The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
by James Dashner

 

So I picked this book up because my students kept reading it for book projects, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about –and not just from my students; there’s a list of accolades the book and series have earned right inside the front cover. Unfortunately, this may be the book that makes me lose faith in — no, wait. It was a NYT bestseller, but I already knew those weren’t all good . . . it was made into a successful movie, but that says nothing about the book . . . it was named a Best Teen Book, but by Kirkus Reviews, which I already lost faith in . . . and I already knew my students have frequently bad taste in books — okay, never mind; I haven’t lost any faith. I just need to read the blurbs and awards a little more carefully. I thought reliable people were of the opinion that this is a good book.

It isn’t.

It’s not terrible; the idea is interesting, the action is pretty good. But the writing is mediocre, the interesting idea requires far too many shortcuts and McGuffin miracles (That’s when a fantasy/sci-fi story has an insoluble problem, and they find a thing that simply solves the problem; that thing is the McGuffin. Star Trek does it almost every episode.), and the ending is a deep cliffhanger. It reminds me quite a lot of Hugh Howey’s Wool, which was pretty much the same, and which had equivalent commercial success despite its flaws; it makes me wonder if this is the new trend in science fiction, to world-build with more imagination than logic.

So you have these kids who are stuck in this maze. The maze has these monsters in it, that come out mostly at night; also at night, the center of the maze, where the kids are, is safely locked away from the maze. So every day these kids go out and run through the maze, trying to find a path to safety, a solution to the maze, a way out of the whole ordeal. Maze runners. Meanwhile, in the safe place in the center of the maze, the kids are proving that The Lord of the Flies wasn’t always right: they have created a highly organized and successful society, populated only by 17-and-under boys, in which pretty much everyone follows the rules, has a job, does their job, and is satisfied with their lot in life. It’s almost Utopian. Of course, the kids want to get out of the maze, but they’re not really sure why: because they don’t have many memories from before they got into the maze. They have some — they know their names, for instance — but not many.

Two years after these kids start trying to escape the maze, Thomas arrives. Thomas remembers a few more things than the other kids. Thomas is followed quickly by a girl — the only girl, named Teresa — who remembers a few more things than Thomas. It seems the people who put the kids in the maze, and who wipe their memories in this very specific and precise way before depositing them in the maze, want to change the situation. But only a little. And so Thomas, who spends most of his time being angry with everything around him, manages to change the society that has been so carefully and successfully created, and tries to lead the kids out of the maze.

How does it end? Why were they in the maze in the first place? Why does the situation change, but only enough to send Thomas and Teresa with a couple of clues, rather than just opening a door out of the maze? Who are these kids, and where do they come from? Believe me: you really honestly don’t want to know. Whatever enjoyment I got out of the book was pretty much ruined by the revelations at the end.

I would not recommend this book. And I’m going to stop letting my students read it for class. There are too many good books out there to waste time on this one.

An Oldie but a Goodie

Front Cover

Castle Rackrent and The Absentee

by Maria Edgeworth

I bought this book at a library book sale really just because it was beautiful. I loved the binding, the endpapers, the fineness of the pages and the print. Reading into the introduction, I found out that Maria Edgeworth was one of the first female novelists, as well as a crusader for education and for Irish rights under English rule; and her novel Castle Rackrent is one of the first historical novels written in English, and is actually considered groundbreaking and influential for some of the choices the author makes – one of the first novels set in Ireland; covering multiple generations of one family, making this a “Big House” novel, with a servant as a narrator; having that servant be biased, describing the family as noble and honorable and beloved even as they act like a pack of crazed, starving weasels, etc. So hey, awesome! I picked a good one.

Then I read it. Okay, it may be groundbreaking and influential, but it’s also terribly annoying. Those people, the Rackrents, really are obnoxious, and so, therefore, is the servant, Honest Thady, who describes them to us, pining for the long-gone days when the lord of the manor would throw enormous parties that he couldn’t afford, passing the debt onto his heirs – you know, the good old days. I was struck particularly by the rather ridiculous refusal of the Rackrent men to actually deal with reality: they spend too much damn money, and when it comes to their debts, they just shake their heads and refuse to discuss such plebeian matters, disgusted that anyone would even think of asking them to honor their obligations – and there’s Honest Thady, saying, “How could they ask my noble master something so callous! How could they ask him to lower his noble visage, to consider their peasant-concerns. We should all just drink to My Lord’s health!” Another thing that struck me: they drink a whole lot of health in this book. There’s one scene when they celebrate the elevation of a new Rackrent heir by drinking his health for the entire evening; I can’t even picture that. Every time they get a new drink, it’s just “To my lord’s health! Wot wot huzzah!” and down the hatch. Then twenty minutes later, “Long life to my Lord Rackrent! Pip pip hullabaloo!” And this, to Honest Thady, at least, is a good evening.

But on the plus side: it has a glossary, which together with the narrative offers some interesting insights into the time and place; and it’s really short.

The majority of the volume is actually taken up by a later book by the same author called The Absentee. That book was much, much better, even without being so innovative and groundbreaking. It’s the story – again, which is a tad annoying for the repetitiveness – of the Clonbronys, an Irish lord who can’t handle thinking about money affairs, and his wife, who also refuses to think about money, but really loves spending it; she is trying to get in good with English society by being the most fashionable and throwing the best parties, and so she has forced her Irish nobleman husband to leave his country estate in Ireland and live in London so she can be one of the girls. Sadly, the people she wants to hang out with – well, they suck. It’s a lot like a two-hundred-year-old version of Mean Girls: they mock Lady Clonbrony’s accent and heritage behind her back (She was born in England, but is from an Irish family and married to an Irishman), they roll their eyes at how hard she’s trying to be cool, which of course prevents her from being cool; they titter at her attempts to be fashionable which are all so yesterday. Meanwhile her husband is running around with an English military man who seems like a lot of fun, but is apparently uncivilized according to Milady, who can’t stand to be in the same room with his gaucherie without getting a case of the vapors. Though his every appearance in the actual novel makes him seem like a perfectly nice man and a very good friend to her husband. I suppose we’re just supposed to know the distinctions made by the upper classes between what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Meanwhile, the son of this couple, Lord Colambre, is just about to come of age and inherit his part of the family estate, and he is in a bit of a pickle. You see, he can’t decide who to marry. Which is, of course, really the only decision that people of this class ever have to make on their own, and so naturally it is fraught with weighty momentousness. This guy has the following options: he could marry his cousin, whom he actually loves, but she doesn’t think of him THAT WAY; he could marry Lady Sophia, who seems the perfect gentlewoman but whose mother is a crass boor; he could marry an extremely wealthy young heiress whom he respects but does not love. What, OH WHAT! Is Lord Colambre to do!

Well first, he goes back to Ireland and visits his father’s estate, and the neighboring estate that is soon to be his. And though this part is probably a little too on the nose in its social critique, I thought it was by far the most interesting, as it gets into people’s real, actual lives, the troubles that the Irish people faced when their lords lived in England and simply demanded money be sent to them so they could buy their fashionable doodads, without worrying about where exactly the money was coming from or how it was hurting the little people to have to come up with it. Lord Colambre finds that there are two important factors: one, having a good agent, or manager, a guy who actually wants people to do well versus one who is corrupt and only interested in maximum profit with minimum cost – a slumlord, in essence; and two, having the lord actually live on the estate, rather than too far away to oversee matters and keep an eye on things. Lord Colambre, who’s actually a pretty good protagonist, determines that he will not be an absentee lord, and that he will convince his father to fire the bad agent he currently has and hire the good one.

All of this comes about, and Colambre even overcomes the most difficult challenge, that of convincing his stubborn and dimwitted mother to give up her dream of being the belle of London society – I call her dimwitted because as she is ripping through her husband’s money, forcing him to squeeze the little people back on the estate for more to cover her debts, all she says about money is, “Well, when I married him he had plenty, and I brought even more into the marriage! So surely there’s no problem! Now order me that ivory-handled backscratcher with the gold trim!” – and just go back to Ireland where they can live within their means and with some shred of dignity. She finally agrees, and the bad agent is driven off so that the good agent can take over. Everything’s great! So hooray! A happy ending!

But wait (gasp): who will Lord Colambre marry?!?!?!?!?!?!? So he gives up on the rich heiress, even though his mother is disappointed that he fails to carry on the family tradition – and apparently the national pastime of the upper class – of marrying money to solve all overspending problems, because he doesn’t love her and a friend of his does (and that’s the guy she marries); and he finds out that the seemingly lovely girl with the crude mother is in fact a bitch, so she’s out too. So now it’s his cousin. But horror of horrors! He found out that – that – oh, I can’t even bear to write the words . . . she was born –out of wedlock! Her mother was NOT BEYOND REPROACH! She was a FALLEN WOMAN! Don’t you understand?!? She had THE SEX WITHOUT THE MARRIAGE! Gasp! Shudder! The vapors! Oh, pardon me while I faint dead away. There are several conversations where Lord Colambre is convinced that he can’t even consider marrying a woman whose mother was of less than perfect morality, as that same nature will surely appear in his bride. And this seems to be a given, which means that alas, his love is off the table as a marriage prospect. But then, through a series of rather absurd coincidences (but what the hell? It’s basically a romance novel, anyway.), it turns out that her parents WERE married, and therefore her blood is not tainted with whorishness – and what’s more, she actually stands to inherit money, and isn’t even his cousin! Huzzah!

So yeah, happy ending all around. And it was cheesy and all, but very sweet. I liked it quite a bit. Pip pip and all that folderol.

Counting Syllables is Fun! Really!

Zombie Haiku
by Ryan Mecum

I’ve read many books.
Often zombie-related.
But never like this.

Zombie Haiku. Yeah.
I thought it would be silly,
and it was. But wait:

Hey, this is clever!
A man keeping a journal
all haikus; until —

Things start to get weird.
The zombie apocalypse
has begun. He runs:

Still writing haikus,
because writers write, always,
But now they’re — not nice.

“Strangers lunge for me
as the gas station explodes.
Maybe I’m dreaming.

“They surround the car
and are all moaning something.
Is that the word ‘trains?'”

Nope: they’re saying “brains.”
And though he runs, he gets trapped,
then he gets bitten.

He becomes zombie.
But somehow he keeps writing
Haikus about it.

“One thing on my mind,
only one thing on my mind.
I’m going to eat you.”

“I can remember
good food that Mom used to make
I bet Mom tastes good.”

It’s sad, because
The haiku journal was meant
As a gift for Mom.

But now that he’s dead,
it tells the chronicle of
zombification.

And it’s excellent.
His haikus better than mine;
written the right way:

Not just syllables,
5/7/5, but snapshots
of the world around

Each one a small slice
(Maybe I should say “a bite”)
of life. Or, well, death.

They capture the feel
Of slow death and becoming
the hungry undead.

He eats people’s brains
Then hunts for more, always more,
Growing less human

And more zombified
Less coherent, and yet still
Writing haikus. Like:

“Blood is really warm
It’s like drinking hot chocolate
But with more screaming.”

That’s my favorite.
But there are many good ones
The book’s short, but great.

I won’t spoil the end,
just say: Though this book is gross,
I recommend it.

The Mad Scientists’ Guide

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination
Edited by John Joseph Adams

 

This was a real treat to read. It’s a collection of short stories by various authors, including some of my favorites — Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Naomi Novik — and all about mad scientists or megalomaniacal supervillains trying to take over the world. Determined to show them all just who’s really mad.

Usually them.

Like any collection of stories, there are hits and misses. The Austin Grossman story that starts it off is, not surprisingly, one of the best — Grossman wrote the excellent “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” also about supervillains — and Seanan McGuire’s “Laughter at the Academy” was brilliantly constructed as a series of connected shorts. The Gabaldon story, which ties into her Outlander series, was only thinly connected to the theme of mad science — it’s about the Comte St. Germain and Master Raymond, who are alchemists and wizards in France in the 1700’s — but was superbly written nonetheless. On the other end is a crappy piece from L.A. Banks and a stupid attempt at a joke by Harry Turtledove, and two failed attempts to work an angle on classics, one about the daughters of classic mad scientists — Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, and Moreau — and one about Superman and Lex Luthor; the first was boring and the second melodramatic and still boring.

Some are heartbreaking: one called “Mofongo Knows,” about the very tail end of a supervillain’s life; and one called “Instead of a Loving Heart,” about a robot built to serve a mad scientist, which is made of the brain of an artist trapped in a mechanical body. Some are genuinely funny, especially “The Angel of Death Has a Business Plan,” about a supervillain trying to save up for her own world domination scheme by working as a life coach for other would-be supervillains. Some had a really good twist, particularly “Letter to the Editor” by David D. Levine, “Rural Singularity” by Alan Dean Foster, and “Rocks Fall” by Naomi Novik, which had both a surprise in the supervillain’s mentality, and then a surprising ending. There’s some good action in Daniel H. Wilson’s “The Executor” and some nice romance in “Blood and Stardust” by Laird Barron. And there’s some frustrating and disappointing attempts, particularly “Homo Perfectus” by David Farland which is a little too dirty-old-man-y, “The Pittsburgh Technology” by Jeffrey Ford, which makes its point early on and then just keeps slapping you in the face with it, and “The Food Taster’s Boy” by Ben H. Winters which has nobody even remotely resembling a sympathetic protagonist: you want everyone in the story to fail and lose, and even when they do, they don’t lose enough.

The editing was good, though each story is prefaced by an introductory entry that completely spoils the story, and which I’d recommend skipping. But they were good stories, and the book as a whole had a generally good arc — though it does end on a down note, unfortunately. But maybe that is fitting, for a book about madmen who seek to destroy the world. Overall, I’d recommend it.

Me Mates are all Jemmy Coves! Wot wot!

So I’m wondering: how far should I be willing to go for my friends?

Now, it so happens that the meme world has quite a bit to say about friendship — but unfortunately, as always with the meme world, the information is not very helpful.

 

 

So my  friends are people I like and do stuff with. Okay, I knew that; those are the people I call my friends anyway. But what does “do stuff with” mean? Do I have to do stuff with them in person? Because then a number of my friends probably don’t count any more, since I literally haven’t seen them, face to face, in more than twenty years. And what does “like” mean? I mean, I like cupcakes, and I like my students. But those are two different feelings. Do I have to like my friends all the time? Do I have to like everything about them? 51/49, like/dislike?

 

I like the sentiment, but I don’t know quite what it means. One of my friends had a lot of trouble finding an au pair that would actually remain reliable for more than a few months. He lives 2,500 miles away from me. How do I make that my problem? I suppose I could look through online listings of au pairs, but is that really helpful? I don’t have children, don’t know anything about au pairs, let alone good ones. Do I fly to Massachusetts to help him interview? Do I become his new au pair? And what if while he is looking for an au pair, another friend is dealing with a sick parent, out in California? And another friend, living in Louisiana, needs to find a cheap apartment?

Maybe I just tell them that I’m sympathetic and will help in any way that I can. But when I know there’s no way I can help, it feels terribly hollow to say that. I don’t feel like a friend when I can’t help. But I can’t always help. Does that make me not a friend?

Maybe it matters that this says “BEST friend?” Do we really still make that distinction? I mean, the Sims do, and 4th graders; but do we all think that way?

 

So I have to know things about someone that nobody else knows. Well, that simplifies things pretty well, because there is exactly one person in the world that I am that close to. I suppose my wife is my only friend.

So what do I tell all those losers who think I’m their friend?

(N.B.: You can’t get mad if I just called you a loser. Because:)

Now, if I don’t think it is particularly offensive to shout “F*CKNUGGETS!” when I stub my toe, should I be willing to say it in front of friends who prefer not to hear cussing? Or wait — they’re not my friends. My friends are only the ones who yell back “YEAH, HOT BUTTERED DI*K-BISCUITS!”  (Side note: I love those asterisks. I hate that they’re necessary, but I love them. So much. “Profanity? No, I meant ‘Focknuggets.’ It’s a German bar food. And ‘disk-biscuits’ is Cockney for pancakes. Why? What did you think it was?”) But what if I’m around their kids, or their aged grandparents who have taken holy orders to become Catholic nuns? (Yes, including their grandfathers. Don’t try to determine another person’s gender identity, you social fascist.) And maybe it’s that I should be the good friend, and not cuss around friends that I know don’t like cussing? Should I be considerate of my friends’ delicate sensibilities, or should they accept me for the foul-mouthed hooligan I am? In a friendship, who bends to whose standards? If others have to bend to mine, can I mess with that? I mean, can I get someone to agree to be my friend, and then punch them in the face and steal their sandwich, and then just say “Hey, that’s how real friends act. You can punch me and take my sandwich, sometime, too.”

Maybe I should just forget all of this, and when I stub my toe, yell, “Oh, dash it all, what deuced rotten luck, eh wot wot?!” Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we lived like moderns but talked like Victorians?

 

This one kind of cracks me up, because really, it makes no sense. It combines this idea of insincerity with an idea of priorities. Because it recognizes that people have busy schedules, but, it says, YOU should be THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THAT PERSON’S WORLD. Nothing else will do. Anyone who claims to be your friend, but for whom you are not THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD is a faker, a liar, a superficial person who doesn’t care about you, really care about you, deep down, where the real feelings are, underneath all the bulls*it. They just want something from you. Which apparently you, who want them to literally drop anything else in their lives in order to pay attention to you — what, you don’t want anything from them? Okay, sure.

And you represent that with Minions. The definitive image of depth and genuine human sympathy.

But again, that makes it pretty simple for me. I have one friend. My wife. All of the rest of you shouldn’t waste your time on me. Because I just want something from you.

 

But here is the meme I agree with.

 

You damn right, CM. Damn right.

 

 

The answer to all this, of course, is that it depends on the friend. With some friends, I am willing to drop most stuff, give up most stuff, if they needed me. With others, I’m willing to give up little stuff — like maybe some of my free time. Sure, I’ll do that. Other friends, I’d give up sleep, I’d give up food, money, comfort. One friend, I’d give up anything I have in this world, other than her. And I call them all my friends. On some level, that’s a problem, because a language as large and varied as English should be able to make distinctions between those types of friends; and we sort of do, because of course I don’t call her my friend, I call her my wife. That shows the differences in commitment quite handily: I would not die for most of my friends; I would die for my wife. Sure. Makes sense.

The issue is that we have grown overfond of the specific word “friend.” So fond we now use it as a bloody verb, like “text” and “impact.” Bah. According to the internet, I have over 350 friends, but if you asked me to name my actual friends, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t run out of toes. If you named some criterion like “Friends are only those people you see regularly, say, every three years,” then I wouldn’t even run out of fingers.

But we want to call lots of people our friends; that’s why Facebook uses the term. (Not that Twitter or Instagram or the various blogging/content-sharing sites are any better: the term “follower” is almost weirder and more fraught than “friend.” But one strangely warped internet term at a time, eh wot wot? Else it’ll be a fifteen puzzle! Don’t want to get the morbs. [Victorian slang here. It’s some pumpkins.]) It’s not enough for me to call her my wife — that could imply all sorts of different relationships. I have to include the description, “And she’s my friend.” In fact, I generally call her my “best friend.” Not that it isn’t appropriate, but the point is, we’re trying to bring in the term “friend” to relationships where it wouldn’t normally belong. It is now a more inclusive term, rather than exclusive — applying, in some way, to everything from acquaintances to co-workers to the love of my life.

Which means, when it comes to determining my relationship with my friends, deciding just how far I am willing to go for them, it isn’t enough to just say to myself, “He/she is a friend. Therefore I will _________ but I will not _____________.” (Sample answers: share the last cookie/die.) Where, then, do I draw those lines? If I call someone a friend, how much — let’s call it “tolerance,” since that’s generally the measure of my relationship to other humans — does that entitle them to?

I feel as though there is a simple answer to all of this, and it is, “You have to decide, on an individual basis, how much tolerance each friend gets. Put up with a friend for as long as you want that person as a friend, and then stop.” And I feel that my audience is probably thinking this, and getting bored with my philosophicality here. (Hence the Victorian slang, dash my wig! I’ll be poked up if I shoot into the brown here!) And that’s fine in theory, and I’ve probably been putting that into practice, really, for the last few years.

But I’m tired. Having to decide whether or not to stick with friends who are on the margin; trying to decide if I should encourage and support them, or joke around with them, or neither, is becoming exhausting. Even worse is pretending to be friends with people I don’t really like very much, but have some reason to pretend to be friends with, reasons like working together, or for. I used to be in the staff band with one of my administrators, and I really didn’t like the guy, though I wasn’t going to tell him that. And of course, some of the time, he was great — like when we were actually playing together. If I have a friend that is great some of the time, and crappy some of the time, how much of the time does he have to be great to make up for the crappy? Should I just get rid of any friends who are at all crappy? But what if my good friends, who get a whole lot of tolerance, have an opinion I happen to disagree with? An opinion I disagree strongly with? How crappy does that have to feel for me before they cross the line and get dumped?

I try to be forgiving with my friends. I don’t actually mind disagreements. I ended two “friendships” this past weekend, both times because the person shared a meme joking — joking — about the atomic holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was an easy call. But I have other friends who consistently mock Bernie Sanders followers, which generally includes me and several of my other friends. So now the question becomes, do I speak up when they say or post something that annoys me? Or do I ignore it, for the sake of the friendship? What about those who mock everyone who ISN’T a Bernie Sanders fan? Do I really have to decide on an individual basis, every time they say something? In an election year?

This is further complicated for me because I generally have to be careful about what I say on the internet; my past statements and profanity very nearly lost me my license to teach. And I’m friends online with many — hundreds, probably — of my ex-students. I’m pretty open to becoming friends with them, but to be honest, I don’t have a whole lot in common with a lot of them. I remember them fondly from class because they’re bright, or they worked hard, or they had interesting things to say in discussion; but now that I interact with them casually and socially, I find out things like, they only care about cars. Or they’re devoutly religious. Or they’re prickly and combative. Or they believe astrology. Or they want to vote for Trump.

So now what? Do I dump them? Or do I ignore the annoying foibles? For how long?

Do I have to keep a balance sheet for each of my friends? And if I do — where are the cut scores?

I also worry about myself. How much can — should — I interact with them? I am, after all, a lot older than them; if I joke along with their jokes, like a friend, does that make me seem like a creepy old guy desperate for friendly interaction? Do they think that of me? Are they just putting up with me despite my annoying habits out of some sense of obligation because I was their teacher? Of course some of them are — but which ones? If I call them on their bull*hit, does that make me their straight-up honest friend, or some hypercritical *sshole? Of course the difference is in our relationship: but what if they’re of that group of people that prefer straight-up brutal honesty? Do I assume that? Do I use my own standards, and expect them to cleave to what I think is right? Am I more friendly or less friendly if I pick fights with people? What if I say something harsh, but I add “lololololololol” at the end of the comment? Is that something a friend would do? How about an acquaintance? How about a former teacher who gave you an A? How about a former teacher who gave you an F?

I really don’t know. But I’m thinking I may stay off Facebook more, or thin out my friends list a bit, to save myself some effort. And maybe that makes me a bad friend. Maybe I should be willing to put the effort into the friendship, whatever kind of friendship it is. I really don’t know.

 

I don’t think I have a final insight for this other than: I think we should start using terms other than “friend.” I would like to suggest, as one alternative, “chuckaboo.” Wot wot? Dash my wig, I’m off to bitch the pot. I’m going to get half-rats.

 

Two Bad Books In One!

Dark Planet
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.

Not recommended.