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I, Weapon

I, Weapon by Charles W. RunyonI, Weapon front
Popular Library, 1977 (Original copyright date 1974)
Price I paid: 90¢

Ancestry: Programmed

Destiny: Unpredictable

To create the man named Raki, Earth had broken its most rigid taboos against interbreeding.

His grandparents were a four-foot tall female genius; a rapacious, blue-skinned space brigand; an enormous superstud gladiator with long, silky fur; and a blind telepathic huntress.

His parents were the most gifted creatures ever to walk the earth—until Raki was born to surpass even them.

But the supreme computer that had calculated the mating necessary to produce Raki refused to predict his chances in his confrontation with the alien Vim in the very heart of their eternally expanding empire…

…for not even the Vim themselves knew the secret of their power and of all the universe’s peril…


Boy oh boy do I love the cover of this book. Some blue chick is breastfeeding while a weird man-faced ox-thing watches. There’s computer punch tape coming down to form a color illustration from The Joy of Sex. Meanwhile, the greatest thing ever, a flying whale, is extremely happy in the background. I love that whale. He is my friend. I have named him Ronaldo.

The ISFDB has told me that the cover is by Carlos Ochagavia. I also see here that he did the covers for the Illuminatus! trilogy, which makes a lot of sense when I look at them. He seems to like the color blue.

The book itself was…wow. Just…I dunno. There are books I really like, and there are books I really hate. And there’s also the really “meh” books that fall somewhere in the middle. This book had parts I really liked and parts that I just didn’t. It was very uneven in terms of my appreciation. The world-building, for instance, was fantastic. Some really great science fiction elements came together, very imaginative ones, in ways that not only made me think about how clever this guy is, they also challenged the way I think about certain things. There were lots of elements that really set me on edge in ways that I can appreciate. Charles W. Runyon definitely succeeded in creating a future where humanity has become distinctly alien.

On the flip side, he really likes to describe the sexuality of this distinctly alien humanity of the future. In detail. At length. In some ways that makes sense. Our hero, Raki, is the product of various splintered sorts of humanity, each going in wildly different directions. At the same time, though, there were parts that seemed gratuitous and creepy.

The big thing that really killed me about this book, though, was that it was mostly not about what I was led to believe. Everything seems to suggest that it’s the story of Raki, the superman who has been specially bred to save us from the alien menace of the Vim. The truth of the matter is…not so much. Take something like Dune, for instance. Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach, the culmination of generations of breeding programs. Raki is something similar, although it’s only three generations. Unlike Dune, which focused mainly on Paul and his growth and victory, I, Weapon, focuses at first on the program itself. We see a lot of his grandparents, for example. And then we see the things his parents do. Raki’s part of the book is just the final fifty or so pages. And a lot of that is spent having sex with things.

The universe we get is pretty fascinating, though. At some point in the past humanity spread out among the stars in a manner that puts Manifest Destiny to shame. A vast galactic empire. Unfortunately at some point they met the Vim, a species that among other things seems to like eating humans and taking their planets. The Vim conquer large parts of the human empire and set back technology by huge degrees, causing large parts of the species to splinter off on their own. The Vim also do some things directly, setting up varieties of humanity that are domesticated, and so on. It’s a big mess.

A group of humans managed to survive with their technology relatively intact. They later become the Jelks. They live deep in caves on Ganymede and manage to hide from the destruction of most of the Solar System. Generations of living in these caves turn them into four-foot-tall hairless skinny things that generally have sex via electronic means. This is the reason why I got super scared when I randomly opened the book to “Appendix I: Use of Remote-control Sensory Intersex Among Jelks.” Nothing good can come of an appendix like that.

By this point in the story the Jelks are the ones who control technology and make all the decisions and basically leech off the other branches of humanity in some form or another, except for where they outright persecute them.

Other varieties of humanity include the Unguls, who have been bred for domesticity. They are human cattle, quite literally. They are eaten and their skin is turned into clothes. Yet they are still somewhat intelligent. They have a religion and a language and everything. This is the sort of thing that made me go “eww” and “whoa” simultaneously. Huge herds of Unguls roam the planets humanity has regained. They are also used for gladiatorial combat, war, and manual labor. One of Raki’s grandparents is an Ungul.

There are also Grithies, who tend to serve as foremen. There are Pteromen, who evolved wings and can fly. There are the Androxi, who evolved gills. There are the Eshom (another grandparent ancestor of Raki) who have developed fantastic extrasensory perception.

Earth itself is now mostly a wasteland, although the Jelks are attempting to salvage it. In some places the seas are boiling, other places have vast talc deserts. The most livable area is what used to be Antarctica and some Jelks called Landarks have settled it.

All of this is very fascinating and does tie into the story at times but JESUS DOES IT GO ON.

Human civilization is now basically run by a computer that makes all the decisions. This computer has predicted that the Vim will come and destroy humanity within a few generations unless a super-soldier is bred. A Jelk lady, Su-Shann, has volunteered to be one of the grandparents. She breeds with some kind of blue pirate guy. Simultaneously an Ungul is bred with an Eshom. Su-Shann’s daughter, Abi, turns out to be a genius. She has some trials and tribulations while she tries to meet the spawn of the Ungul and the Eshom, who has basically turned out to be a liberator of the Eshom race. They finally meet and have a baby. The baby is Raki.

Seriously, I just described what it took 200 pages for this book to do. There was so much extraneous information to sift through. So many political intrigues. So many descriptions of bureaucracy and the decline of the human race and politics and all this stuff that keep threatening to disrupt this project. Also the Vim are attacking planets and are pretty much on their way to Earth. There are Ungul rebellions. Abi does some stuff to help out the Pteromen and the Androxi.

Finally Raki comes along and just blows his parents out of the water. Even at a few months old he starts psychically communicating with his mother and proving that he’s just about the smartest thing that has ever existed. The government puts a device around his skull that will prevent him from expressing all of his powers until they are needed, but that’s okay, because he’s just so freakin’ great. As soon as he’s old enough he starts doing things like swimming in boiling water and fighting jellyfish the size of space cruisers. He goes and hangs out with the Androxi for a while and we get to learn about how they have sex. And then he hangs out with the Pteromen and we learn about how they have sex. And there are Unguls and Grithies and they also have sex. There’s lots of sex to be had in this big old crazy universe, it seems, and the best thing for the savior of humanity to do is to experience all that sex. Sex sex sex. The word has lost all meaning to me by this point. I need to stop typing it.

Finally its time for Raki to go off into the universe and learn how to stop the Vim. The first thing he does is capture one of their spaceships intact with the crew alive. This was supposed to be impossible, but the Great God Raki figures it out. He actually meets some of the members of the crew and gains their trust a bit, learning about how they work and think. He starts to learn their language, even.

So based on that information he takes their ship and heads out into the universe, figuring he can find some more of them. Maybe the solution to this whole war thing is just that nobody has been able to negotiate with the Vim? I suppose it’s certainly possible, and Raki sets out to do just that. He finds a likely planet, picks out a group of Vim (who live in herds and eat flowers), and proceeds to—you guessed it—have sex with them.

Oh and the descriptions of the Vim sexual organs abound. As do the customs, the mating frenzies, the orgies, and the act of actual reproduction. Raki finds out that he can’t actually breed with the Vim, which was kind of a shocker to me, so he uses his AMAZING POWERS to help out his Vim girlfriend by teleporting fetuses from other Vim ladies into her body. In a way he’s fulfilling a prophecy among them, or something.

Raki gets so deep with with these folks that it seems like the only possible thing for them to do is to make him their chief. This is where things get even more interesting. It turns out that the Vim aren’t even the real enemy. They’re puppets for an even more powerful and sinister species, the Wroqna.

Raki learns about the Wroqna when the former leader of the tribe tries to pass his powers over to him. This is weird but I thought it was interesting. The Wroqna are, more or less, a parasitic species. Like a slime mold or something. They enter a being via their pores and take over the body and brain. This way they are able to exert control over other species. The book briefly mentions that this kind of thing has happened before to humans and that it’s the origin or stories about demonic possession and so forth. I’m glad we solved that mystery. This particular Wroqna tries to take over Raki’s brain, but Raki stops it via his amazing super power of never actually being in any danger ever. He realizes that this species isn’t going to just want to talk it out, so he sets out to destroy them.

He finds a really big one on some planet the Vim use as a pleasure planet. That’s a pretty clever idea, because the Wroqna can essentially transmit itself as an STD. It has other methods, but that one’s a pretty elegant one and it’s not like the book doesn’t talk about alien sex every other chance it gets.

In the dim dark future, everything hinges on SEX.

This leader Wroqna manages to overpower Raki while he’s astrally projecting or something. Raki loses his body for a while but finds it in what looks like a lab but is actually just the inside of this Wroqna thing. He sees a member of some alien species that looks like a fairy from the description and thinks wistfully about how nice it would be to have sex with it. He’s distracted from this thought by finding his own body, which has been essentially dissected by this point. His organs are all over the table and he’s cut from neck to groin. His brain’s still okay, though, so once he defeats this Wroqna thing with mind powers he takes his body back and Wolverines back to health. Plus he’s learned the location of the lead Wroqna, the center of their empire, and sets out to meet it.

It’s a whole planet, about the size of Saturn. He notes at first that it’s even got a ring system, but as he approaches he sees that those rings are all ships bringing food to this thing. The Vim aren’t the only species under its control, so this fleet is just gigantic. Raki, using his teleportation powers, jumps from ship to ship, disabling them and making them crash into the giant Wroqna, thus saving humanity.

The book ends with a reflection on how this whole thing might not have needed to happen if humanity hadn’t let itself get splintered into separate species, or at the very least if these various breeds of human would work together instead of against each other, thus leaving us with a hearty SPACE RACISM IS BAD moral and the book ends, except for two appendices that talk about sex.

Oy!

Okay so what I really liked about this book is that the universe was well thought-out, clever, and engaging. I genuinely enjoyed learning about all the crazy things going on in it. What I didn’t like was the actual plot, which seems to be the case in these situations. It’s hard to have both. I didn’t actually care about any of the individual characters, up to and including the invulnerable telepathic teleporting hypersexed man-god that resulted from the earlier ones. The big stuff, though, like wars and ancient mold creatures and human cattle, were really engaging and interesting to me.

Of course there was also the sex element. It’s not just that it was weird to learn about how Pteromen have special appendages or anything like that, although that’s true. It makes sense that these not-quite-alien species would have different ways of going about things. The alien-ness of it was pretty fascinating. It’s the lens of regular stuff that makes it creepy. Occasional mentions of Grithy girls going off to have relations with giant Ungul studs and whatnot. And Raki with his quest to sex up everything that can think. I’m not a prude by any means, but after a while it just gets old. If I wanted to read a book about alien sexuality, I’d pick one up. I was promised a genetic superman saves the galaxy. I have to wonder how much of this broken promise syndrome is endemic to sci-fi and fantasy. Do regular books do that? Romance novels? Historical fiction? I just haven’t paid that much attention to them to find out. Or is it just more of a pulp book thing? Editors who don’t care because this book is probably not going to pay for itself anyway? I’m genuinely curious.

I really like the “splintered humanity” element of this book though. It’s not something I’ve really put a lot of thought into, mostly because I don’t think I’ve seen much more of it. Sure, other books will have human culture split off dramatically, and that might result in those cultures doing some weird things to themselves via engineering, genetic or otherwise, but the sort of mass evolutionary push thing in this book is just fascinating to me. The book’s history happened over the course of a few thousand years, I think, so I don’t think that would be nearly enough time for something that drastic to happen, but I still found it interesting. Plus there were things like radiation at play that I suppose were supposed to accelerate evolution, even though I’m really not sure that’s how it would work. Still, I’d like to read more books with this premise.

And at least Ronaldo seems happy.


3 Comments

  1. If you like the splintered humanity thing, Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels have some of it as well. Oddly enough, there’s also some inter-racial sex, but if I remember correctly, it’s just mentioned in passing a couple of times; it doesn’t make up a significant portion of the book, and isn’t explicitly described.

    Like

    • I’ve only read the first Ringworld novel. I loved it and I keep intending to read the rest of the Known Space books, I just keep not getting around to it. I should make that a priority.

      Like

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    Well, that cover is just about perfect and I love a 70s story with a computer-run society and all that. The amount of bureaucratic intriguing sounds threatening, though.

    There is something endearing to me about those 70s novels where writers first discovered sex and went a little bit nutty about it, although having multiple appendices describing their sex research is probably a bit far. I like my 70s weird-future settings to have detailed appendices describing their grain-storage policies (and I have one that does that) and all the wonderful loopiness of the world, not just one or two things.

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