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East of Danger

East of Danger by Paul TwitchellEast of Danger front
Illuminated Way Press, 1978
Price I paid: 25¢

Shraosha…

Millions dominated to the point where everything in their life is being controlled.

Then free-thinkers, people able to be creative, wage a fight—to free its people enslaved by the tyrant Agadnir and his mind-control techniques.

Through love, jealousy, treachery and deceit, the spiritual warrior and freedom fighter Peddar Zaskq confronts the magicians of illusion. The androids. Even the “Ancient One” himself.

Individual freedom can be attained by the people only with the true power working through its chosen vehicles. One is Peddar Zaskq—provided he meets the two greatest tests of his life…

So my roommate took a trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago and hit upon a bookstore devoted entirely to science fiction. He grabbed me about a half a dozen books from their clearance rack. This was one of them. I think this one is likely to have been the worst.

In fact, I’m going to come right out and say that it might very well be the most poorly written piece of trash I’ve read and reviewed yet. It was just plain awful. In so many ways. I don’t even know where to begin, folks. Everything about it was just awful. And that’s the point, right? I’m in this to look at bad books and see how we might avoid their mistakes. The lesson I took away from East of Danger seems to be a pretty simple one. Don’t write East of Danger.

I guess it’s worth pointing out that the back of the book points out that the author, Paul Twitchell, is “Spritual Master of the ancient God Force Known as ECK.” I had to look this guy up. Perhaps notable is the fact that he died about seven years before this book was published. I’m not sure what to make of that fact. Apart from that, ECK seems to be ECKANKAR, a sort of Hindu-influenced religious practice that involves things like Soul Travel to Other Worlds and Joining with God and things like that. Nothing really shocking, I’m sad to report. Of course I’m just reporting what made it to Wikipedia.

So then we have the question of whether this book was supposed to be actual fiction or if it’s some kind of retelling of the mythology of Twitchell’s religion. I’m not entirely certain. I’m going to treat it like a regular science fiction novel that pulls in elements of Twitchell’s teachings for some purpose of which I am not entirely aware. Your mileage may vary.

So Peddar Zaskq is this guy who roams around the

Okay I guess it’s time for me to talk about what I consider the absolute most infuriating thing about this book. It uses the words nation, country, land, galaxy, world, and universe completely interchangeably. So I have no idea what’s going on geographically here. Sometimes it seems like things are going on in a region of space, other times in a series of distinct universes, and other times all on the same world. I just have no idea. The most persistent thing that I picked up was mentions of “the earth planet.” None of this book takes place on Earth but it occasionally references it, usually because the author felt the need to reference something that we could understand. There’s a land called “America” on the Earth planet and it comes up occasionally. Apparently it was at war with the bad guys in this book at some point in the past. The element of multiple universes seems to have the most reflection in the teachings of ECKANKAR so I guess that’s meant to be a thing, though. People travel from world to world (or universe to universe, or galaxy to galaxy, or nation to nation) with no trouble and often with no description of how they’re doing it. They just go.

Oh, and I have no idea when this book was supposed to take place, either. Distant past? Far future? I have no idea. The mentions of America make it seem like it’s at some point in the future, I guess, but the whole book has this sort of mythological tinge to it that suggests the distant past, at least to me.

So Peddar Zaskq is this guy who roams around the place. He’s a fightin’ man. He fights for freedom. That’s pretty much his entire motivation: the vague concept of freedom. The place of Shraosha is a despotic Theocracy devoted to some guy named Agadnir. Peddar doesn’t like that.

I’m grateful that there’s not an awful lot to summarize about this book because what little action there actually was got broken up by philosophical discussion. Like Peddar and his pals would be on the run from some kind of bat creature or something and Peddar would start thinking about how the Theocracy of Agadnir was using drugs and black magic to keep the population docile and how that was an anathema to any freedom-loving man. Basically anything anybody did is wrong in Peddar’s eyes so he feels the need to think about it a lot. Sometimes he doesn’t think about it himself, though, but rather we just get spoon-fed the information from the narrator. And sometimes it’s back and forth. Usually it’s confusing, often it’s inane, and it’s always infuriating.

Peddar’s current mission is to rescue some guy named Dr. Aparati from the Shraoshians. Dr. Aparati has committed the crime of THINKING FOR HIMSELF. He learned to do that while serving as some kind of foreign national in the nation of America, where he learned the secrets of ECKANKAR.

Ooooh, boy.

Peddar succeeds in rescuing Dr. Aparati, whereupon he and his pals, Lydia and Saudi, escape via the land of Seres. Seres seems to be some kind of underworld dimension. The leader of Seres tells Peddar they can pass through if Peddar kills a monster named Ei Pluribus. While Peddar is doing that the leader guy betrays them to Shraosha and everything starts to go bad for them.

Peddar is captured by the priesthood of Agadnir and told all sorts of secrets about how there’s no such thing as Agadnir, he’s just a figurehead, and how Peddar is so amazing that if he’d just betray everybody he’d be able to be the Emperor and take over the galaxy. He does so quite willingly.

I’ll admit, I was quite surprised by that turn of events. Peddar goes over, mostly due to the black magic and womanly wiles of a woman named Torf. Peddar leads an invasion of The Land of Singing Waters (where he and Lydia were originally from) and kill a whole bunch of people. He captures Lydia there and brings her back to Shraosha, whereupon she tells him she hates him (previously she loved him) and he gets all emo about it. How dare she not like you after you destroy her home, family, and people after having sworn to protect them, Peddar! That is silly!

I catch myself typing in the style of this book while I’m doing this review. That style can be described with a term I learned as an English major:

You know what, I was going to make a joke there about how that word would be something like godawful but honestly there’s no word to describe just how genuinely repugnant the writing style of this book is. It’s chock full of typos and grammatical errors, for one, but that’s not the worst of it. It’s just that the book sounds like it was written by a particularly stupid eight year old. It stops mid-idea to start expositioning you about whatever bullcrap philosophy the author was trying to tout. The author has barely any idea of how to maintain style or create characters that are in any way different from each other in voice. It just plods along from misspelling to sentence fragment to misplaced modifier. If I wanted to give you all the examples I wanted to of the awfulness of this prose I would probably violate a whole bunch of copyrights, so I’ll give you my favorite.

They were dressed in black coats and their faces had long sideburns with glittering eyes.

If that’s not a mistake then I’m not giving this author enough credit for imagination.

That sentence happened after Peddar escaped the bonds of Torf. Incidentally, the woman who was supposed to be seductive and beautiful and power-hungry has the absolute stupidest name in the book.

Wait, no, I’m wrong! You know who was all along pulling her strings? The high priest of the Agadnir religion: Jason!

We learn this as the book starts to wind down. Peddar has escaped and earned back the trust of his friends. He’s made some new allies in an army run by a woman whose chief weapon seems to be waxing philosophical until I throw the book away and assume everything worked out all right.

It’s a valid literary practice. I think Roland Barthes talks about it.

I kept my cool and plowed through, though.

Peddar meets Rellim, the guy who was running the army against Shraosha when Peddar betrayed everything he stood for. Everybody thought that Rellim was killed in the siege but it turned out not to be the case. Peddar compares him to a chameleon for this astonishing fact.

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN

Rellim gives Peddar two quests: go to some cave and kill The Sleeping Cat of Love, and go to some other place and kill an old man. Not too bad. The cat turns out to be the true form of Torf. The old man turns out to be Jason, who is also Agadnir. The book used a lot of words that were supposed to make it seem like Peddar had a rough time doing these things but really the fact that it took him a half page for each makes it seem like a bit of a letdown.

Peddar then leads the siege of Shraosha and kills off the priesthood. The day is saved.

On the last page we learn, not once but twice, that Peddar will always be EAST OF DANGER.

THERE IS NO EXPLANATION FOR WHAT THAT EVEN MEANS

Okay so the chief thing to take away from this book is that it was published by the ECKANKAR Institute’s press, so I can’t even take solace in the old “this tripe was published so it shouldn’t be hard for me to get published.” It was essentially self-published. Am I, then, being unfair to it? It’s not like I should have expected it to be great.

I think I am being fair, though. Somebody felt like somebody else needed to read this. And that’s terrible. That person is a monster. A monster with no taste or concept of quality.

What mostly gets me is that this book was probably designed to be some kind of introduction into the concepts behind ECKANKAR. It’s mentioned a few times and all the philosophical grandstanding seems to be right in line with the teachings of the religion as I have seen it on Wikipedia. What I think, though, is that maybe it was meant to be some kind of a trial by fire. Maybe the fact that I made it through this whole book means I am ready to be taught the secret teachings.

Nothing else makes any sense. The book sure doesn’t. I came away with a vague concept of human freedom being a good thing and tyranny being a bad thing. I don’t need a book, especially a science fiction book based on a wacky seventies religion which in turn was just a ripoff of Scientology with a little Hinduism thrown in, to tell me that.

Saying that Peddar is a boring character is to give him too much credit. He, and everyone else in the book, is barely a character in the first place. The book is a bunch of talking heads who occasionally go from one bad situation to another until everything gets resolved. In the meantime they talk about freedom and the Ancient Magician What Rules All (he’s apparently supposed to be God?) and vague concepts of reincarnation and how androids are bad. Did I mention the androids? They came up like, once. Actually, a lot of things came up once or twice and were dropped again.

Would this book have made more sense if I were more in tune with the teachings of Paul Twitchell? God, I hope not.

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2 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    That cover is soooooooooo painful. And it looks like the contents were similar.

    Like

  2. Celia says:

    That is now my favorite bad grammar example. When it makes you laugh out loud, it’s a good one, apparently the only good thing to come out of this novel.

    Like

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