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Balzan of the Cat People #1: The Blood Stones

Balzan of the Cat People #1: The Blood Stones by Wallace MooreBalzan of the Cat People front
Pyramid Books, 1975
Price I paid: 75¢

Space flight Ares Probe One was thirteen months away from earth on a manned journey to Mars.

Then IT happened!

The craft was plucked out of the solar system to crash on a wild planet never seen by man. Only an infant boy, sleeping in stasis inside a safety cube, survived. He was to become Balzan, adopted son of a tribe of bipeds resembling earth cats!

THE BLOOD STONES

Reptilian raiders, flashing deadly neutron swords, had taken Balzan’s cat-people into slavery to satisfy the blood-lust of an insatiable queen. Only Balzan could hope to rescue them. But first he must learn the terrible truth about the evil blood stones, even if the knowledge destroyed him!

Okay, not only does the front cover of this book totally acknowledge the fact that Balzan of the Cat People is a blatant space ripoff of Tarzan, they didn’t even manage to change his name to something that’s not two letters away from Tarzan. I mean, this is both a ripoff and a lazy one. Come on.

Apart from that, this cover is pretty rockin’. A guy who looks like an Indian dressed as a half-naked Roman is gonna hit somebody with a sword while these people with cat heads look on. Also, Earth is in the sky for some inadequately explored reason. That wasn’t in the book.

Then there’s the back cover. As soon as I read it I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. One thing about writing cover synopses is the question of what tense to make it. Usually I find they’re written in the present tense, something like “He must face his greatest fear as his civilization lies dying of hypoxia!” This book went for a weird sort of pluperfect sense that it couldn’t maintain, so the verbs really don’t agree. It’s really sloppy.

The book itself is actually a bit better, but generic and boring.

Balzan lives with the cat people, as the title suggests, and these people are actually called Endorians every so often, so don’t confuse them with Ewoks. When we first meet him, we find that Balzan is hunting some kind of giant beast that killed a member of his village. This turns out to be a common theme when following Balzan’s actions. He’s headstrong and hell-bent for revenge most of the time, verging on the recklessly stupid. While he’s off fighting this beast, his village is attacked by lizard people, called the Alb. Already we’ve got two kinds of people on this planet and both of them sort of feature in the Elder Scrolls universe. That actually just occurred to me.

Balzan gets back home to find the village wrecked and people dying. The village elder is still alive just long enough to tell Balzan what happened, which is convenient. Balzan once again swears revenge but the village elder tries to impart some Buddhism on him, effectively telling Balzan that revenge won’t make things better and he should stay here and help rebuild. Balzan is all “nuts to that” and sets off to murder things. Also, it turns out that Balzan’s adopted sister was kidnapped, so now he’s got a slightly more solid reason to head on out.

A few dead Alb later, Balzan learns that the lizard men are just working on behalf of some other dudes. The lizard dudes are little more than tribals, and the technology they’re using is way too advanced for them. Basically, they have lightsabers. Well, not exactly, but they have super-sharp technoswords.

Okay, so the idea of personal shields is a long-standing one in science fiction, even by the time this book came around. The Blood Stones did something moderately clever that I’d never thought of, probably because upon thinking about it it doesn’t actually make much sense. What the bad guys in this book did, though, is basically take a personal shield and put it on a sword. So now the sword is really sharp and also has pseudo-electrical properties.

Some asking around reveals that the swords come from a place called Kharn. The Kharnites are another race on this crazy planet, vaguely lizardish but more humanoid. Or something. They’re never described in all that much detail. They have airships and slavery, making them natural bad guys.

Balzan heads right into Kharn and starts smashing heads. He manages to fall in with some people who are somewhere between a Thieves’ Guild and a band of revolutionaries. He doesn’t have much time with them, though, before they get caught by the Kharnish authorities. Balzan figures that the only way he’s going to get into the slave pens and save his people will be to get captured and taken there himself, so that’s what happens.

We learn more about what’s going on in Kharn after Balzan gets captured. Every month there’s a gladiatorial show, where all the prisoners end up fighting a monster called a huulat. It’s always a slaughter, but the people love it. Kharn is ruled by the Red Lord, although the book goes back and forth on whether he’s the real ruler and he’s using his wife, Myrane, for some insidious purpose, or vice versa.

While in prison, Balzan notices that his friends and fellow prisoners are strangely apathetic and resigned to their fate. At first he chalks it up to depression, but he later comes to realize that the food they’re being given is drugged. Balzan is also eating the food, but his bizarre human anatomy makes it so that instead of pacifying him, the drug enrages and invigorates him. How astonishingly convenient.

At some point Myrane, the queen, notices Balzan. Here we’re introduced to a fantasy stock character that I call the Slut Queen, not to be confused with the Queen of Sluts, who is confined to the first and penultimate acts of Japanese harem comedies.

Ahem.

Anyway, the Slut Queen is typically unsatisfied by her regal husband or something and is always sleeping around and manipulative and all that stuff. Myrane is no different. She wants Balzan in the worst way, but he refuses her. She’s also been sleeping with one of her husband’s lackeys, a guy named Lord Sha, and when he finds out about this situation, he gets mad too. So by not sleeping with a woman, Balzan has made two enemies. Life’s not fair sometimes.

Lord Sha arranges for Balzan to be killed in single combat, and after a very long battle sequence Balzan manages to throw his challenger off a roof I didn’t even realize was there because I was so bored by this point.

For “murdering” his would-be murderer, Balzan gets thrown in the dungeon. His adopted sister, who is slaving for Lord Sha at this point, finds out about it and tells the Queen for some reason. Next thing we know, she’s heading down into the dungeon and fetching Balzan out, where she brings him to Myrane.

Did I mention that Balzan’s half-sister is named Kitta? She’s a cat person named Kitta. God, this book is lazy.

Myrane’s hideaway is a cave full of statues of demons and a big pool of blood. No sense wasting time on characterization, I suppose. In the middle of the big pool of blood are the titular Blood Stones, which we seriously heard vague mention of twice in the book before this point apart from the title. It’s not exactly clear why these are supposed to be a big deal, so Myrane fills us in on the details.

The Blood Stones fell to the planet’s surface some untold millenia ago, and were found by one of Myrane’s ancestresses. They’ve been passed down, mother to daughter, since that time. They grant all sorts of crazy powers, like extended life and also when you give them blood they create a drug that makes people apathetic and resigned to their fate.

I’m glad that complete non-mystery was solved.

Myrane’s ancestresses use the Blood Stones to take over great cities and enslave the people to do their bidding before driving those cities into the ground. Kharn is just the next in line for this pointless exercise.

During her expository rant, Balzan notices and calls her out on, of all things, a mistake in her grammar. What he’s caught is the fact that the Blood Stones are in fact not passed down from mother to daughter like she said, but in fact the first woman to find them was Myrane herself, and she’s in fact older than a lot of the civilizations on the planet.

Okay, this book was already chock full of bad grammar, as well as spelling errors, so it takes some real gall to attribute your hero’s discovery of a secret to an intentional grammatical error.

In addition to that point, the book makes a big deal out of the fact that she was lying about the mother-to-daughter nature of the Blood Stones. Of course, one of the first things she told us about the damned rocks is that they extend life. Were we supposed to be surprised by this revelation? And what was the point of it? It had absolutely no impact on the story.

After having shot her load of truth, Myrane summons a monster to kill Balzan so she can add his blood to the blood pool. He fights the monster for a while and eventually manages to kill it, whereupon he picks it up and just chucks it at the Blood Stones. Instead of making them roll around and annoying Myrane because she has to go put them back now, they explode. Myrane ages really fast before turning into dust, as is common in these situations.

Her last words are “A million years, a thousand centuries” over and over again.

Um, lady, a thousand centuries would be 100,000 years. You’re off by an order of magnitude. Maybe your brains are scrambled because time itself just remembered you exist and has some catching up to do, but if I were Balzan, I would be suspicious again. After all, giving yourself away by being stupid is what you do.

Turns out, Myrane is what gamers call a Load-Bearing Boss. Her death means that the city starts to fall apart. Why would it do that? Because magic, that’s why. I guess. I don’t know. That’s what happens, though. Balzan and Kitta have to hurry away through the Labyrinthine halls beneath the city, then Balzan has to rescue some of his old revolutionary pals, and they all escape.

Just before the book ends, we get a quick snapshot of all the people who were mean to Balzan through the book suffering hideous deaths.

We also see the Red Lord who makes some cryptic comments about how he expected this and it’s all part of the plan.

Balzan drops off his comrades after stealing an airship, and then heads off for more adventure. The end.

When I was in elementary school, there was this thing called “Achy Breaky Heart.” You probably remember it. The height of comedy to people in my elementary school was to parody this song, singing it as “Achy Breaky Fart.” I’m sure that many children all over the nation came up with similar things.

The level of creativity that went into The Blood Stones pales in comparison to “Achy Breaky Fart.”

The book is a vague collection of fantasy stereotypes and tropes that happen to have been translated into space. There’s a genre, Sword and Planet, and the book belongs firmly into that. I certainly hope the rest of that genre is not as dull and pointless as this book, because I do in fact like the idea.

Everything from Balzan’s origin story to the races on the planet to the names of the characters is just so lazy. There’s absolutely no heart in this book. I don’t hold it against any author who writes for the money. I can respect that they’re honest with themselves about it. Sometimes, though, it’s really really obvious that the author didn’t care how he earned his paycheck and asked themselves, basically, how they could cash in on some other franchise.

You know what it actually reminds me of? There’s a current fad in books that really aggravates me. It started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I really enjoyed. It was a fun and original idea and I respected it. Then I started noticing so many copies of that concept on the market. It turns out that publishers realized just how easy it is to give somebody ten bucks and the rest of a sandwich to take a piece of familiar literature and add a few lines about vampires or werewolves or aliens or whatever and then rake in the dough. The Blood Stones is essentially the prototype of that. It even admits, openly, to being basically Tarzan in space, and the problem is that Tarzan in space would actually have been a cool idea, whereas Balzan is just a tired, pointless exercise in teenage stupidity.

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