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Genetic Bomb

Genetic Bomb by Andrew J. Offutt and D. Bruce BerryGenetic Bomb front
Warner Paperback Library, 1975
Price I paid: 90¢

An epidemic of insanity rages in the well-ordered, sexually liberated world of the future. Beautiful girls are going mad—writhing in pain and ecstasy as they live through hallucinations of a world-consuming conflagration and a final, orgasmic farewell to life.

One thing only links these girls. Each possesses a strange, luminous gem imported from another world. It is a weapon in a struggle for mastery over the forces motivating the Galactic Empire. And one man, Wesley Harmon, pits himself against the unknown adversary, crossing the universe to learn the secret of the GENETIC BOMB.

Okay, I suppose we can start with the cover to this book. It really tells you all you need to know. Some women star in an Herbal Essenses commercial during an eclipse while a naked dude does…what exactly? As much as I look at this book cover, I cannot figure out what this guy is doing. I guess he’s running from something, probably the GENETIC BOMB, but really I think he’s sniffing his own armpit. Also, he has a nipple while these women don’t. Yes, I know their hair is rather conveniently covering where nipples should be, but let’s be honest with ourselves, their hair covers so little surface area that these women simply have to be as anatomically correct as Barbie dolls.

And then there’s the back cover synopsis. It’s roughly accurate until after the first sentence of the second paragraph. After that it swiftly turns into a pack of lies. I can’t blame the authors for thisthey probably had nothing to do with itbut I’m gonna say, there was no Galactic Empire, and Wes Harmon does not cross the universe to do anything about it. He goes to Mars, and then the asteroid belt. That’s like me saying I walked around the world after scooting over on the couch because I’m sitting between the cushions. Aren’t there rules about this kind of thing? I mean, if we say that a drug cures athlete’s foot in a commercial, and then it doesn’t, we’d get sued, right? That’s the rules. Book publishers apparently don’t have those rules. You can say that a book is about space-cats and their hilarious and cute antics and then fill the pages with phone numbers to debt relief centers, and there’d be no repercussions?

And then there’s the plot, if you can call it that. The part about the weird gemstones is true. They’re called Star Pearls and they give women these weird hallucinations. The opening of the book is one of these hallucinations, and it’s really confusing and all over the place. Right off the bat this book is completely nonsensical, but when the hallucination ends and “reality” sets in, we think “Oh, I guess that was intentional. The rest of this book will explain to us what just happened.”

NOPE.

Enter Wes Harmon. He’s pulled into this story because two of his “girls” have succumbed to the Star Pearl wackiness. They are his girls because, you see, Harmon is a licensed pimp. In this future, prostitution is legal, and you have to get a license to be a pimp, and Harmon did that. Apparently he went to pimp school. But that’s okay, I can deal with that. This is supposed to be the future. Things change. And Harmon is apparently good at his job. He treats his girls right. They love him and he loves them back. That’s why he’s trying to figure out why the Space Pearls are driving them mad.

Sex and science fiction can go really well together. Some authors are able to use the genre to explore human sexuality, to question our sexual ethics and mores, to imagine worlds where shame is abolished or cleavage is outlawed or whatever. People have done it right. There’s Robert A. Heinlein, Phillip Jose Farmer, Theodore Sturgeon—some of the first science fiction authors to realize that people have genitals and like using them. In their footsteps come Spider Robinson and John Scalzi, to name two of the bigger names. Science fiction is ultimately about humans and human nature, and what is more human than sex?

And then there are books like this. I could go on and on about how it capitalizes on sex, how it handles it like a high school freshman who has never seen a breast, and how it throws in sex scenes for no damn reason every so often. I’m going to spare you that, and give you one simple quote from page 25:

He laughed, urging her across the room. She bounced; a specialist in hefnerites, she had hormonated herself to a 42-D.

I wish I could make this crap up. I really do.

So, the plot. Just as Harmon decides he needs to investigate these Star Pearls, one of his girls (the aforementioned specialist in “hefnerites”) gets abducted and brutally tortured. She’s so scarred by this torture that the doctors decide that the only way they can heal her properly is to “rejuvenate” her back to the age of 15 or so. Since this puts her below the age of adulthood and she has no documentation, this ends up with her being relocated to a children’s creche, where apparently everyone in this world goes as a kid. The government raises all the kids, because apparently birth control is so efficient that children are actually kind of rare. Children are born to women called “slavemates” who are, as you might expect, enslaved to produce child after child. No one questions this.

Anyway, Lorna the hormonator ends up in a creche in Africa. These creches are all about teenage sexual fantasies, and being in Africa brings us uncomfortably close to all sorts of possibly unintentional racism I don’t even want to talk about.

Her story is continued, unconnected to the story of Harmon and apparently for no reason, for the rest of the book. The majority of the rest of the book. Seriously, Lorna’s little sex fantasy takes up more of the book than Harmon’s adventure.

Harmon, on the other hand, survives an assassination attempt and has set off to avenge Lorna’s torturers. He begins to have strange visions himself, of the destruction of a pair of worlds and their dying moments. A completely unexplained trip to a planetarium sets up some exposition about the origin of the asteroid belt and how it used to be two planets that collided with each other. I don’t even know how the authors managed to justify this to themselves. It would have worked better if Harmon had just turned on a TV and the Discovery Channel was doing a special on the asteroid belt at exactly that moment. Something. Anything.

Harmon’s mystery leads him to Mars where he meets Tommy. Tommy runs a “lesbar” and, despite the name, is a female. A lesbar, if you were wondering, is the future’s version of a lesbian bar. Harmon is there because he has evidence that one of Lorna’s torturers is a lesbian from Mars. This is where the book made me really, really angry.

To get the information he needs, Harmon forces himself on Tommy. That’s his interrogation method. It’s rape, no two ways about it, and because this is an adolescent sex fantasy, Tommy responds by converting back to heterosexuality and falling in love with him. You see, Tommy went lesbian because no man could satisfy her. Harmon, apparently, did, and that’s that. I almost stopped reading the book at this point. I probably should have, but curiousity got the better of me.

What follows from there made absolutely no sense. There are some flashbacks to the early prehistoric past of mankind that, I guess, are supposed to fill us in on what’s going on, but it really doesn’t help. Apparently the last member of the species from the dual planets that collided came to Earth and used some kind of genetic dinglydang (later revealed to be the Star Pearls, or something like them) to “reincarnate” members of his species into this new species that would later be humanity. These reincarnations are somehow genetic. They get passed on through the ages, until the present day, when the different splinters of this vanished race must unite to stop some kind of interdimensional threat.

Did that make no sense? Don’t blame me.

Harmon is the product of one of these genetic dinglydangs, and his true nature begins to surface after he leaves Mars. He’s not just a genetic reincarnation of one of these past guys, it turns out the past guy he’s a reincarnation of is super awesome. So now that he knows the full extent of his powers, he heads to the asteroid belt where he meets up with the guy who helped torture Lorna. Harmon understands why this guy did what he did and why he had to be brought here, so I guess incredible torture is okay sometimes after all.

Some exposition and then out of nowhere the sky opens and horrible monstrosities start to pour out. I don’t mean “out of nowhere” as in the sky opens up in an unlikely place, no, I mean that this plot development was not seeded at all. Harmon, knowing what he has to do from the deus ex machina in his head, shoots a lithium bomb into the hole the monsters are coming out of and saves the day.

What.

There are so many things wrong with this book. The plot makes no sense, the sexuality is in some cases horrifying, and the future it sets up makes about as much sense as the plot. This whole thing with “slavemates,” for instance. These women are socially reviled because they want to have children. The slightest inclination to have any children (which apparently only takes place in a small percentage of women?) means total enslavement and constant baby-making. What a brilliant way to treat the continuation of the species.

There’s an element to this society called Freewill. Overpopulation was dealt with, and naturally that means the whole world has devolved into a constant state of hedonism. At least that’s what the book tells us. One of the ways this comes up is in the description of Star Pearls and their legality. They’re legal to own, but illegal to import. Once somebody sells them, though, they’re completely absolved of responsibility. Freewill means that if a person buys a thing of their free will, the seller is not in any way legally responsible for the transaction. Something about this almost makes sense, but then my brain hurts.

There are lots of other things wrong with this book. I won’t list them all. So what’s good about it?  Where’s the value in this book, to justify reading and reviewing it?

I think the thing we really need to take away from this book is its treatment of sexuality. I’d like to blame some of it on the time the book was written, but really you could head to Amazon right now and find thousands of books with pretty much the same problems as Genetic Bomb but were written within the past year or so. Some of these books are openly pornographic, to be sure, but not all of them. And Genetic Bomb isn’t openly pornographic, despite all the problems I’ve listed.

Another thing we can take away from this book is how to handle the language of the future, or of another society, or whatever. This book is peppered with awful “future” terminology. Our little quote about hefnerization and homonating is some evidence of that, but we also get words like “lesbies,” “apt” (for apartment), “vut” (some kind of generic swear word?), and hundreds more. Every page has this kind of thing. It’s immensely distracting. I understand that slang changes, but if you’re writing a book, keep that to a minimum. I don’t want to have to spend time trying to figure out what your slang terms mean.

Was Genetic Bomb worth ninety cents? It’s a pretty supreme example of What Not to Do, but even then, that’s a buck I’ll never see again, and I’ll miss it.


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