Night Slaves

Night Slaves by Jerry SohlNight Slaves
Fawcett Publications, 1965
Price I paid: none

She was a creature from another planet, but to Clay Howard she embodied everything he’d ever dreamed of. Naillil was the most beautiful, the most voluptuous, the most woman Clay had ever known.

Naillil was a creature from another planet—but every delicious inch of her oozed sex.

And Clay was the only person aware of her presence.

An ideal setup—except…

Naillil had a brother, and to serve his own treacherous ends he plunged the citizens of the town into mass hypnosis. But what he could not know was that Clay Howard was invulnerable—because every cell and fiber of Clay Howard’s brain was sewn together with an impenetrable steel mesh.

Naillil discovered Clay’s secret—and that meant one thing: if Clay could not be hypnotized, then he must be murdered…

Oh my god the lies on the back of this book. Whoever wrote that jacket copy should be punished for what they did to this novel.

I’m not going to say this book was good. It really wasn’t, although it does have some positive qualities. But the copywriter who put all this down did his or her level best to sex this book up to the max on top of adding a bunch of attempted suspense. Let’s break it down.

So Naillil is beautiful, that much is true. As to her voluptuousness, the book didn’t really say. And as for “every delicious inch of her oozed sex,” that’s just so wrong. It completely misses the tone of the book and of the relationship. Not that what actually happened was any better or less sexist, though. This book went in a different direction.

Naillil has four qualities:

  1. Manic
  2. Pixie
  3. Dream
  4. Girl

While she does react to things in a manner that might be called sensuous, it’s more in an “oh my god look how amazing everything is all the time” kind of way. She sees a flower and it’s the most beautiful flower until the next one. A light breeze is like an orgasm (but in a sweet way). She’s not a seductive space vixen, she’s an innocent, but gorgeous, flower child whose purpose is to shake Clay out of his rigid and stoic world. She’s the very definition of the MPDG.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself, though. It’ll make more sense in context. Maybe.

So, Clay Howard is this guy who’s married to this pretty lady named Marjorie. They had a decent life together until Clay was in a horrible car accident that left several people dead. He was the only survivor, and it left him scarred both emotionally and physically. Of note is the fact that he had a plate put into his head after the accident. He did not, I emphasise, have “every cell and fiber of [his] brain…sewn together with an impenetrable steel mesh.” Really, now, that’s just going crazy with the lies. Either way, though, it’s important later.

He recuperated fine after the accident, and at first it seemed like he was going to get on with his life. Sometime later, though, he had an episode of the crazies, and now he’s been dragged into a psychiatric hospital by Marjorie. He’s essentially in a vegetative state when the book begins, and the majority of the plot consists of his doctor, a guy named Matthew Cassell, trying to pull the story out of him using a variety of therapies and medications.

We learn about Clay and Marjorie’s trip to a little town called Eldrid. They didn’t plan on going there, they were on the way to somewhere else, but it looks like such a picturesque little town that they decide to stop off and stay a few nights. It’s got a population of about 400 and it’s noted from the start how everybody in town is always sleepy. Several times we get told “They’re called sleepy little towns for a reason.”

The very first night, though, Clay learns what’s up. He wakes up to find Marjorie in a zombie-like state, getting up, putting some clothes on, and leaving. He thinks it’s sleepwalking but then he sees that everyone else in town is doing it too. They all climb into some trucks and leave Clay with a distinct sense of WTF.

And to cap it all off, when Marjorie gets back, she has no idea what Clay is talking about.

I should point out that we’re learning all this as Clay tells it to his doctor later. The unreliable narrator angle comes up a few times.

This all goes on for another night or two when Clay figures he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Something is very definitely up. He follows the trucks, and then he meets Naillil.

She does this thing where she runs away from him, laughing and stuff, and when he finally catches her she’s all “You caught me so you can have me” and laughs some more and she’s probably barefoot and she talks about how beautiful everything is all the time and they make kissyface and there you go.

We cut back to the present and see that Dr. Cassell thinks that this is all a delusion. Marjorie agrees with him. He thinks that it’s probably brought on by guilt from the car accident. He points out that the name of the woman in the car he struck was Lillian. Naillil is Lillian backwards.

Later we meet Noel, Naillil’s brother. Noel is Leon backwards, and Leon was the name of the dude in the car. Both Lillian and Leon are dead and Clay probably saw them die. Heavy stuff.

Okay, so what we’ve got here is the standard “Is it happening or is it all in his head” plot. I don’t know about you, but I am dead sick of this kind of story. I understand that exploring the difference between perception and reality is a worthwhile activity. It’s something I think about quite a lot. But the problem with this book is that it isn’t a narrative that brings something new to that question. It’s “It was all just a dream. Or was it?” There are two places that tackled it as well as anyone else likely ever will, and those places are The Wizard of Oz and Philip K. Dick.

And, of course, there’s the place that tackles it better than anyone else ever will, and that’s ZZ Top music videos. I’m not sure why anyone else even tries.

There’s a lot of evidence going both ways in this one. Of course, no one else has any evidence that anything Clay says is true. Of course they wouldn’t, right? They’re all being hypnotized every night. On the other hand, there’s the fact that Clay and Naillil break into the local drug store every night and the guy who runs it is getting nervous about where all his milkshake stuff is going…

Clay tells Dr. Cassell that one night he created a chainmail hat for Marjorie to wear that would keep her from going into the trance. He did this after speculating on his own immunity to the hypnosis, which probably had something to do with the plate in his head from the accident. According to him, the hat also worked, and things got bad when Naillil showed up.

When Dr. Cassell takes this fact to Marjorie, she has no idea what he’s talking about.

Back in the past, Clay learns that Naillil and Noel are from another planet. They crash landed and Noel is using the townspeople to build him a new spaceship so that he and his sister can go home (not for “his own treacherous ends”). Naillil wants to take Clay with them, but there’s some talk about how it would violate “universal law” and how the “Overones” wouldn’t allow it.

Overones is a new one on me. I assume it’s supposed to be pronounced like “Over Ones.” They’re the ones who are over something. But it looks so much like a Spanish word that I choose to pronounce it “o-bear-OH-nayss.”

Other kinds of weird things start happening. A teenager in the town, Fess, who is developmentally and mentally disabled suddenly becomes totally normal. Just talking to people and everything.

On one of their nightly adventures (the aliens can’t survive Earth’s daylight), Clay and Naillil discover a dead body. It turns out to be a woman who had gone missing from Eldrid long before he and Marjorie had shown up. Clay suspects that she died on the way to or from the nightly spaceship factory. Naillil freaks out about it.

The next day, the woman shows up, fine and dandy. She claims to have been lost in the woods for around three weeks, and is even able to recount some pretty exacting details about the experience.

It all comes to a head when Noel announces that the ship is ready and that it’s time for him and Naillil to leave. Clay is not invited. He gets upset and tries to follow his beloved (it’s worth noting that he never once feels any guilt for cheating on Marjorie throughout the whole book), but Noel tells him to go away. Naillil puts something in Clay’s hand and tells him to run. When he refuses, he gets blasted by some kind of mento-ray. This puts him into the catatonic state from the beginning of the book, and now the narratives have caught up to one another.

Dr. Cassell despairs that anything will help bring Clay out of this guilt trip fantasy that he’s set up for himself. He presents Clay with pictures of Lillian and Leon. The pictures look exactly like Naillil and Noel. Just then, though, Clay announces that it’s all a lie, he’s been making it all up, Dr. Cassell is absolutely right that this is a sort of delusion, and everything is fine now can I please go home.

So Clay and Marjorie leave. Clay heads straight back to Eldrid. Marjorie starts to freak out a bit. Clay says that it’s just a way for him to prove to himself that everything is okay now. Marjorie relaxes a little.

Unbeknownst to everybody but Clay, he’s been hearing a weird noise in his head. He decides that it’s coming from Eldrid. He confirms this because the sound gets louder the closer he gets. He thinks it’s coming from whatever Naillil put in his hand earlier, which he dropped because MIND BEAMS

While Marjorie freaks out, Clay finds the thing he’s looking for. It’s a chain with a bauble on it, something he’d noticed Naillil wearing earlier. He claps it to his forehead and suddenly Naillil is there, telling him it’ll be all right and this is a means for them to keep in contact. She’s petitioning the Overones for permission to get him sent to her planet where they can be together forever.

Marjorie manages to wrangle him back to the place they were staying and calls on Dr. Cassell, who shows up. Marjorie tells the doctor that Clay has been hanging onto this cheap plastic jewelry since he found it and he won’t take it away from his forehead.

Clay, meanwhile, is being told how to get to Naillil’s planet. It turns out that the Overones will let him come, but there’s a hitch. It’s a sort of mental teleportation thing that’ll get him there, and he can’t be “alive in two places at once,” so the thing to do is to go back to that field from earlier and kill himself.

Which he does.

And the book ends.

And that is very disappointing, because nothing about this ending was in any way shocking or original to me.

Ambiguous endings like that leave me cold. I feel like someone, somewhere, thinks that he or she is really clever for doing it, but I’m all “What’s the point?” I read “The Lady or the Tiger” in high school.

Is the whole point to keep me thinking about the book afterward? Like maybe I’m supposed to put it down with a feeling of “Oh, I wonder what happened next? Was it real? Was it fake? Oh, how I long to know!”

But what I actually feel is “The author didn’t feel like deciding on an ending and the book wasn’t actually good enough for me to think about it any more after, say, NOW.”

This book is a shame on several levels. For one, Jerry Sohl was, from what my research tells me, a heck of a television writer. He wrote three Star Trek episodes, including the fantastic “The Corbomite Maneuver.” He also has credits to his name on The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.

But the fact that the book was also marketed as something completely unlike what it was meant that I was disappointed from the other direction. It reminded me strongly of All Right, Everybody Off the Planet! in that regard.

This was a really fair-to-middlin’ book, to be honest. It was well-written and the characters were believable. They had realistic motivations and problems, and it was easy to see how this possibly-crazy guy was thinking. He thought he’d found his soulmate and was willing to do anything to get back to her, even end his own life. I sort of hope he was right and it worked, but then of course that still leaves the tragedy of all the people who have to pick up the mess afterward. On a human level, this book was fine.

There’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl element, and that’s what makes me hope that the whole thing was a delusion. That kind of thing makes a lot more sense as a fantasy. I can see a situation where a man suffering from profound (but irrational, the wreck really wasn’t his fault) guilt would mentally construct a fun-loving, beautiful woman who shows him the beauty of the world and also wants to boink like a bunny all the time. Hell, most of us don’t even require trauma to do that, hence the very trope of the MPDG.

The front cover is pretty great, though. Love that purple.

2 thoughts on “Night Slaves

  1. Hi, again. Second reply in one night. I was frustrated with how my writing was going and sometimes when that happens, I take a break and find one of your reviews I haven’t read. I thought I would point out that Jerry Sohl wrote quite a few science fiction novels you’ll never run across while doing Schlock Value. There was a whole series of hardback SF novels, Doubleday, I think, which ended up in libraries in the 60’s, but were written by people who never crossed over into the regular science fiction world. Weird setup. If you take off your SF reviewer’s hat and put on your librarian’s hat, you might find out more about Jerry Sohl. Or maybe not, since most hardback library books from that era are long since trashed. Don’t work too hard at it, though. Most of his novels were competent but forgettable.

    Liked by 1 person

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