The Alien Trace by H.M. Major
Signet Books, 1984
Price I paid: $1
Mehira, home world to a totally empathic race, is a place ruled by love not violence. After all, when you experience the feelings of others as if they are your own wouldn’t you rather share the joy of pleasure than the horror of pain? Yet even Mehira is not completely free of lawbreakers, and so there are the Catchers. Police, bounty hunters, no matter what they are called, Catchers like Cord and his family are looked upon by their fellow Mehirans as a necessary evil in a not quite perfect world.
And then humans come to Mehira to establish a trading post, and suddenly the planet’s carefully ordered society is plunged into chaos, forcing Cord to face the greatest challenge of his career. For the traders have brought with them far more than rare metals and advanced technology. In their midst lurks Death, stalking the echoing spaceport tunnels, prowling throughout the peaceful Mehiran nights, seeking a key that will unlock the universe, and ready and eager to destroy Cord or anyone else who gets in its way…
First off, I’d like to comment that the grammar in that jacket copy is not mine. I copied it down as faithfully as possible, and hoo, that was tough. My fingers were like “Nope. Not gonna do it. Givin’ us a bad name, Thomas.” I then reminded my fingers of the numerous typos that are, in fact, their fault, and that shut them up pretty quickly.
I probably don’t have to mention that the back cover is also full of lies. I’m doing it anyway, because word count.
The front, though! I love it! It looks so great! Kevin Johnson, you do good work! That guy up front, with the tail and stuff, he looks good. He also looks angry. He also looks like he got a swanky belt drop after running Molten Core for the fiftieth time. Good for him.
The lady doesn’t look half bad, either, considering that she’s supposed to be eye candy. It’s just one of those things: I’m not down with the practice of putting half-naked ladies on book covers just because there’s a chance it’ll sell more copies. That’s exploitative and offensive. On the other hand, though, it’s going to happen no matter what I think about it, and I gotta commend this artist for doing his exploitative and offensive job really well.
The whole cleavage and butt thing is weird to me. Everybody says that sex sells but it’s just so strange in my mind, no matter how right they are. I don’t feel like I’m more inclined to read something just because there’s a sexy sexer on the front cover. And then there’s comics, oy gevalt, where every page is just cleavages and butts. I don’t need to talk about this. You know exactly what I mean.
What I’m getting at is that the titillation thing is weirder now than ever. Maybe thirty years ago it made sense, but now there’s no need for titillating book covers because anybody who wants some porn can get some porn in three-tenths of a second. Of any variety.
Hmm, that makes me want to throw a writer’s prompt out there:
What’ll be the most important device for advertising once our society has become so saturated in sexual imagery that it no longer has any effect? (Or we’ve all grown up enough that we don’t chuckle at the word tit. Hehehe.)
This is all my roundabout way of getting to the point. This book was porno. Outright, no-holds-barred, not-ashamed-in-the-least erotica. Science fiction erotica, yes. In fact, this book actually stands out as one that uses the science fiction elements in such a way that they are essential to the erotica elements.
There’s a lot I don’t know about sf erotica. I haven’t read much. I wouldn’t mind fixing that. Based on my lack of knowledge, I can only say that this book was pretty successful at it. It was also hilarious.
I couldn’t tell how hardcore this book was meant to be. A lot of the sex was graphic and explicit. It was also alien. The Mehirans have some things going on that humans don’t. For one, they have tails. The tails are sexual organs. Well, secondary sexual organs, I guess. They are used in sex. From what I gathered, all Mehiran sex is double penetration. Also, Mehiran penises aren’t like human penises. They live in little pouches and come out when it’s time. Until they’re excited they are also prehensile. I think. They seemed prehensile. Once the Mehiran male is aroused, though, they become large and continue getting larger until spent.
Couple this with the fact that Mehiran culture is sexually progressive to the point where most, if not all, social contact is through the medium of sex, it turns out that we get a lot of sex scenes in this book. And that’s before the humans arrive and get all…curious .
I want to contrast this with the fact that a lot of the sexual language was cagey, to say the least. Never once are proper names for sexual organs used. No penises, no vaginas. That makes some kind of sense to me. Maybe the clinical-sounding words take away something. But we also don’t get much else. For the most part, our main character’s winglydoodle is referred to as his “organ.” For those of you lacking in sexual education, here’s a lesson: An “organ” has a female counterpart in an “area.”
I feel like all I’m talking about here is sex. Which is fine. There was a lot of it in this book. Here’s a peek behind the curtain at how I work: If a book doesn’t grab me and keep me reading, I have to resort to methods to keep myself working. One of those methods is the Pomodoro Technique. I bring this up because there was a sex scene at least once every pomodoro while I was reading The Alien Trace. For those of you playing along at home, that’s about once every twenty pages or so. On average.
But there was more to this book than alien sex scenes. First off, there’s our alien hero. Cord is a Mehiran, which means he’s a human with a tail and pointy ears. Not a lot of imagination went into creating these aliens. Some physical features, a sexually progressive society, and, oh, empathic powers. Mehirans can sense the emotions of other people, which has shaped their civilization in some predictable ways.
For one, they like sex, of course. For two, there’s not a lot of violence on their world. This makes some sense. If you can sense somebody’s emotions, wouldn’t you rather sense them being happy rather than otherwise? Of course, this suggests a certain kind of maturity on the part of the Mehirans, seeing as how you don’t have to be empathic to take joy in someone else’s joy, you just have to be anything but a human being. [/editorial]
Cord is a “Catcher.” That means he catches criminals. I know I said there’s not a lot of crime on Mehira, but there’s still some, and it’s Cord’s job to catch the people who do it. It’s the family business, after all. One thing about Mehira, though, is that since violence is so shunned, even people who have to use it for the good of society end up being a sort of lower caste. Cord and his family are no exception.
What this doesn’t mean is that Cord doesn’t get to Wango Tango every twenty pages. So there’s that.
Cord has a ladyfriend named Bird. Before you start to think that everybody on Mehira has names like that, I want to point out that Cord’s parents are named Fyrrell and Neteel, so I have no idea what’s going on there. I only bring up Bird because she is the main person that Cord sexes up throughout the book, at least until the humans arrive.
There’s one part of this book that totally interested me. It’s not the most original thing, but it’s a plot that I enjoy when it’s done right, and in the case of this book, I can say that it wasn’t done completely wrong. I refer to the fact that this book was written from the point of view of the aliens and that, to them, the crazy alien visitors were humans. This is probably one of those trite science fiction setups that everybody in the world has thought of at least once and assumed it’s a clever reversal, but dammit, I still like it.
The humans are traders. Cord’s mom is an inventor. The humans are also interested in Mehiran crimefighting techniques for some reason. That gets Cord roped into the plot, too. He meets some people, including a young missionary named Julia. Julia belongs to a religious sect called the “Centrists,” which means that she can’t have casual sex unless she really really wants to. At least that’s how it came across to me. When she first meets Cord she’s like “Nope, can’t do it, sorry,” but then on every subsequent meeting it’s kinky sex all night long. Religion!
Cord’s mom has invented a mind-reading machine. It works, but it has a limitation. You have to be touching somebody before you can read their mind with it. I assumed this was going to be one more excuse to put in some sex scenes but I was wrong. What happens is that a series of murders starts and it’s up to Cord to solve them, seeing as how his parents are some of the people who get murdered. (There was a bomb at a party.)
Cord assumes that the humans are responsible, so he heads over to their spaceport to investigate. He meets some other people who agree with him.
I should point out that while the Mehirans are able to read emotions, they never once tell the humans that, so a neat element to this story is the fact that this whole alien species has a power that the humans never even suspect exists.
Theoretically this power would help Cord solve the mystery. In this case, though, human emotions are so volatile and erratic that being around them gives him a headache, so he shields himself from their emotions, thus making sure that the mystery isn’t resolved before a few more sex scenes happen.
At one point there’s this party that, I guess, only happens so we can see how virile our hero is. And boy howdy. First off with one lady, who introduces him to a pair of twins, whom we’re told Cord takes care of both individually and then simultaneously. Ain’t it grand?
The mystery element of this story is yet another reason why I think that science fiction and mysteries don’t really mix. The whole time Cord is looking to see which of these dastardly humans is the murderer when it turns out, in the end, to be Julia, the lady he’s been banging this whole time, but not only that, she’s a shape-shifter or something, even though we were told earlier in the book that shape-shifters aren’t intelligent, so how can this be happening, oh gosh look the book ended but there’s at least one sequel. “Julia” runs off and Cord vows to catch her, probably with the intent of having a lot of sex along the way.
I want to point out that I have no idea who the intended audience of this book was. When I think science fiction, I generally think the book is targeted toward males. No offense, lady sf fans! I know you’re there, but sometimes I wonder if publishers and studios do. But then there’s the erotica element, which throws the whole thing off. Stereotypically speaking, I don’t think dudes read a lot of erotica. I’m probably wrong, but culture has taught me that that’s a lady thing. There’s also the fact that our erotic hero in this book is a real man’s man, someone who cares more about the lady’s pleasure (he won’t get off until she does) and is able to use his tail to do some frankly amazing things to all the parts. So then I think maybe he’s supposed to appeal to ladies. But wait, what about the fact that he has sex with at least six different people in this book, and never once does he use any kind of protection? Is he supposed to be appealing to a male fantasy life, then?
But wait, there’s more! H.M. Major was a pen name! A pen name for two women!
That’s right, this book was so sexy it took two women to write!
They are Sharon Jarvis and Kathleen Buckley.
So what does that mean for our intended audience?
I’m having a hard time deciding whether I liked this book or not. As erotica goes, it did it’s job well. There were sex scenes where sex was described. They were better than “insert tab A into slot B.” I got the feeling that there were two (or more) people there that were enjoying themselves. So there’s that.
And as science fiction goes, it was okay enough. Nothing spectacular.
As a mystery, it didn’t do anything for me.
In terms of the writing, it was obvious where a lot of attention went and where it wasn’t deemed as necessary. It was strictly middle-of-the-road and inoffensive writing except when sex was happening.
All told, I guess what I can say is if you’re into alien erotica, and I’m not, then give it a look. Maybe you’ll like it? In fact, let me know if you do. I’m curious. The same goes to anybody out there who reads or writes erotica in general. There’s a lot I don’t know about how your genre works, and I’d love to hear if you have anything to say about this book or stuff related to it.