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The House of Zeor

The House of Zeor by Jacqueline LichtenbergHouse of Zeor front
Pocket Books, 1977
Price I paid: 75¢

Earth is divided between Sime and Gen, both offspring of the ancient race of men—and mortal enemies. The Sime cannot control their thirst for the kill; terrified Gen cannot escape the sinuous tentacles whose grip means death.

Hugh Valleroy, crossing into Sime territory in a desperate search for the woman he loves, comes on a brave new experiment—one that could mean the survival of his world!

I’m back! The move went quite well, if you were wondering. If you weren’t wondering, it went well anyway. I’m getting back into the rhythm of things, and this week’s post is a step in that direction. Boy howdy, do I have some exhausting reading to relate to you today.

House of Zeor is the first novel in a series that started with a few short stories and went from there. Reading around the Internet seems to suggest that this series does in fact have a fanbase, and I’d like to point out that my copy of this book, bought from a used bookstore for six bits, is autographed. The author suggested to a mysterious “Lucy” that she be very careful of Simes. Lucy, if you’re out there, I just want to say thanks for dropping this off for what certainly amounted to ten cents in trade credit.

As the synopsis tells us, the human race is now divided into two separate species, the Simes and the Gens. The Gens are basically just people as they’ve always been. The Simes are weird, though, and the bulk of the book is spent not actually pursuing any particular plot but just walking around showing us how Simes are weird.

As is the case in many books, House of Zeor starts off with a macguffin that is also a woman. Is there a special term for this? I’m sure there has to be. Anyway, this particular macguffin is named Aisha, and she’s being sought after by Hugh Valleroy. Hugh meets up with a Sime named Klyd, who takes Hugh on a long, twisting ride through what I can only assume is supposed to be a commentary on something.

Aisha doesn’t actually show up until the last twenty pages of the book, you see. Hugh occasionally thinks to himself “Man, I’m enjoying myself, but I feel a little guilty about the fact that my girlfriend is rotting in a cage somewhere waiting to have her life force drained by tentacle vampires. I’m gonna go draw a picture though.”

I think I got ahead of myself.

So yes, the Simes are tentacle vampires and they have to feed on Gens. Gens produce something called selyn and it’s something like life energy. Consuming selyn usually kills the Gen, but Klyd is a special kind of Sime called a channel. Channels have two remarkable and convenient differences from regular Simes. First, they can drain off selyn from a Gen without killing him or her, and second, they can transfer that selyn to another Sime. Channels are considered perverts by the rest of the Sime community, and Gens barely know about them, so they’re disliked on all sides.

Hugh takes up with Klyd, joins his family (the titular House of Zeor), and immediately the book turns into a book about tolerance and acceptance. Okay, I guess I can handle that. Hugh has a lot of his preconceived notions about Simes challenged, and it turns out that Klyd is a really good guy on an important mission to save humanity. Some Sime mathematician has calculated that before too long, the Simes are going to eat all the Gens and then die out. Klyd, as a channel, is finding other channels and helping them overcome their thirst for the kill so that they can have what amounts basically to sustainable agriculture. A Soylent Green Movement, if you will.

I’m sorry.

So that he can move about freely in Sime society, Hugh takes on the role of a Companion, a Gen who is trained to help out a Sime whenever the need for selyn hits them. Every month or so a Sime will feel an urge to feed, and if that doesn’t happen, he or she will die.

I wonder where Jacqueline Lichtenberg, co-author of Star Trek Lives, got that idea.

The interesting thing about this channel/Companion contract is that while the book states multiple times that there is nothing sexual about it, it is absolutely tinged with sexual overtones. The whole book is, but in a weird way that actually interests me. Let me see if I can walk us through it.

Every so often a Sime has to extend his pink moist arm tentacles

I guess that about covers it!

But wait, there’s a bit more. Part of the Sime feeding requires oral contact which is totally not a kiss.

Is this book some kind of metaphor for heterosexuality? For the dominance of the man over the woman? Klyd and his folks are considered perverts and reviled, so is it a metaphor for homosexuality? What about the racial overtones, about the hatred between Gen and Sime? Or could the author not be discussing any of this in an overt way, but instead is using hints of all these things to weave a complex, albeit boring, tapestry?

Hugh isn’t a real Companion, but he apparently has the potential. He and Klyd get thrust into adventures before he can get properly trained up.

Also there’s a girl somewhere who is probably dying.

As the adventure progresses, it becomes apparent that Klyd is starting to feel the need. And not the need for speed. He manages to put off his need for a long while, and as the book’s end approaches, he’s getting pretty desperate.

Gens have a natural disgust of Sime arm tentacles, and I forgot to mention that Simes can sense emotions. Most Simes like sensing emotions like fear and hatred because it makes the selyn a lot more tasty to them. Klyd is beyond that, though, and until Hugh can learn to trust him utterly, he can’t use him for his monthly snacktime.

A large part of the book is taken up by discussing how this trust is coming about. It follows a pattern throughout that got annoyingly familiar.

  1. Hugh starts to trust Klyd a bit.
  2. Klyd does something that makes Hugh mad.
  3. Klyd explains that Simes are not like Gens and what he did was logical and necessary.
  4. Hugh starts to accept this.
  5. Repeat.

Near the end the book itself commented on this pattern.

Klyd’s major role in the book, however, was explaining, either through example or otherwise, how childish and silly Hugh’s fear and distrust are. In addition, he keeps berating Hugh for not knowing basic things about Sime physiology and psychology. For example, at one point in the adventure, Klyd gets attacked and knocked unconscious by some kind of wild cat. Hugh figures that the best thing to do would be to take Klyd to safety and nurse him back to health. When Klyd wakes up, however, he’s furious. Didn’t Hugh know not to move a Sime when they’re unconscious? That it’s one of the worst things you can do?

See, it turns out that Simes have the remarkable ability (among all the other ones) to tell exactly where they are at all times. They are aware of their position on Earth, Earth’s position in space, and so on. This sense is turned off while a Sime is unconscious, and if they’re moved during that time it drives them crazy for a while because their brain thinks they’re somewhere else.

Uh, dimwit, if that’s the case then the Earth’s rotation, the movement of the Earth around the Sun, the Sun’s movement around the galaxy, and the galaxy’s movement through the universe would mean you’d go nuts every time you went to sleep. You’re always moving.

That’s not just me thinking with common sense, either. Klyd himself mentions that he is always aware, on some level, of all those things. Except when he’s asleep, apparently.

The book’s meandering journey starts to come to a close when Hugh and Klyd are captured by Sime raiders. The raiders usually go around looking for Gens and then sell them on the market to hungry Simes. Raiders in general are not thrilled with Klyd and his sort, because I guess they’d be out of the job if their utopia happened. The two of them get captured, and incidentally the raiders also have Aisha. What luck!

Klyd is going through some serious selyn withdrawal symptoms so he’s not much help. Hugh teaches Aisha a quick couple lessons on tolerance and then tells her how to best kill a Sime. It turns out they’re super vulnerable during the feeding process, in particular on their tentacles. So pink, moist, sensitive tentacles are the Sime weak point. There’s absolutely nothing sexual about this book at all.

Anyway, hitting a Sime in the tentacles is a surefire way to get them to back down, and in fact it’s so painful to them that it puts them off selyn permanently, causing them to slowly starve to death with food literally looking them in the face. Harsh.

Aisha runs off to do what she’s been trained to do and Hugh has to figure out how to help Klyd. Klyd, incidentally, is the hope of the future in a lot of ways. As head of the House of Zeor he’s a primary force in getting Simes to turn to channels for their selyn instead of killing Gens. Klyd needs selyn so badly that there’s a chance that Hugh would die if Klyd lost control during the feeding process. Hugh figures it’s worth it and goes to work.

What follows is basically sex.

Hugh doesn’t die. In fact, he’s not only got the stuff it takes to be a Companion, but he’s really really good at it. Of course.

Aisha completes her mission and kills the raider leader. She’s only in the book for twenty pages or so, but at least she’s levelheaded and competent. Klyd invites them back to Zeor to make lots of little Companion babies but they decline, saying that the best thing they can do is go back to Gen territory and tell everybody what they’ve learned about Simes and how they’re not all evil predators. Klyd thinks this is a pretty good idea and the book ends.

Okay so the actual plot elements of the story take place right at the beginning and end. The middle is all about Hugh learning about Simes and, in particular, how channels are different from regular Simes and are the wave of the future. We learn about how Simes have to collect selyn, that it’s their nature and they shouldn’t be reviled for that. We learn that Klyd is super wise and wonderful and he’s going to save the world. We basically learn that Simes are better than Gens in almost every respect.

We really don’t see Gens in a good light at all in this book, and since Gens are the ones who are basically still regular humans, the book is a pretty strong condemnation of most of the things humans do.

Since finishing the book I’ve mellowed out a little bit on it, but while I was reading it I just kept getting alternately mad and tired. I’d get mad because the book simply refused to progress in terms of the plot I was promised. I mean, that girl was sitting in a cage for four weeks while Hugh learned the finer points of Sime language! And then I’d get tired because the parts where Hugh was learning Simelan were not especially exciting to behold.

It’d be a stretch to call this book bad, but it’s also not especially good. It’s a firm middle-of-the-road, didn’t-do-much-for-me kind of read. It had some interesting enough world building and on the whole it got its message across pretty well.

What bothered me, though, was just trying to figure out if this book was, in fact, trying to convey some kind of deeper message than “Hey look at this neat idea I had.” It kept hinting at some kind of subtext, whether sexual or racial or whatever, but it really never quite got there. While it’s true that science fiction often has the ability to show us sides of our reality (social or otherwise) from a new perspective, I suppose it doesn’t have to have that aim in mind. House of Zeor came so close to it, though, that I wonder if it tried and failed, or tried not to and failed.

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1 Comment

  1. Joseph Nebus says:

    If I remember correctly, this Sime/Gen stuff didn’t just come from a Star Trek fanfic writer, but actually started out as Trek fanfiction directly. I believe if you squint hard enough you can see from K/S stuff (just add telepathy) to Sime/Gen relations, and Lichtenberg managed to use fan networking in the 70s to build a really impressive community that, apparently, is still turning out fan fiction of the Sime/Gen universe.

    (Given how the overtones of the thing are pretty close to the Romantic Predatory Vampire stuff that got really popular in the past generation, obviously, Lichtenberg was onto something and maybe just a little early in turning it into blockbuster novels.)

    Like

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