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Star Giant

Star Giant by Dorothy SkinkleStar Giant front
Belmont Tower Books, 1969
Price I paid: 75¢

His name was Ben-oni…

Ben-oni was a refugee, a political exile from the planet Liban sentenced to spend his life on Earth. He looked human, but he was taller than other men and had a brain like the most sophisticated computer.

A study of Earth history taught him that many Libans before him had made their mark on Earth.

Ben adapted to life on the small planet, but when he was threatened by a fellow exile, the young giant had to fight for his life with weapons not yet invented by earthmen.

Okay, so the cover to this book tells you everything you need to know. Star Wars ripoff, right? I mean, look at that lightsaber! And what’s that guy doing? Is he coming down off of that rock? Is the rock supposed to be a mountain because he’s the titular Star Giant? Why did he climb up on that rock in the first place? It’s not very tall. His hand is stretched out like he’s trying to catch his balance. If that were me, I think I’d turn off my lightsaber if I were sliding down a rock like that. Those are dangerous instruments.

Whatever’s going on in the background is totally beyond me.

Plus, with a name like Ben-oni, which sounds just enough like Obi-Wan to be suspicious, our belief that George Lucas has been ripped off on a very minor scale would seem quite justified, wouldn’t it?

Well, prepare to be surprised. This book had absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars in any way. The Ben-oni thing is probably just a coincidence, since this book was written about eight years before Star Wars was released. So what’s up with that cover?

See, there are absolutely no lightsabers in this book. Nor are there spacesuits or gigantic space factories or whatever the heck that’s supposed to be. Ben-oni does not climb a tiny mountain and he’s not even really a spaceman. While the book was written before Star Wars hit the silver screen, see, this particular edition of the book came out in 1979, so it seems likely that our illustrious publisher just tacked on a vaguely Star Wars-ish cover to an unrelated book in the hopes that somebody would buy it thinking that it had something to do with the most successful science fiction franchise of all time. And there you go.

Ben-oni is a prince of the planet Liban. He has a wife, Jano. The ruling party of the planet has just been overthrown by some guy named General Cush, and said General Cush has felt the need to exile Ben-oni to the planet Earth for the crime of being on the losing side of the coup. I guess. There’s something about trumped-up charges of treason since Ben-oni got drunk at a party and said some nasty things about the new government. For that, he gets sent away.

It seems that this kind of exile-as-punishment has a long and storied history on Liban. It’s some kind of form of teleportation, and so Ben-oni finds himself waking up one day on Earth with a voice in his head. The voice is his Contact, a sort of telepathic-or-something dinglydang that will help him adapt to this Strange New World for a while until Ben-oni has got his bearings. He now goes by the name of Benjamin Franklin Brown, which is incidentally my hip-hop name, and he’s got to make his way all by himself.

I just want to state that the people of Liban seem like total jerks if this is their form of punishment. Not that it’s excessively cruel or anything to the people who get the punishment, no, nothing like that. They all seem to get along fine on Earth. And that’s the problem. What kind of jerkass planet sends its criminals to a world that has no idea what to do with them? A backwards world, hardly developed by the standards of Liban, world where these criminal supermen can run rampant with nothing to stop them? I’m not going to cite the Prime Directive, that’s not really the problem so much as they’re saying “We don’t feel like putting these guys in jail or executing them, we’re just going to inflict them on Earth.”

Assholes!

Ben is situated as a college student at Unnamed University (Go Lions!) where he meets Janice. Ben is taken aback by Janice, not just because she’s gorgeous, I mean, it’s a science fiction novel so that’s to be expected, but rather because she looks just like his gorgeous wife back on Liban, Jano. Even their names are similar! What’s up with that?

Janice, in the meantime, has been bequeathed a stash of notes by her dead grandfather, a very tall man. Did I mention that the Libans are a lot taller than the people of Earth? I think the back of the book mentioned that. So you see that it’s fairly obvious that her grandfather is a Liban exile and there was absolutely no damn need to take a quarter of the book to figure that out. Ugh.

These notes are in her grandfather’s native Liban and she can’t figure out what they say, even though she works in the linguistics department of the university, because if you can’t figure something out when that’s your department it must be really really weird and not just the rantings of a crazy person or that you’re not especially good at your job. She’s in the library puzzling over them when Ben walks up, happens to see the writing over her shoulder, and points out that he knows what’s up and he’ll teach her the language and they start dating.

Guys, remember this if you ever want to date a girl who looks just like your ex-wife. That’s the way to do it right there.

The next half of the book is devoted to discussing the various Libans who have come down to Earth and have made rather a splash. That’s what the notes are all about, see, and it turns out that Janice’s grandfather was, in fact, Jano’s father, exiled for some unexplained reason long ago. So Ben has totally got the hots for his ex-wife’s niece. Awesome.

These Libans from the past are apparently the source for a lot of myths and legends of giants throughout history. Folks like Polyphemus, Atlas, Antaeus, Hercules, Goliath, and so forth. There’s a lot of emphasis on the Greek stories, because those are the ones everybody knows. Fionn mac Cumhail was a giant but the book doesn’t mention him because who knows who that is except Irish people?

The “true” stories of these historical giants are supposed to be heartbreaking but they’re really just kind of stupid. Hercules was a big doofus who just liked to fight people. Atlas was just a big guy who carried big rocks so the legends grew that he carried the world, which is weird because the legends do not in fact say that Atlas held up the world. Atlas was on the world, how could he hold it up? Atlas held up the heavens, silly author. Anyway, Polyphemus’s story is supposed to be the most distressing because he did in fact have one eye and that’s the whole reason he got banished was becuase he was a freak even though he was sweet and kind and totally didn’t deserve being stabbed in the eye by Odysseus.

So yeah, the moral of that part of the book is that all of our tales about giants are the opposite of what we think! Isn’t that daring and original and thought-provoking! Silly humans!

Oh, one story not really based on Earth legend, is that of Kano. He had a laser beam eye and a metal thing on his face and ripped people’s hearts out.

Wait, no, that’s the better one.

Liban Kano was the first and only black person on Liban. So he got exiled for it. And sent to Africa. I was, at first, afraid that the book was going to say that he is the origin of black people, but no, it was just the origin of the Watusi tribe, because they are tall.

So once that part of the “story” is over with we can actually get on with the plot, which starts right after the cigarette ad in the middle of the book.

I’ve had several books with cigarette ads in the middle of them but I haven’t mentioned them. I still find it fascinating that somebody thought it would be a good idea not only to stick an advertisement in the middle of a crappy paperback novel that no one will read, but to make that ad always a cigarette ad. I’m pretty sure they’ve always been for the same brand, too. Kents, I believe. Is it any coincidence that I’ve never heard of that brand of cigarettes outside of the ads in these books?

So another guy from Liban shows up on Earth, a friend of Ben’s whose old name was Jami but now he’s James Morrison, but not the one who was the Lizard King. Jami is just a gigantic dick all over the place. It turns out that back on Liban he was the guy who got Ben exiled in the first place, all because Jami had a big crush on Jano and wanted Ben out of the way, because sending a woman’s husband into exile never to return is exactly the way to get her attentions. Now on Earth, James meets Janice and decides that he wants her too. Because he’s that kind of guy.

He’s also obsessed with getting back to Liban so he can rape Jano for spurning him. He’s a complicated character with conflicting motivations, see.

Did I say rape? Well, I meant it. Since Jano turned him down so many times he assumes, of course, that she really does want him and that the only way to convince her of that fact is to take her by force. He thinks the same thing of Janice. Just a fantastic villain.

Jami has built a teleportation device that he intends to use to go back home or, eventually, to send Ben back home so he can have Janice to himself. Unbeknownst to him, though, Ben has been working with the network of Contacts on Earth, the guys who help out Libans when they first show up. They have a receiving station, see, so that when people show up they don’t find themselves in the woods or the ocean or something. It intercepts the teleport, I guess. Whatever they do, they find out what Jami is up to when they start intercepting his tests like a cat and a woman he beat to death (the woman was beat to death, not the cat).

Jami succeeds in kidnapping Janice. Ben has a chance to catch up to them because Jami just keeps feeling the need to grope this woman against her will. All seems lost, though, when Jami whacks Ben over the head and sticks him into the teleporter.

Jami runs off with Janice again and there’s actually a pretty funny moment when Ben shows up just a few pages later. Jami has absolutely no idea what’s going on and just kind of freezes up and spills the beans about everything. One of the Contacts shows up and puts him out of his misery.

The book ends when a message arrives from Liban, a fact that we weren’t even told was actually possible, saying that General Cush has been overthrown and that Ben’s mom has taken over the planet. Jano was, surprise, pregnant when Ben left, so it turns out that she’s running the show until the baby is old enough to take over. Ben can’t go back, but he can at least rest easy knowing that everything back home will be okay. Hooray.

Where do I start?

This book was so poorly written. It was written like a really bad Young Adult novel. I’ve read a lot of great Young Adult novels, I’m not disparaging that genre, even though I feel the need to quote Mitch Hedberg: “Any book is a children’s book if the kid can read.”

What made this book seem like an especially bad YA novel is that the language was so dumbed down. Simple sentences, often ending in exclamation points, made up the majority of the text. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but something about it in this case made it seem like it was being written for children by somebody who thinks that children are stupid.

Take this example: At one point Ben delivers a mathematical paper on behalf of his professor, because Ben is wicked smart when it comes to math. Actually he’s about average for a Liban, but we’re dealing with cliches here. The paper is described only as “very complicated” and “difficult even for the other professors” and stuff like that, but absolutely no details are given. I’m not asking for lots of math details here, but at least make something math-sounding up. Or, I dunno, do a little research. You could very easily have said that Ben found an elegant and simple solution for Fermat’s Last Theorem. But you didn’t even do that, author.

And furthermore, you claim that this brilliant and groundbreaking paper might just win Ben the Nobel Prize.

In what? Math? There is no Nobel Prize in math. There’s the Fields Medal, often referred to as “The Nobel Prize of Mathematics” and the highest honor bestowed upon a mathematician. You know how I know that? I looked it up.

But then there’s the fact that this very definitely is not a YA book. Our villain is basically just an insane rapist with a Space Ph.D. in electrical engineering. There’s a cigarette ad in the middle of the book (although I guess we could chalk that up to it being the seventies), and the “Also from this publisher” part of the ending of the book bears an advertisement for something called The Aldrich Report, a nonfiction piece that is apparently even “hotter” than The Kinsey Report. I’ve read The Kinsey Report and didn’t find it especially “hot,” just really informative but dry. So there you go.

The book is really just kind of bleh. It feels like it was written so the author could make a car payment. Some elements actually had some potential but they were just handled so poorly. The publisher couldn’t give a damn. The characters didn’t mean anything to me. It was riddled with factual errors and typos. And exclamation marks.

Sometimes two exclamation marks at a time.

And once a question mark and two exclamation marks ending the same sentence.

I think really I could have made that fact the whole review and you would have known exactly how I felt about this book.

Can we salvage anything from this dross?

Umm…Kent cigarettes have the lowest tar level of any cigarette on the market, without sacrificing great taste.

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