Identity Seven by Robert Lory
DAW Books, 1974
Price I paid: 75¢
Hunters Associated was the simple name of the organization. Who was behind it, what its ultimate purpose was, was never told its agents. All they needed to know was that they covered the galaxy, that their real identities had been buried, that once in Hunters they could be anybody.
He was Seven. That was all. Identity Seven. He had a new assignment. Identity Six had just been slain—lasered down on a far world by enemies unknown. But the death had been kept secret long enough for Seven to be sent to take his place.
To take his place, to take his features, to take his task—and to be a target to slay once again. If he failed, there would be an Identity Eight to step into his burned-out shoes…and a Nine and a Ten.
But Seven was determined to see that the progression stopped with him—even if he had to go down to the bottom of an alien sea and hobnob with horror.
The cover for this book has got to be one of the better ones I’ve had the pleasure to look at. Frank Kelly Freas is a genius. That monster’s got so many eyes and he’s gonna eat that girl and she’s naked and has no nipples. How awesome is that? It has nothing to do with the book.
Identity Seven turned out to be a fairly interesting book, I suppose. I guess it had more of an interesting premise than anything. The execution wasn’t great. I find that to be standard fare for a typical DAW book, and I’m okay with it.
Our hero, Seven, has been sent to replace another agent, known as Six. Six was killed in the line of duty and it’s Seven’s job to figure out who did it and continue the mission.
Seven (and Six before him) belong to a group called Hunters Associated and we really don’t learn anything about what that group does or why. All we know is that they take people who look alike and plant them into situations. We don’t even really know why they plant these people into these situations other than, I guess, to manage them. The identity they use on this particular planet, Usulkan, is that of Kalian Pendek. “Pendek” runs a company known as Sub-Oceanic Transport, the largest and most successful shipping company on the planet.
We don’t know anything of Seven’s life before he became a Hunter. Apparently he got mind-wiped before he was inducted. We don’t even get tantalizing clues or anything. We get a flashback to his first mission briefing where he does a lot of “Who am I” stuff, but no answers come forth. We do learn that he’s handsome (of course) and that he has a strong widow’s peak. I assume he not only looks like Dracula, but is Dracula.
Fun fact, Robert Lory wrote a series of books all about Dracula. I choose to assume this is actually a part of the series, set in the far future. It’s like how I hoped the Reapers in Firefly would just turn out to be Buffy vampires in space. I was disappointed by Joss Whedon and I won’t let Robert Lory do it to me too.
Anyway, Seven looks a lot like all of his associates (we never learn how many of them there are), and they’re designed to be completely interchangeable. I suppose that’s a pretty neat premise.
Seven’s investigation into Six’s death takes him on a wild ride through the world of Usulkan and its shipping industry. There are aliens in this universe and we see a fair number of them, but I just couldn’t figure out why. We get some rat people and some yellow people (not racist) and some red people (still not racist) but, and maybe this is nitpicky but it still bothered me, they just acted like humans. It’s like Lory wanted to pepper his universe with non-humans for some effect that I don’t grasp. It’s not like the book was a commentary on mankind in the cosmos or anything like that. I know Star Trek had its fair share of just-human aliens, but this is different. Seven isn’t out there seeking out strange new worlds, he’s running a business and investigating a murder. What are the aliens for, exactly?
Seven’s investigation leads him on a few false leads that take up the bulk of the first half of the book. That part wasn’t strictly necessary. He finds a folder in a hidden compartment in Pendek’s desk that reads “Tadjuk” and that’s what sets him off on all the false leads, because Tadjuk means several possible things and he has to investigate them. Turns out there’s a mountain with that name, and a pirate captain (Usulkan is a water-world), and a jeweler in the capital city. None of those turn out to be the solution to the mystery.
Here’s the thing, the folder also had stuff in it, and it wasn’t until midway through the book that our hero decides to investigate the stuff instead of the word on the cover of the stuff. Seriously, worst secret agent ever.
Investigating the stuff in the folder takes Seven in the right direction. In the meantime, he avoids some assassination plots against himself. He takes them pretty much in stride, to be honest. I guess he figures it comes with the job. The stuff in the folder turns out to be plans for some kind of massive underwater installation being built with materials and specs from his own company. Awkward.
Seven goes down and investigates it and it turns out that the underwater installation is huge and it’s not just for launching submarines, the company’s main source of income, but also spaceships. In case you, like I did, forgot that this book takes place in a universe where interplanetary travel is commonplace, let me take this opportunity to remind you of that fact.
Doing some underwater secret agent stuff, Seven infiltrates this undersea base and decides to blow it up, despite not knowing what exactly it’s actually supposed to be. Fortunately the real bad guys capture him and we get to find out all sorts of stuff.
I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t really see this bad guy coming. I spent the whole book with the theory that Seven was on a wild goose chase and that Six had faked his own death and was up to some kind of dastardly deeds. Wasn’t that essentially the plot of Goldeneye? I mean, this basically a Bond book in space anyway, so that would make some sense. Our guy is even named Seven, for heaven’s sake. He’s just a licence to kill away from being our favorite binge-drinking chain-smoking womanizing secret agent. Instead, he’s a crappy binge-drinking chain-smoking womanizing secret agent, but at least he’s in space.
Upon learning that wasn’t the case, I figured maybe it was in fact Eight behind the scenes, figuring maybe he’d lay down some plans for when he gets to take over the big company and do his sort of thing. That makes sense too, right?
Unfortunately, Robert Lory is not a man who likes plots that make sense.
It turns out that I was almost right. The bad guy turns out to be Fourteen. What?
I guess I made the mistake, and this is because I was led on by the back of the book and YOU’D THINK I’D KNOW BETTER BY NOW, that the secret agents were put in places in some kind of sequential order. But looking back, no, that’s not the case. There’s an indeterminate number of this guy running around doing all sorts of secret agent stuff, so it stands to reason that Fourteen would be hanging around on “Tell me about the waters of your homeworld” Usulkan.
Fourteen has figured out what the real motives behind Hunters Associated are, as well as his own life’s story. He’s using that to carry out his dastardly plan. Seven has to stop him, of course, for some reason.
We never, ever, learn what it is that Fourteen figured out. I’m serious. He almost spills the beans, but I swear to god it’s one of those “All you have to do is—” right before he dies kind of bit. You’d think that maybe there are things too hacky for any author to actually use, but this apparently isn’t one of them.
The plan, incidentally, is to let loose a bunch of sea monsters for a reason that really wasn’t explained. Even at the end of the book when somebody was asking Seven what the bad guy plan was I’m pretty sure even he didn’t know. It wasn’t even some kind of Joker plot where he’s unleashing sea monsters for the fun of it, either. He really seemed to have a motive. I remember it had something to do with the Federation. Yeah, there’s a Federation, incidentally, and Usulkan has joined it and Fourteen had a grudge? But why sea monsters?
The book ends about how you would expect it to. Seven manages to kill Fourteen after killing some goons first. Fourteen plays with him a bit, too, in standard fashion. No white cats were involved but you can feel free to imagine one. That’s called textual interaction and it’s a fascinating subject for another time.
The Feds show up (from the Federation, not the US Government, although it might as well have been) and they save Seven after the spaceship dock cum sea monster habitat gets blown up. He gets his orders for the next mission and then goes to bed with a lady.
I’m really not sure what, exactly, was up with this book. It’s not even that it was necessarily all that bad, to be honest, just a bit mystifying. I don’t often finish a book and wonder what the point was. I recognize that the point is being entertaining. But a lot of this book was, in fact, desperately in need of a point, and that’s unsettling. The villain plot was barely explained, we get no backstory on our hero or his organization, and the universe is almost completely barebones. I’ve complained in the past about authors who feel the need to fill us in on every tiny little detail of this science fiction universe they’ve created and how annoying that is, but Identity Seven went in completely the opposite direction.
Oh, one little thing that was amazing though. At one point Seven faces off against this great big martial arts guy that’s working for Fourteen (we find this out later). They get into some kickboxing and Seven saves the day by just cold kicking this guy in the nuts. He is clearly not a gentleman. Our bad guy doesn’t go down right away, though. Instead, he explains that he is a member of some religion that, apparently, explicitly forbids getting cold kicked in the joint chiefs of staff. As a man with no honor, he has no option but to commit suicide then and there.
Pretty awesome in its way, but what was the point? It’s commented on, once, snarkily, later in the book (He’s described as someone who “couldn’t tell his privates from the Holy Land” or something inane like that) but it doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s just there. Like the rat people and the blue people and the fat people and the whole story, it didn’t build on anything, lead to anything, or explain anything. It just happened and went away.