by John Rackham
The Herod Men
by Nick Kamin
I picked this up on a whim at Powell’s Books in Portland; it’s one of those Ace Double books, where there are two short novels in one paperback, with one printed from the front and one from the back — so you flip the book over, and it’s the front cover of the other book; the printing of each is upside down to the other. I also grabbed this one because I like the idea of The Herod Men, which teases with the line “Planned death vs. unwanted birth in the Overpop Era,” which sounded pretty sweet. And the Dark Planet cover features a terrible 70’s pulp illustration of a giant alien worm thing chasing a scared woman and a ragged man through a kaleidoscopic jungle. Good stuff.
But then I tried reading it, and I understood why I’d never heard of either of these writers before. Because they both suck.
I read Dark Planet first, actually figuring I was saving the best for last; Dark Planet was vaguely interesting in that it had a neat idea for an alien planet, and a great explanation as to why humans couldn’t colonize it and hadn’t found the alien race living there, despite having a manned military base on the planet’s surface: the atmosphere is dense clouds, and is filled with bacteria that devour anything that isn’t actually alive — metal, plastic, cloth, everything. The base is made out of a super-plastic alloy that can survive; everything else has to get in and get out quickly, or else start dissolving. But a rocket carrying Our Intrepid Hero crashlands in the miasma, and soon finds that though his equipment, clothes, and his ship all dissolve, he himself is perfectly healthy. He meets the alien races, and discovers that the planet has quite a lot to offer.
That’s all the good stuff. The bad is that the book is written in the late-Robert-Heinlein pulp mode, with the surly alpha male hero and the buxom helpless female who has no choice but to cling desperately to his arm in between screams, and who of course sleeps with her rescuer, as is only appropriate when everyone is necessarily naked on this planet that dissolves all clothing. The aliens, a la Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter books, are inexplicably human, so human that they actually have sex with all of the human humans. There’s quite a long part where the enlightened angelic overlords of the alien races preach free love while having lots of sex with Our Intrepid Hero, and then he is reunited with the buxom scream queen, who even though she has been mated with an alien/human guy, is of course swooningly happy to run into Our Intrepid Hero again and clutches his mighty thews to her heaving bosom and — you get the picture. Basically it’s a story by a lonely nerd with Captain Kirk fantasies, a good concept for a planet, and not much talent.
And The Herod Men? Not only did it follow the same basic theme — surly alpha male who seduces all of the ladies in between killing bad things; lots of Free Love stuff (though that was almost cleverly done, put into context of a bizarre Catholic cult-like church that preached maximum fertility for all humans, and had priests sleeping with the novice nuns in an attempt to impregnate them); pretty good basic concept in this overpopulated post-global-climate-change Earth — but it added a whole new dimension: violent homophobia, as there is a gay character who comes on to Our Intrepid Hero, is rejected (Because our dude only likes chicks, bro. Don’t call him gay, bro. He’ll kick your ass, bro!), and then becomes a bitchy caricature that O.I.H. dreams of killing violently. It’s the second time I’ve seen this weird angry anti-homosexual theme in a book — the first time was in the Shaft novel, where pretty much exactly the same thing happens (Something about hotel clerks coming on to men? Was that a thing in the 70’s? Dunno.); but that book was surprisingly well written.
This one was not. This one, I didn’t finish reading.