Box Of Paperbacks: The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast

Box Of Paperbacks: The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast

(Not long ago, A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps purchased a large box containing over 75 vintage science fiction, crime, and adventure paperbacks. He is reading all of them. This is book number 46.)

[Warning: The prose that follows is NSFW.] "Oh, Man!" the back cover copy of this book screams. I felt like saying the same thing, but for different reasons. Are dirty books supposed to make the readers feel dirty? Let's be clear: I don't mean "dirty" as in "titillated." I know they're supposed to do that. I mean dirty as in "debased by putting my eyes on the page." This is not only a bad book. It's a foul book. The first half is an exhausting series of less-than-erotic sex scenes. The second half gets ugly. I thought there's no way an erotic science fiction novel form the 1970s wouldn't be fun. Boy was I wrong. Where to start? Well, let's start with "Hunter Adams," a pseudonym that practically announces itself as a pseudonym. The book is copyrighted under the name "Lyle Kenyon Engel," whose work includes such titles as 500 Songs That Made The All Time Hit Parade and The Complete Book Of Stock-Bodied Drag Racing. I read this book thinking it might have been the dalliance of non-fiction writer, but poking around online revealed more information. Hunter Adams' entry at fantasticfiction.co.uk reveals him to be Jim Lawrence, a writer whose best known work was done for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. That's the publisher behind The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and other juvenile series and Lawrence, according to this source, worked primarily on the Tom Swift series, so if you've read Tom Swift And His Deep-Sea Hyrdrodome, you've read Jim Lawrence / Hunter Adams, assuming that fantasticfiction.co.uk knows what it's talking about. The most information I could find on Lawrence came from an unusual source: A fansite for the early-'80s text adventure publisher Infocom, for whom Lawrence co-wrote the games Moonmist and Seastalker. (I never played either of those, but I certainly wasted a lot of time with titles like Planetfall and Zork as a kid.) There's a full bio at Infocomicon.com. Lawrence was, in short, a plugger, bringing stories to life within prescribed formulas, which is probably why The Man From Planet X #1: The She-Beast (hereafter, let's just call it She-Beast) reads like a bad spy novel with science fiction and pornographic elements grafted on. The prose is functional, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and the plot has just enough intrigue to keep readers turning the page. But, oh, those grafted on elements. The book mostly forgets it's supposed to be science fiction. Hero Peter Lance, Pritan Lansol on his home planet of Tharb, crash-lands his spaceship in upstate New York. That becomes starting point for observing the human race by posing as one of us, specifically "a tall, darkhaired, good-looking dude in a dusty blue safari jacket, jeans, and side-zippered bad-boots." (The year, once again, is 1975.) The only things that set Lance apart: He has a vibrating tongue and a huge penis he can manipulate as easily as a finger. It vibrates too. (If you're thinking that sounds an awful lot like to plot to the Garry Shandling/Mike Nichols movie What Planet Are You From?, I agree. I don't know what to tell you.) Lance is quickly called upon to put both his observational skills and his unusual penis to work after rescuing a "blonde female earthling" with "two bulging mammaries, obviously unfettered by any constricting undergarment" named Daphne from some would-be kidnappers. His reward? Some sex.

Oooh, golly! Daphne thought with a shiver of aniticipation. I've never seen one like that before! Man, I've gotta have that in me but quick!

Lance is on the spot, and thus begins the first of She-Beast's many, many sex scenes:

He [] divested himself of his remaining garments–by which time Daphne was lying flat on the front seat of the Cadillac, with her delightfully rounded rump aimed toward him and her lovely legs curled up and spread wide, exposing a mostly pink and hairy aperture in the cleft between her thighs

Aperture? Aperture. That's a new euphemism for genitalia to me, and one Adams/Lawrence returns to again and again. And that's one of the main problems with his book: For an erotic novel, it's as confoundingly unerotic as the excerpts above suggest. Adams/Lawrence parades an endless series of "plump-cheeked" women with "magnificent protuberances" to encounter his "prodigious pole" but this sex couldn't be less sexy. Late in the book, I started to wonder if the author himself was an alien when I hit this passage. Here Lance has just bedded a pair of random beachgoers:

Afterward they slept shamelessly, one nymph encircling his genital with her mouth, the other holding his face tenderly to her breasts.

Unless Tharbian physiology is providing oxygen through that "genital," I'm not sure how that works. There's a plot, too. Lance comes to help Daphne's tycoon father protect his business interests, which happen to include a youth-preserving formula called Novitol craved by the novel's eponymous She-Beast, a nude super-criminal. But do you really want to hear about that or do you want more of the sex? I'm guessing the sex matters most, and so did the author, who throws in a graphic conquest in almost every chapter. Before Lance has left Daphne's father's house, he's bedded Daphne, Daphne's mother, two of Daphne's friends, and the maid, thanks to word of his unusual penis making the rounds. But then, like some kind of pornographic variation on a Henry James novel, the American innocence of it all takes an ugly turn when Lance hits Europe. Lance runs into some CIA agents with a unique, and lovingly described means of torturing female prisoners–I'll spare you–and Daphne ends up captured by the She-Beast and pressed into a brothel. And not just any brothel, it's the "Third World Livery Stable," described, as follows, to Lance by one of the She-Beast's agents:

Its patrons are blacks, Orientals, and, in general, natives of the underdeveloped countries of the world. Having suffered for so long from the tyranny of the white race, they naturally enjoy venting some of their pent-up hostility on beautiful young females of that race.

(Sounds a bit familiar.) Adams/Lawrence then goes on to describe in great detail, and with great disgust, scenes of beautiful white women being abused by "Orientals," "Nilotics," "Negroids," and a lesbian "Negress." Occasionally Lance will note to himself that Earthlings, unlike Tharbians, have an unhealthily repressed attitude toward sex. Apparently that Tharbian openness has its limits. Was this part of the formula, too? Hook the readers with the promise of free and open sexual expression and then bum them out by presenting sex as lovingly described acts of abuse coupled with some vile-even-for-their-time thoughts on race? (This is to say nothing of a climactic scene in which Lance defeats the She-Beast through fucking. Well, sort of. It's too stupid and complicated to get into, really.) It seems like a bum deal to me, even if the author had known how to pen a decent sex scene. The series continued on for two more books. Feel free to seek them out for yourself. I'm happy to be rid of the Man From Planet X. One final note: One of Lawrence's Tom Swift titles: Tom Swift And The Visitor From Planet X.

I'm just going to assume that it was a very different sort of visit.

Want to read past Box Of Paperbacks Book Club entries? All previous installments of The Box Of Paperbacks Book Club are archived here.

Next Slan by A.E. van Voght

"His mother's hand felt cold, clutching his."

Then: Thunderball by Ian Fleming

"It was one of those days when it seemed to James Bond that all life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against." (That's not my copy of the book, by the way. I forgot to scan it.)