army from Stuff Central, as well as a few Jeb Stuart Ho replicas to confound the actual Ho. It’s all very busy but still has that reserved, almost disconnected vibe of the previous book, to the extent that nothing packs much impact. Even when a major character is killed off in the final pages of the book, the death doesn’t even register…you just keep thinking he’ll show up again later (though having read the last book in the trilogy I can report that he does not!). 

While I mostly enjoyed The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys, I didn’t much care for Synaptic Manhunt. The storyline with AA Catto suddenly becoming a would-be Alexander the Great just didn’t work for me, and I found new guy Jeb Stuart Ho more of a buffoon than the badass Mick Farren intended him to be. I mean he asks way too many dumb questions to be a badass action hero. Given that at this point Farren has decided he is indeed writing a trilogy (we’ll overlook that he published a fourth installment several years later…but I’ll read that one eventually too), this means that Synaptic Manhunt does not come to a close – the events are continued in The Neural Atrocity, which I’ll be reviewing next.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Repost By Request: Toga Trash Lists

Over the past week I’ve received emails from two different people asking if I could re-post my old toga trash Amazon lists, which I posted a link to here on the blog back in 2010…back in those na├»ve days when I didn’t realize that certain words would set off search filters.  And for that reason I will not link to that old post here...I mean things have gotten pretty Big Brother lately, so no need to set off any prudish AI bots.

Well anyway, it appears that friggin’ Amazon has deleted my Listmania lists (it looks like they’ve gotten rid of all Listmania lists, in fact), so the links on that old post no longer work. You can’t even find the old Amazon URLs on the Wayback Machine. Luckily in 2008, after creating the lists, I saved them as a Word doc, so here are the books I listed way back then as my top-recommended “toga trash” paperbacks: 

Swords, Sandals, Sex, and Sin: Good ‘N Trashy Historical Fiction 
A Listmania! list by Joe Kenney "buttergun" (Dallas, TX USA) 

The list author says: "Trashy in a good way -- no "detectives in togas," no poorly-written military fiction, no thinly-veiled Christian glurge. Just fiction that revels in the decadence, opulence, and violence of the ancient world. Click through for more info on each; I plan to eventually review them all. Drop me a line if you know of any similar titles!" 

1. The Way of the Gladiator by Daniel P. Mannix 
 
The list author says: "1958. Originally published as "Those About To Die." A novel in all but name, presented as a history book. Graphic depictions of the games; no doubt served as inspiration for many of the gladiator scenes which appear in the below books." 

2. Messalina by Jack Oleck 

The list author says: "1959. The story of Messalina, sadistic and adulterous wife of Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome. Filled to the brim with sex and intrigue; don't let the early publication date fool you, as there's nothing "old fashioned" about this novel." 

3. Clodia by Robert Demaria 

The list author says: "1965. "The most popular lay of ancient Rome." -- So proclaims the cover blurb on the 1969 Sphere mass market paperback. The sexploitative saga of the lacscivious Clodia and how she seduces and crushes the once-innocent poet Catullus. Takes place during the final years of the Republic." 

4. Rogue Roman by Lance Horner 

The list author says: "1965. Graphically-descriptive tale of a mime-turned-gladiator-turned-Nero-impersonator in the mid-1st Century CE. Good and lurid historical trash fiction fun." 

5. The Last Nights of Pompeii by Martin Saul 

The list author says: "1966. Short novel about a doomed love which plays out around the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. Features a strange subplot which just exudes misogyny." 

6. Child of the Sun by Kyle Onstott Lance Horner 

The list author says: "1966. The life and loves of 3rd Century CE emperor Elagabalus, who introduced a new religion to Rome, dressed like a woman, loved boys, and once accidentally smothered dinner guests with a shower of flower petals." 

7. The Gladiators by Martin Saul 

The list author says: "1966. Story of a gladiator during the reign of Nero, by the author of "Last Nights of Pompeii" (#5 above)." 

8. Theodora by Jack Oleck 

The list author says: "1971. Oleck's follow-up to "Messalina" (#2 above), this time recounting the equally-lascivious and sex-craved exploits of 6th Century CE empress Theodora, wife of Justinian." 

9. I, Cleopatra 

The list author says: "1977. Lurid, massive novel posing as Cleopatra's memoirs. Strangely, was written by a man!" 

10. The Empress by Robert Demaria 

The list author says: "1978. DeMaria's follow-up to "Clodia" (#3 above). The story of Agripinna, sister of Caligula and mother of Nero." 

11. Golden Voyager by Simon Finch 

The list author says: "1978. Book 1 of the Voyager trilogy, concerning the sexploits of Vesuvio in the early 2nd Century CE, during the reign of Trajan." 

12. The Lady Serena by Jeanne Duval 

The list author says: "1978. Story of a Vestal who breaks her sacred vow of virginity to be with her one true love. Features a hilarious cameo by a prancing Nero." 

13. Pagan Voyager by Simon Finch 

The list author says: "1979. Book 2 of the Voyager trilogy, published in the US as "The Pagan." The further sexploits of Vesuvio; mostly just a retread of Book 1, "Golden Voyager" (#11 above)." 

14. Calgaich the Swordsman by Gordon D. Shirreffs 

The list author says: "1980. British slave becomes famous gladiator in 5th Century CE, during the twilight years of the Roman Empire. Published by Playboy; accordingly sex-filled." 

15. The Ravishers by Duval 

The list author says: "1980. Follow-up to "The Lady Serena" (#12 above), a woman looks for true love shortly before Vesuvius's eruption. Features another cameo by a campy Nero." 

16. Voyager in Bondage by Simon Finch 

The list author says: "1981. Atrocious final volume of the Voyager trilogy. Never published in the US. See my review for a thorough skewering." 

17. Empress of Desire by Jack Mertes 

The list author says: "1982. Could almost be a sequel to Oleck's "Messalina" (#2 above) in that this is the story of Poppaea Sabina, the last wife of Nero, and how she extracts vengeance -- vengeance which was sired when Messalina had Poppaea's mother killed. A whole bunch of sex in this one." 

18. Raptor by Gary Jennings 

The list author says: "1992. Mammoth tale of a young hermaphrodite in the 6th Century CE, long after Christianity has destroyed the classical world. Filled with graphic sex and disturbing violence, as hero Thorn makes his/her way across the Eastern Roman Empire." 

19. Caligula: Divine Carnage: Atrocities of the Roman Emperors by Stephen Barber 

The list author says: "2001. Like #1 above, this is a novel in everything but name, though it's presented with less of a narrative drive. No, it's just an XXX-rated, incredibly violent fantasy about the reigns of Caligula, Commodus, and Elagabalus, with a chapter on gladiators that would probably even make Daniel Mannix blush." 

20. Den of Wolves (Empress of Rome) by Luke Devenish 

The list author says: "2008. A modern return to the genre; in fact, Devenish supplied the name for this list. This is Book 1 of the Empress Of Rome trilogy; this installment starts off in the final days of the Republic. So far only published in Australia, but a UK and (hopefully) US release is on the way." 

And here are ones I added to the list at some later point in time – according to my Word doc, in 2009.  In fact I think it was a separate Listmania list, titled More Swords, Sandals, Sex, and Sin.

Aphrodite by Pierre Louys 

The list author says: "1962. Louis Golomb's uncensored 1962 translation of this 1896 French novel is of a piece with the other books on this list -- it reads just like a piece of classy toga porn. The tale of a courtesan in Ptolemaic Alexandria." 

The Gladiators: Atilus the Slave by Edward Thomson 

The list author says: "1975. UK-published first book of the "Gladiators" series; pulp historical fiction. Edward Thomson a psuedonym of EC Tubb." 

Atilus the Gladiator (The gladiators) by Edward Thomson 

The list author says: "1975. Second and final installment of the UK-published "Gladiators" series. Atilus, a gladiator during the reign of Nero, manages a team of gladiatrixes." 

CLEOPATRA'S BLONDE SEX RIVAL by Walt Vickery 

The list author says: "1962. Vintage softcore porn trash fiction, about a Nordic beauty and her love for Caesar. The title alone is a stroke of genius -- I mean, she's not just ANY sex rival, she's Cleopatra's BLONDE sex rival!" 

The Pagan Empress by Kevin Mathews 

The list author says: "1964. Another Messalina tale, more trashy and decadent than Oleck's version. See Messalina seduce a man while she's dressed as a gladiatrix!" 

Satyricon: Memoirs of a Lusty Roman by Petronius Arbiter 

The list author says: "1965. Gillette's novel bears no relation to the Petronius classic other than the title. A "men's magazine" softcore romp through the Roman Empire...but not as good as that sounds." 

Aphrodite by Pierre Louys 

The list author says: "1972. Another translation of Louys's "Aphrodite." This one is by Robert Baldick and published by the UK imprint Panther. It's even better than Golomb's (#3 above), but it's hard to find." 

I, Sappho Of Lesbos : The Autobiography Of A Strange Woman by Michel (Editor) Darius 

The list author says: "1960. Fictional autobiography of Sappho, by "Beat Generation druggie" Alexander Trocchi. Subtitled "An Amorous Odyssey," which should give you some idea of the content." 

Salammbo (Penguin Classics) by Gustave Flaubert 

The list author says: "1977. Tredennick & Tarrant's translation for Penguin Classics is the best version in English of this sex and violence-soaked 1862 classic. Despite its age, it's still light-years beyond historical fiction of today." 

Alexander and the camp follower by Robert Payne 

The list author says: "1954. Cool but forgotten novel about Alexander the Great, narrated by his courtesan wife Thaissa. Moreso historical fantasy, with walk-ons from the gods Hecate and Ammnon. AKA Alexander the God." 

Nero by Frank Castle 

The list author says: "1961. Trashy take on Nero, by Frank Castle (the Punisher himself!). First-person account of a Praetor who begins to loathe the increasingly-insane Emperor." 

Assyrian by Nicholas Guild 

The list author says: "1987. Gary Jennings-esque tale of a spurned prince’s adventures in Biblical-era Assyria (ie 7th Century BCE). It’s rife with Assyrian religion, graphic violence, and sex." 

The Blood Star by Nicholas Guild 

The list author says: "1989. Sequel to The Assyrian (above). The hero/narrator of the previous novel finds himself chased by bounty hunters in a fight to the death. Incredibly rare and expensive." 

The Shattered Horse by S. P. Somtow 

The list author says: "1986. Historical fantasy reworking of the Aeneid, with Hector's son Astyanax replacing Aeneas, walk-ons from most of the Olympian gods, rites and rituals straight out of Frazer's Golden Bough, and the mummy of Pharoah Akenhaton." 

The Barbarian Princess by Florence King 

The list author says: "1978. Whacked-out, crazy, sexploitative, and hilarious picaresque about one woman's quest around the Roman Empire of the 6th Century CE. Published under the name Laura Buchanan, a psuedonym of popular romance author Florence King -- who claims she was drunk when she wrote this!" 

Cleopatra's Daughter by Andrea Ashton 

The list author says: "1979. Epic-length historical romance about Cleopatra's daughter, with all sorts of toga, chiton, and bodice-ripping." 

Turia by Priscilla Buckley 

The list author says: "1977. Sex and revenge during the end of the Republic, as Turia avenges the murder of her parents and engages in forbidden love with Alexis, a slave physician." 

Fire Within by Ann Combs

The list author says: "1978. By Ann Combs, psuedonym of Nina Combs Pylcare. A British girl in 61 CE goes from one lover to another, ends up with Nero, and is finally sent to a brothel when he tires of her. Will true love prevail?" 

The Emperor's Virgin by Sylvia Fraser 

The list author says: "1980. Sex-filled romp ("kinky sex of all types," in fact!) about Emperor Vespasian, his wife, and a Vestal Virgin."

And that is all I have in my old Word documents.  Not sure how comprehensive the above is, as I think there are some titles I failed to save later on.  For example, none of the Slaves Of The Empire books are listed here, but I am pretty sure they were at one point.  Also I recall having stated that The Barbarian Princess was the best book on the entire list (I mean to re-read it someday), but that is not shown in the writeup above...so again, looks like I failed to capture later updates to the lists for posterity.  Dammit!

UPDATE

A big thanks to Fred Blosser, whose comment (below) on Anthony Burgess’s Kindom Of The Wicked reminded me that this book was also once on the list, as were some others that suddenly popped in my head.  My only conclusion is that I was too lazy to save later versions of those Listmania lists, meaning that much of what I added to them has been lost.  Well, here are the ones I just remembered, and if I remember any others I will just keep updating this post!

Kingdom of the Wicked by Anthony Burgess

Neropolis by Hubert Monteilhet

Trax by R.L. S. Hawke 

The Lovers Of Pompeii by Theodore Pratt

Dark Priestess by Juanita Coulson

The Quest Of Ben Hur by Karl Tunberg (yes, a 1981 papberback original sequel to the movie version of Ben Hur…written by the screenwriter!)

Empress of Shame by Martin Saul

The Unconquered Sun by Ralph Dulin

Dawn Falcon by Ann Moray

The Maze Maker by Michael Ayrton

The Fall Of The Roman Empire by Harry Whittington (novelization of the film)
 
The Phoenician by Bruce Cassiday
 
Morituri by Barry Sadler

The Cleopatras by Philip Mackie (novelization of the forgotten 1983 BBC series)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE -- LINK TO THE COMPLETE LISTS!

Super big thanks to Johny Malone, who left a comment below that he had saved my old Listmania lists and posted them to Flickr.  The material above is what I wrote in the original versions of the lists in 2008 and 2009.  But here at this link you can read the final versions of each list, with all the updates I made to them.  Thanks again, Johny!

Thursday, October 12, 2023

The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys (The DNA Cowboys #1)


The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys, by Mick Farren
No month stated, 1976  Mayflower Books

Two years after he published the greatest rock novel of all time (or at least of the many I’ve read), Mick Farren turned out The DNA Cowboys Trilogy, which was only published in the UK…and which wasn’t really a trilogy, as in 1989 he published a fourth installment (which to make things even more confusing was initially published in the US!). Apparently Farren wrote the “trilogy” all at once, so I read the three books in sequence – meaning this week and next will be dedicated to DNA Cowboys reviews! 

At just a little over 200 pages, The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys isn’t so much a piece of world-building as it is a fast-moving adventure yarn with a definite surreal vibe. The reader must do the heavy lifting on figuring out what is going on, or more importantly why it is going on, as Mick Farren clearly was under the influence of various drugs while writing the book – and no doubt would proudly proclaim as much. So it’s definitely psychedelic sci-fi, only not “sci-fi” in the sense that there’s space exploration or alien worlds or the like. It’s all grounded on Earth…though a seriously fragmented and strange Earth, possibly centuries after some apocalyptic event. 

Another funny thing is that there’s neither a “quest” nor any “DNA Cowboys” in the book! At no point do the two main characters, Billy Oblvion and Reave, refer to themselves as “DNA Cowboys” (and nor does the narrative refer to them as such), and they don’t go on a “quest” so much as they just wander aimlessly around the wastelands of this strange world. In fact I really started to wonder where Farren even came up with the “DNA Cowboys” tag…I’m assuming he got the title in some narcotic flash and just ran with it, but it turns out to be a little misleading for the reader. About the most we get in this regard is when Billy and Reave arm themselves with replica Old West revolvers at the start of the book…but then nothing more is made out of this in the ensuing narrative. 

Farren throws us right in with little setup: we meet (the mostly undescribed) Billy and Reave just as they’ve decided to leave the small town of Pleasant Gap and to go see the rest of the world…the first residents of Pleasant Gap to do such a thing ever. The two are presumably young, but then Mick Farren’s not an author who is much for describing his characters – indeed, we don’t learn the age of one main character until late in the novel, which renders all the preceding material with this character even more shocking in retrospect. Billy, with his fringe of black hair, is ostensibly Mick Farren’s stand in. Reave, described as being built like a “farmer” is the less cerebral of the two…not that Billy is very cerebral. If there’s any subtext to The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys it’s that young men are pretty clueless and just wander aimlessly through life as they look for the next kick. 

And that’s really all that makes these two leave Pleasant Gap. I identified with this early part of the book, growing up as I did in a similar small town that seemed to be cut off from the rest of the world – to make it even more coincidental, there was a place called Short Gap near where I grew up. But Pleasant Gap is truly cut off from the world. In order to leave the place Billy and Reave must get portable “stasis generators,” little gizmos they apparently strap on (again, details are minimal) and which literally create matter in the pocket of “nothings” that separate all the communities in this future ravaged Earth. And it is certainly Earth, with occasional references to 20th Century pop culture and the like. People drink tea and whiskey, everyone speaks English, etc. 

It's just all so surreal and vague that it’s hard to identify with anything, and ultimately there’s such a disconnected air to it all that The Quest Of The DNA Cowboys lacks much impact. It doesn’t help that our “heroes” are kind of losers, bumbling from one misadventure to the next. They gear up and leave Pleasant Gap, and the reader is prepared for an epic adventure. Instead, the two find themselves in a truckstop, being bullied by truckers who don’t like the looks of them. Here is the first appearance of what I guess would be considered another “DNA Cowboy:” The Minstrel Boy, a sort of wandering musician with a Bob Dylan-esque mop of black hair and a silver guitar strapped around his back. While The Minstrel Boy will becoming more of a figure in the next two volumes (I’ve already read the second one), here he is more of an aloof presence, more of a deus ex machina that Mick Farren employs throughout the damn book to get Billy and Reave out of their various jams. 

Meanwhile the narrative frequently veers off into two subplots, only one of which will ultimately merge with Billy and Reave’s narrative. The subplot that doesn’t ever meet up with the main plot concerns what appears to be a female deity, presumably the triune figure appearing on the cover. These sequences are annoying at best, written all in ugly italics, and seem more stream-of-conscious than anything. Farren refers to this figure as “she/they,” as if he’s attended his “pronouns training” decades early. The other subplot that does impact the overall storyline concerns one AA Catto, a promiscuous babe who lives in a drug-fueled pleasure dome; her sections really reminded me of The World Inside, given that she lives in what appears to be an entire community that’s indoors. 

Oh, and “AA Catto;” Farren has an annoying tendency to refer to his characters by their full names. Constantly. So every time “AA Catto” does or says something, it’s “AA Catto” we get in the narrative. (Curiously though, Billy Oblivion is just “Billy.”) By far I enjoyed the parts with Catto the best; whereas Billy and Reave’s adventures take them through downtrodden slums for the most part, Catto lives in the high-tech pleasuredome drug paradise that I demand in my ‘70s sci-fi. Farren really puts his psychedelic imagination to work here, with such notable drugs as one that makes flesh transparent – and the woman who has done this to herself can only imagine how interesting it will be for the man who gets to sleep with her. Decadence is the order of the day in AA Catto’s sections, and given that she’s a highborn who lives only for indulgence she almost seems to have walked out of a toga trash novel. 

In comparison, Billy and Reave’s adventures seem threadbare. Things get off to a bumpy start when they’re almost immediately drafted into an army for crying out loud, complete with boot camp and the like, and I was afraid for a bit that Farren wasn’t writing the book I wanted. Luckily though this “war” stuff is eventually dispensed with and we’re back to various random travels with the two – with the Minstrel Boy constantly showing up, as if via magic, to save them. But as mentioned he is a very aloof presence; there are times where Farren doesn’t bother to explain how the Minstrel Boy has even found Billy and Reave, and also there’s more unexplained stuff besides. Like for example one part late in the book has the trio on a raft, and a big hole in the lake crashes them, and Billy and Reave make it to shore. A few pages later they’re reunited with the Minstrel Boy, who again looks different (his clothing and hairstyle changes constantly, and at one point I was certain Farren was referencing glam-era Lou Reed). But the Minstrel Boy claims that the raft scenario was “a whole long time ago,” even though to Billy and Reave it was just “a few days ago.” So does the Minstrel Boy travel in time, or did Billy and Reave themselves jump unwittingly through time? Farren is not at all concerned with letting us know. 

Action is sporadic, and when it happens it isn’t much exploited. For that matter, neither is the sex. There’s a lot of talk of sex, but the book itself isn’t overly explicit. It’s certainly kinky, though. Like early on Billy hooks up with a blue-skinned babe (Farren implies she might be an alien – but again he doesn’t give any details), and she has this electric-shock thing she jolts Billy with during the act. But mostly it’s AA Catto who handles the brunt of the book’s sleaze – despite which it’s her brother she’s sleeping with. Oh, and Farren pulls one of the craziest reveals ever. We spend the entire novel cutting frequently over to AA Catto, where we are told of how sexy she is, and how she’s slept with this or that person, or whatever. Then only in the very final pages does Farren drop the bomb that AA Catto…is only twelve years old! As mentioned I’ve already read the second installment, Synaptic Manhunt, which reveals that Catto’s really an adult, but one who has used “age retardation” to keep herself pre-pubescent. Still…this definitely lends the entire preceding events an “ick” factor. 

Farren enjoys pushing buttons throughout; there’s a random part where Billy finds Reave in bed with an albino dude named “The Medicine” who randomly enough sports a pair of breasts. But our heroes are not judgmental at all, and Billy basically laughs off Reave’s attempts at an explanation. Otherwise our heroes don’t do much to make themselves memorable. They’re essentially on a quest to just keep moving, even when they’ve found happiness: one of the best sections has them in a society that seems to be a commentary on the ‘60s movement. Here the eternally young do nothing but take drugs and listen to endless music; for once the Minstrel Boy whips out his guitar and plays with the house band (I couldn’t help but imagine the Grateful Dead, what with how Farren described the scene). But while Billy wants to stay, Reave and Minstrel Boy insist he leave, to “keep moving.” 

This constant hopping around means there’s no unifying thread to the narrative, and the finale comes upon us without much warning. Billy and Reave end up in the community of AA Catto, and the book features the coldest of endings – Catto makes Reave her personal plaything, and Billy takes off for more adventures. But as mentioned Farren wrote all this at once, so it isn’t really an end at all: the story continues with Synaptic Manhunt, which I’ll be reviewing next.

Monday, October 9, 2023

End Of The Line (The Demu Trilogy #3)


The Demu Trilogy, by F.M. Busby
March, 1980  Pocket Books

The Demu Trilogy wraps up with this final installment, which was only published in this Pocket Books anthology. The book was published seven years after Cage A Man, and whereas originally I wondered if F.M. Busby wrote this trilogy all at once, now I’d say it’s pretty clear that he did not. Indeed, it would seem that he struggled greatly with making this a trilogy in the first place. 

As it turns out, The Proud Enemy would have made for a fine ending for the story that began in Cage A Man. And indeed in many ways it was the ending of the trilogy, as End Of The Line has jack shit to do with the previous two books. Basically it’s a one-off that Busby has shoehorned into the Demu storyline. Except for the fact that there are no Demu in the book…except for the final few pages. Otherwise the only recurring character here is hero Barton, who has become more gabby and emotional as the series has gone on. 

I mean, Barton is the only recurring main character. There’s still Lumila, the alien gal Barton fell in love with back in Cage A Man. She came on strong (so to speak) in that first volume, throwing herself on Barton moments after meeting him in their communal Demu cell…then she disappeared from the narrative, and when she returned she had been Demu-ized. Then the rest of the book was focused on making her look human again, with a nigh-endless subplot on her plastic surgery. 

This is stuff that only continued in The Proud Enemy, which went into another nigh-endless subplot about Limila getting yet more plastic surgery, this time on her homeworld Tilara, to make her look like her true self – ie, the low-hanging breasts (much is made of these, btw), the double rows of teeth, the extra fingers and toes. Like I said before, she sounds real lovely. Well anyway, now that Limila’s plastic surgery has finally been completed in this final volume…Busby pretty much just brushes her under the narrative carpet! She exits in End Of The Line mostly to just be a sounding board for Barton, or to give him advice he doesn’t heed. 

But then, F.M. Busby doesn’t heed his own advice as author. So the novel opens moments after The Proud Enemy; Barton is lifting off the Demu homeworld in his spaceship, having successfully ended the war with the Demu without really even firing a shot – instead, it was more of a blackmail thing, in that he shamed the Demu with the revelation that all their technology was taken from an earlier, more advanced race. So Barton is flying off, when he’s hailed by a new group of ships from the Earth, and they’re offering to escort him. Only, thanks to a call from a surprise return character who was last seen in Cage A Man, Barton learns that these new Earth ships are really out to get him, and Barton’s in trouble with the military elite. 

It's all backlash from yet another subplot in the previous book: Barton as we’ll recall had a fight with a lowlife scum named ap Fenn, who later met a grisly fate at the hands (or should I say claws) of an incensed Tilaran woman. Now ap Fenn’s dad, an admiral or somesuch in the space force, is here to interrogate Barton and hold him accountable for his kid’s fate. Plus ap Fenn and crew are all in nifty new spaceships that are much faster and more powerful than Barton’s; Busby is never too clear how much time has passed back on Earth since Barton and crew left on their intersteller voyage at the end of Cage A Man

Here's where Barton doesn’t heed Limila’s advice – which would’ve made for a better novel than what we get. Limila, who has just revealed she’s 80 in Earth years and has a grown child who lives with her own family on some other planet, says that they have just enough fuel on their ship to ditch ap Fenn and get to her daughter’s planet, where they can hide. But Barton doesn’t listen to her. Oh and I forgot to mention, but we learn here too that Limila is pregnant. Tilaran biology allows her to only become pregnant when she wants to, and since she wants a kid with Barton she is – but this is another subplot that is abruptly canceled, somewhat suprisingly. More is made out of Limila’s age, which is thanks to Tilaran biological technology, and Barton gets his own “surgery” subplot in which this technology is applied to him so he too can become immortal. 

There follows some goofy stuff where Barton tries to get the better of app Fenn…by hosting the first-ever Tilaran beauty pageant. Folks I kid you not. But in the melee that follows the hoodwinkery there is some as mentioned surprising losses, but also it’s all rendered moot because it turns out all Barton needs is the deus ex machina that is the Demu “Sleep Gun,” which has all kinds of uses. Speaking of the Demu, they aren’t even in End Of The Line, at least not until the very end. So anyway, Barton’s back on his ship with Limila and crew, sort of wondering what to do…and then Busby spends thirty pages on the first-person account of some character on the Earth spacefleet, totally new to the series, talking about some troubles he’s having on his ship. 

Here's where one gets the impression End Of The Line was a story idea forced into the Demu Trilogy. Barton flies over to this new ship, where we learn of this whole new alien race, the Others, who are impregnating the human Earth women on this ship…by having them drink a glass of water with some concoction in it. The goal is for the women to breed a new race of Others, and these are highly-gifted super-smart kids with extra arms and legs and whatnot. The strangest thing here is the complacency the victim females have with becoming pregnant…even a few times over. So now the plot’s all about Barton trying to one up the highly advanced Others…actually he doesn’t so much do that as he tries to make it so that everyone is happy. 

At this point, I was ready to chuck the book. I mean it had nothing to do with anything that came before. At least Busby somewhat wraps up the actual storyline in the final pages, with a brief return of Demu boss Hishtoo and Hishtoo’s daughter Eeshta. The trilogy itself wraps up with Barton and Limila ready to search the stars together…and maybe have a kid…who knows. I still prefer my theory, presented in the previous review, that all this is just a “hallucination” of Barton, still trapped in his Demu cage. 

F.M. Busby was nothing if not prolific, so I’m sure I’ll get around to another of his sci-fi novels one of these days. But I would not give The Demu Trilogy much of a recommendation at all.