The queen gave her grunting scream once more. It was a signal.
The surviving white death worms approached her. Each reared its frontal segments. From the belly of each, a rod-like section of tissue emerged, as if drawn by magnets.
“They are going to fertilise the queen!” exclaimed Kwango. “She has more vaginas than they can cope with. I hope our lady is not frustrated!”
The queen was not frustrated. The white death worms penetrated her methodically from head to tail, flinging themselves uncaringly across her heaving underbelly so that the tumescent rods slammed down into the waiting orifices with the apparent force of pile drivers.
-The Death Worms of Kratos; Edmund Cooper
Seriously? Tumescent rods?
What an awful book.
The Death Worms of Kratos – 1 Star
Trigger warning: Rape.
I almost didn’t bother reviewing this book. I mean, why would I subject myself to revisiting it – I absolutely hated it and I regret the 50 cents I spent on it. But that hate has been sort of bubbling away for a month now, and I’m kinda hoping that this review will finally exorcise this crap from my thoughts.
The Death Worms of Kratos is a mercifully short 142 pages written by an Edmund Cooper in the late 1970’s. My from the blurb and the cover my expectations were modest – I expected a quick bit of pulp sci-fi, violence, and casual sexism. I figured for 50 cents I’d get burly aggressive spacemen murdering alien species in mechanical suits and rescuing princesses from other planets who fortuitously happen to have a compatible anatomy.
I had hoped for something simple, fun, forgettable.
James Conrad, a disgraced UNSS Space Captain is court marshalled and dishonourably discharged. Shortly after trial he is given a second chance as the captain of a secretive team called the EXPENDABLES – a ragtag group of rejects and criminals – who were being sent to the Earth-like planet Kratos as in order to ‘Prove’ it. Proving a planet is as dangerous as it is simple: they must live on the planet for long enough to ‘prove’ that it is inhabitable by real colonists. After landing on Kratos the team must work together to face a mysterious and deadly alien threat – giant Death Worms!
Writing that summary made me sad. With those ingredients it could have been entertaining.
My first problem – I found it dull. When your book about Death Worms is 142 pages short, don’t make me wait until page 77 for the first sight of a goddamn Death Worm. Instead we need to sit through the histories and interactions of the six or so horrible characters that populate this awful team (only three are remotely important), their boring training, setting up their boring camp. Even so, this set up wouldn’t have bothered me had the characters been remotely sympathetic, but they weren’t. The emotionless, personality-less robots were the only ones I wanted to survive.
I just wanted the whole goddamn group of EXPENDABLES to hurry up and get eaten by the Death Worms.
True to expectations, there was sexism if you looked carefully enough. Page 21:
But, apart from that complication, women, in Conrad’s experience, were vastly different from men in their emotional and intellectual responses. Their logic was different, they played by different rules, they accepted different values. Trying to anticipate a woman’s reaction to any given situation, he thought cynical, was like playing Russian roulette. You pressed the trigger, never knowing if the gun was going to go bang or click.
Maybe he should have got her to bed – drunk or sober – before he recruited her for the Expendables. In bed, he reflected, women are always more naked than men. He would have discovered much…
Awful faceless characters
As I said before, there are six (seven?) characters, all flawed, all geniuses. Only three are remotely relevant; Conrad the Captain, the female Dr Indira Smith, and Kurt Kwango genius ecologist.
The other three (four?) faceless nothings were paper-thin, taking up maybe two or three pages all together; barely caricatures, obvious red-shirt fodder. One of these faceless characters might well have been a disembodied a pair of breasts for all the character development we see – she dies on the planet (is this a spoiler?…Fuck it, I don’t want you to read this anyway), and in a ‘touching’ moment they agree to ensure that she gets a statue erected in her honour by the colonists – page 130:
“If he doesn’t get the breasts right,” said Andreas with feeling, “I’ll come back to this place and stamp all over him. Liz was a great woman. She had magnificent breasts.”
Rest In Peace Liz…
And the three actual characters? Probably better to deal with these guys below.
This Book is Kinda Rapey
This is why I hated the book.
First things first – nowhere in this book (apart from the Death Worm sex scene I added at the top) is there an actual rape that occurs. But rape has been tracked all over this book like stinking dogshit on old carpet. And it’s not dealt with remotely realistically.
Dr Indira Smith’s back-story is one of horrific gang rape and mutilation. In order to classify as an EXPENDABLE, you need to have something wrong with you. Dr Indira was working in a remote location in Brazil where her and her husband were attacked – husband was tortured to death, she was raped an unknown number of times, before they removed her legs. This left her with exceptionally powerful mechanical legs and obvious trauma that caused her to attempt suicide.
These points alone arent great, but what is worse is that it’s treated essentially like the worst superhero origin story you’ve ever heard. This terrible thing happens and she gets magic super-quick super-strong legs out of it. Done. She makes a vague reference to a ‘major hangup about sex’, her suicide attempts are referenced once (twice?) and then forgotten. People deal with trauma differently and there is a whole rainbow of emotions I would have accepted as reasonable, but casual forgetting was not one of them.
Then Kurt Kwango – Nigerian, Genius, Ecologist. Also a long history of violence including attempted murderer, grevious bodily harm and (of course) rape. In their first meeting, Kurt attempts to grapple Indira – with a clear rape intent (after getting casual permission to try it by Captain Conrad). Indira knocks him out with her magic legs, but we are seriously dealing with someone with violent compulsion issues.
But again…nothing. This violent rapist is the cleverest person on the team, contributes and saves the group a number of times, and otherwise is a perfect teammate. The author sets up this conflict, places these Chekov’s guns all over the place, latent tension, opportunities for verbal or physical conflict, things of interest, hell even a resolution of some sort…and just wastes them.
Finally Captain Conrad. He annoyed me the most – not because he is rapey but because he absolutely fails to acknowledge there might be an issue here. He is entirely responsible for picking the team, yet picks both a person with a long history of rape and a person who was the victim of a terrible rape. WTF? He then gives permission to Kurt to ‘give his best shot’ at raping Indira – now clearly he knew she would win, but where’s the sensitivity? And possibly the worst thing in this book, is that apparently Conrad has a magic dick, because India finally finds him irresistible and they sleep together – this one moment being enough to get over the trauma of the attack and loss of her legs and her husband. A magical trauma-healing penis.
…I can’t even.
Look, my problem isn’t the inclusion of rape in a work of fiction. My problem is the offhand and indifferent way in which it is dealt with. If there had been any sort of discussion or involvement or resolution and I would have looked more kindly on it. But this book adds rape for flavour and then ignorees it. It essentially says that Indira just needed a good night with the right man to get over her problems.