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Mythmaster

MythmasterMythmaster by Leo P. Kelley
Dell, 1973
Price I paid: 90¢

Stealing lives and peddling them from one end of the galaxy to another for unspeakable uses, the Mythmaster thought he was a free man. The Patrol that had cashiered him couldn’t catch him now. He was making his own life, alone.

Then a supposedly dead man decided he wanted a piece of the action―and the Mythmaster’s body―and the chase was on. Between the Patrol and the sinister Oxon Kaedler he knew his freedom was a mirage. Now he was fighting for his very life!

What a cover! Crazy red and yellow stuff that looks like I guess it was going to be fire? Several moons? Naked people with a bare minimum of stuff drawn on to make them not naked anymore? It’s all there!

I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the book.

The back cover copy is misleading, too. It does capture the plot of the book pretty faithfully, but not all of it. In fact, the stuff described on the back jacket is a very small part of the novel. This book was a series of fairly interesting ideas tacked on to a 224-page character study of a character that a) I wasn’t that interested in, and b) wasn’t especially remarkable.

Said character is John Shannon. He’s also called the Mythmaster, hence the title of the book. Why he’s called the Mythmaster is beyond me. It lends him a certain something that he doesn’t deserve. Nothing he does has anything to do with myths. The only connection is that he has this chemical he uses on people that causes something called Mythmadness, which, again, isn’t an especially useful name. It’s a hallucinogenic, sure, but the effects are never described in a way that makes me think of mythology. The best I can come up with is that it was supposed to evoke a kind of Joseph Campbell “myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths” kind of deal, but that was never made explicit, so I guess that’s just my own interpretation.

Shannon is that pirate-smuggler type of rogue, flying around the universe giving no craps for anybody but himself. The only thing that matters is survival, and money is the key to survival, and so on and so forth in a way that we’ve all seen a hundred thousand times. Maybe Kelley’s addition to this chain of not-give-a-damn rogues came early enough that it was interesting in ’73, but I was not intrigued.

If I found anything innovative, it was in what Shannon smuggles, and how. He specializes in smuggling human embryos. In a way, anyway. He doesn’t even grab embryos, just fertilized eggs.

His deal is that he (and his crew, despite the back jacket) will take a contract for some eggs, find a group of people, and hit them with this drug that causes “Mythmadness.” Like I said, the drug is just a hallucinogen so I’m not sure why it’s called that. Shannon is the only person who knows how the drug works.

Once the population is running around all crazy, he and his men get to work. They scan women to see who has very recently become pregnant, nab their fertilized eggs, and then transplant those eggs into mice for the journey to the customer.

That’s, basically, everything interesting about the book.

The rest of the story hinges on the fact that Shannon can’t feel love. He’s got a crewman, a guy named Starson, who is in love with him. Shannon does not return these feelings. To its credit, neither the book nor any of its characters hold Starson’s homosexuality against him. It’s just a part of who he is, a part that Shannon doesn’t share. One gets the feeling that being happily bisexual is the norm in this society, and that Shannon is the odd one out.

On a trip to a space station named Seventh Heaven, a space brothel, Shannon meets Reba. She’s a high-class space prostitute. She and Shannon have a weird sort of back-and-forth thing of mutual hate and lust for a while.

I started thinking things were going to pick up when Oxon Kaedler arrived. He’s the bad guy. He shows up and offers Shannon a lot of money for the secret to Mythmadness, a partnership in his business, and a bit of genetic material so he can clone himself a new body. That last one is there because Kaedler himself is hideously deformed from a fire. Why he’s waited this long to try to clone himself a new body is beyond me. I mean, yeah, he wants Shannon’s buff bod, I get that, but in the meantime, if he has the power to transfer himself into a clone, couldn’t he just pick one that doesn’t suck until he gets his first choice? The book never suggests he couldn’t.

Kaedler also wants Reba, because she’s hotsy-totsy.

They both decline. So Kaedler declares that he’ll destroy them or capture them or something, and they all flee.

This is about the halfway point of the book. None of the rest of it was in any way interesting. It mostly boiled down to talking about how Shannon is a bad guy for not caring about who he sells human embryos to or for what purpose. He retorts that he doesn’t have a conscience so why are they yelling at him. It goes on for about a hundred pages.

In the meantime, Starson drugs Shannon and then does oral on him against his will. That’s cool. Why not throw a little rape into a boring novel and then treat it like it’s sweet but awkward. That’s not problematic at all.

Oh, sorry, I left sarcasm lock on. That’s awful.

Kaedler shows up again near the end of the book, offers money again, and then shoots down the ship. The ship crash-lands on an unexplored planet. Everybody dies but Reba, Shannon, Starson, and one or two other crew members.

The planet has some weird orange life forms that just kind of sit around. Nobody figures they’re dangerous until they creep up on one of the injured crew members and devour him down to the skeleton.

But none of that matters, apparently, since the real point of this novel is that Shannon can’t love. That’s the thing that keeps coming up, and boy howdy did I get SICK OF IT.

There’s absolutely no reason for me to care! I don’t mind reading a book about feelings and romance and caring and soap opera stuff. I rather enjoy it if you GIVE ME A REASON TO CARE.

I spent literally zero time rooting for anybody in this book. Shannon’s just this guy with some toxic masculinity issues and a lack of morals. He’s not a likable rogue. He’s just a dick.

Starson’s got the unrequited love going on, but nothing about him makes me care.

And Reba is just the woman in the book. She’s pretty. She gives Shannon something to not care about until such time that he changes his mind. She’s less than a MacGuffin.

Every character was cardboard.

Anyway, Kaedler shows up one last time and drops a bunch of Mythmadness pellets on our surviving protagonists. The only three left are Shannon, Starson, and Reba. There are only two antidote pills left, to boot. Starson gives them to Shannon and Reba and then goes crazy and gets eaten by orange things, which causes Reba’s mind to break. Kaedler’s ship leaves and the book ends with Shannon and Reba stranded on this planet with Reba gone insane.

Hope you like that ending! I didn’t.

I liked very little about this book. It had some neat ideas here and there but none of them were necessary to the plot, mainly because there wasn’t much of a plot to begin with. I get that the book was probably meant to be a character study instead of an action-adventure, but none of the characters were worth studying.

The character-who-doesn’t-care-but-is-secretly-good-inside archetype is ever so boring and overdone, and then this book did very little to change that.

I’m mostly disappointed, seeing as how the tone of this book did manage to convey a sense of urgency. Sadly, that urgency never panned out and I was left cold.

I’m not going to say that Kelley was a bad writer. The style of the book was decent enough, and this looks like it was one of his last novels. I’m sure others were better. Mythmaster, though, was not a successful novel.

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1 Comment

  1. Hmm. Too bad – I would’ve picked this one up for the Robert Foster cover. It looks like Kelley moved on to Westerns after 1980, an interesting pick of genres. Certainly that character archetype you described would fit the change.

    Liked by 1 person

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