Unto Zeor, Forever by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Playboy Press, 1978
Price I paid: $1.25
Humanity has mutated into two distinct races—where the tentacled touch of a Sime means instant death to a Gen. Now only the rare Sime “Channels” are able to maintain an uneasy truce.
Into this explosive situation comes Digen Farris, descendant of the first channel and ruler of the legendary House of Zeor. He dares to do the unthinkable: Digen Farris wants to be a doctor, and his struggle to become the first Sime surgeon could plunge the world into destruction and chaos once more…
Well folks, here we have it, the thrilling sequel to House of Zeor. Jacqueline Lichtenberg is up to a lot of the same in this book, but she’s definitely matured a bit as a writer, at least. While this book was still pretty boring, it actually also made some sense, if you can believe it.
One thing I can definitely say improved a lot is the cover art. I don’t know who did the first book’s art but man was it bad. By contrast, Unto Zeor, Forever features a very polite dude who is offering his hand tentacles to a young lady who is just workin’ it. I mean she is totally into whatever the hell is going on. Also she has a ridiculously tiny waist, which might be compared to this book, which was an enormous waste. Of time. Get it?
Our hero in this book is Digen Farris, the great-great grandson of Klyd Farris, one of the principals of House of Zeor. Like his forebear, Digen is a “channel,” a special type of Sime that can draw off the selyn energy of a Gen painlessly and then transfer it to another Sime so they don’t have to kill Gens to get the selyn they need.
What I hate most about these books is how much of the made-up vocabulary I’m picking up. I have nothing against made-up vocabularies, mind you. It’s a staple of science fiction and fantasy. Still, for a universe like this one, I really shouldn’t be paying this much attention. Furthermore, Lichtenberg included a handy cast of characters page and glossary of Sime terms, just so all this nonsense running together can be cross-referenced with a page I’ll never look at. Seriously, glossaries are terrible in sci-fi books. They’re a lazy way of telling and not showing. You want us to know what your made-up word means? Use it well and give it context. We’ll figure it out. We’re not stupid; we’re science fiction readers.
Yeah, I know Dune has a glossary. I’m not changing my mind on this.
Mr. Farris has decided that he wants to be a doctor. You see, surgery is very, very difficult for Simes because they can read emotions, and emotions like pain and fear make them revert to their more primitive predatory instincts. Farris thinks he can overcome this difficulty, though, so he enrolls as an intern at a Gen teaching hospital.
Farris faces a lot of problems at his new job, though. The Gen doctors resent him because Simes are naturally just better than Gens at everything. Your average Sime gets +10 bonuses to every stat, basically. I suppose this is supposed to be offset by the fact that they go into withdrawal symptoms if they don’t get enough selyn and eventually die. I don’t see this as much of a problem. It’s like offering me the ability to write a bestselling novel a month but as a drawback I have to drink a Dr Pepper every so often or I’d die. Not an issue.
So the first most of this book is about Digen’s struggles to overcome prejudice, make friends, and prove himself a good doctor. He does this by helping the basketball team go to finals and asking out the hot cheerleader, leading to one of the medical students starting a slow clap in the hallway before the whole cast of the movie bursts into applause and the influential teacher who told him to never give up nods at him approvingly just before Smash Mouth starts playing into the end credits.
That kind of got away from me there.
Digen’s roommate, a guy named Joel “Hulk” Hogan, is initially afraid of Simes but overcomes that difficulty over the course of about a dozen pages.
In the meantime, Digen is suffering from selyn withdrawal. Some variety of Sime bureaucracy keeps him from getting all the selyn he needs to stave off the hunger, so he’s been dealing with that for a while. He meets a nice Gen lady, who I suppose is supposed to be the girl on the front of the book, named Ilyana, who is Digen’s “matchmate,” which basically means she and Digen have a special connection. She produces selyn at exactly the same rate that he burns it, so if they got together in an exclusive relationship it would solve all of Digen’s problems on that front. Problem is, Digen is a representative of the Tecton, a group of houses who are trying to bring peace between the Simes and Gens, while she’s from a renegade Distect house who opposes the Tecton. It’s complicated and boring but the upshot of it is that class differences mean they’ll never get to be together.
So the whole weird sex thing is still in this book, and its stronger than ever. The Digen/Ilyana thing brings a new element to the table that wasn’t in House of Zeor, namely in that they’re of the opposite sex so there’s that whole element. The sex thing gets really, really explicit at times. Here, let me just give you a sample paragraph:
Her hands slid up his arms, stroking the bulging tentacle sheaths that lay along the arm from elbow to wrist. As her cool fingers came to the hard, swollen ronaplin glands, halfway up along the side of each forearm, under the lateral tentacle sheaths, Digen sucked breath through his teeth. The ache of need spread through his whole body, and the ronaplin glands responded, pouring their selyn-conducting hormone into the lateral sheaths as the small, delicate transfer organs flicked in and out of the orifices on the side of each wrist.
Whew! I need a cigarette.
I read this paragraph to a friend of mine who wondered what I was groaning about, and he pointed out that not only does that description just drip with sex, but it’s written in a way that is really not actually sexy in the least. You might compare it to some erotic novel that reads
Blood began to pour into his turgid man-parts, which led him to desire contact with the rich moistness of her womanhood.
On man I should write erotica.
Anyway, things start to go wrong at the hospital for Farris and eventually he gets kicked out after swapping selyn with Ilyana. I’m skipping a whole lot of text here because very little of it was pertinent to the story and mostly served as a way of further developing Sime biology and culture, which is to say a bunch of crap I don’t care about but I nonetheless can’t seem to remove from my memory. Incidentally, if Digen and Ilyana form a mutual pair bond that would be called lortuen in Simelan, whereas if the gender roles were reversed it would be torluen and if the sexes were the same it would be orhuen. These are facts I now know and can’t un-know.
A bit on Simelan, incidentally. The text establishes that it’s very hard for Gens to learn the language because it’s not connected to any Gen languages (sub-note, the text also points out that Gens speak English. This book takes place thousands of years in the future). It is pointed out that Simelan is so different from Gen language because it didn’t descend from any of the old languages, it just kind of happened.
I can suspend belief only just so far. Ridiculous tentacle sex between two separate human species is one thing. Languages don’t just happen.
Digen and Ilyana escape to Ilyana’s Distect house, Rior. We then enter the final third of the book, which is just Digen tossing back and forth ideas with himself. He can’t decide, after some of the things he’s dealt with, whether the methodologies of the Tecton or the Distect are better. He keeps swinging back and forth, almost heading back to House Zeor, then deciding to stay with House Rior, and so forth. It’s mind-numbingly dull and I get the feeling that the whole process was just the author trying to figure out for herself how the book should end and thinking “Oh I’ll just write until it comes to me.” On one hand I can kind of respect that. When I can’t make a decision in my writing I usually just set it aside and forget about it. This is probably why I’m not published.
On the other hand, it makes for long, terrible, boring reading. I honestly think I come out ahead in this one.
A plague hits House Rior and Digen uses all his doctor skills from the first half of the book to try and stave it off. They lose a lot of people and the head of House Rior goes crazy and decides that they have to start raiding Gen settlements for selyn. Digen and Ilyana are not cool with that. Ilyana goes to talk some sense into leader-man, who happens to be her brother, but fails. Digen sits around debating what to do, as usual, until the decision is made for him. A building explodes and kills Ilyana. She communicates through their inseparable lortuen bond that what he needs to do is take what he’s learned from Rior back to Zeor and help transform the Tecton from within, teaching it the lessons he’s learned from the Distect. I guess sometimes you just have to decide on the trite answer.
Despite all, this book was in some ways better than its predecessor. It was dull and had a lot of “wander around talking about Simes” moments but it did actually make a lot more sense than House of Zeor. And one thing about the series finally became clear to me, lending it a bit of merit that I might not actually have given it. I’ll try to explain:
The problem I had with House of Zeor was that I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was trying to say about sexuality. It was definitely there and far more than a subtext. It was like a find-and-replace of “sex” with “whatever this book is about.” Was it a commentary on male-female relations? Homosexuality? What?
What dawned on me (I say it like I figured this out on my own. The book sort of came right out and said it at some point.) is that more than a find-and-replace story, there is, in fact, a fundamental what if in this novel that makes it a decent science fiction idea, albeit not carried out in a way I like. The what if is: What if instead of just being divided by sex, the human race divided again?
Simple, right? I guess I just wasn’t looking at it right. The reason Sime-Gen relations are so tinged with sexuality is because the Sime-Gen split is pretty similar to the male-female split. There are problems with how it’s handled, though.
For one, the Sime-Gen split, while referred to in the text as symbiotic, just doesn’t seem to be that way. Males and females need each other because that’s how the species propagates. Simes just need Gens because of something they produce. The book never says what Gens get out of it. They either get their selyn forcibly taken from them or taken away consentually, but never does the book state that they benefit from it. Well, not entirely, anyway. Ilyana, for instance, is one of just a few Gens that get sick if their selyn isn’t drawn off regularly. I suppose this is inching toward a symbiotic relationship but it’s stated again and again that her kind of thing is rare.
Furthermore, if we’re going to cast the Sime-Gen split into terms akin to sexuality, we get some weird stuff happening. Simes tend to come across as the predator in the relationship, and their default state really reflects this. Simes take what they need, and if unrestrained, they take by force. I can’t help but think this is in some way akin to the claims of radical feminists (or at least male stereotypes of radical feminists) who claim that all sex by its very nature is rape. This is a disturbing thought to me.
So I get the idea that humanity is now a four-way split with all of the variants needing each other, but I just feel like it wasn’t handled in a way that appeals to me. The idea is a good one, but in this case it just comes out sounding like really bad erotica mixed with commentary on sexuality that leads to some disturbing implications.
On the plus side, I’ve found a good use for the word fauxrotica. So that’s nice.