The Destroyer #32: Killer Chromosomes by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy
Pinnacle Books, 1978
Price I paid: I forgot
What happens when a lady scientist discovers a “key” to the manipulation of genetic patterns that keep different species from intermingling?
The lady becomes a tiger—of the man-eating variety. She is wild, beautiful, and deadly. And she soon decides that she must share her sinister secret with other women. The lovely killer genes multiply geometrically…and so does the fatality rate. The country becomes littered with chewed-up bodies. All men.
Enter Remo and Chiun—The Destroyer—the only weapon against this carnivorous cutie. Handsome Remo, fast on the chase becomes her prisoner—and love slave. Conspiracy and criminality fall into Remo’s usual area of operation. Genetic warfare and animalistic passions are something else again. Especially when the enemy looks like a Playboycenterfold!
So, as Remo is about to choose between going down in flames or up in smoke, Chiun sees a way to preserve the integrity of man’s chromosomes, and stay alive…something to do with the ancient Korean proverb about knowing which tale of the tiger to take!
It took me long enough, but I’ve branched out my Man Fantasy reading into The Destroyer. It’s been on my list for a while, seeing as how Penetrator book covers make such a big point of being “As modern as The Destroyer!” It turns out that modern is an odd word to choose in that case. It’s not just that the book takes place in forty years ago. That can’t be helped. Nevertheless, nothing about the book struck me as more “modern” than any other book from that same time period. It was just a book where things happened in 1978. Of course, the same holds true for The Penetrator, so I guess it’s not a lie.
So far I’ve read books from three other Man Fantasy series: The Penetrator, The Enforcer, and The Executioner. Of these three, The Destroyer reminds me most of The Enforcer, but with some definite Penetrator similarities. It’s least similar to The Executioner, which is the daddy of ’em all, so that’s interesting in its own right.
It all boils down to how believable everything is. Perhaps that’s not the right way of putting it. Nothing about any of these books is remotely believable. It’s better expressed in terms similar to the way we describe science fiction. The Executioner is a very “hard” action book. It’s got guns and explosions and drama and stuff, but it’s all set in a realistic copy of our world. The Penetrator is similar, but it adds in some faux-Native American mysticism that, within the context of the stories, is real. There are also some super-science plots, but they’re still fairly grounded. At least, they are relative to The Enforcer, who is a literal psychic clone, and our newest exploration. Remo Williams, The Destroyer, isn’t a psychic clone, but he is that variety of martial arts master that puts one in mind of someone like the Iron Fist. It’s martial arts so keen, so powerful, so masterful, that Remo is a superhuman. It’s also possible that he’s an incarnation of Shiva, hence why he’s called The Destroyer. This is very odd, because I always assumed Shiva is an Indian deity. Nothing else in this book is even remotely Hindu.
And then there’s his master and partner, Chiun. Chiun is probably more powerful than Remo is. Both characters can move so quickly that it’s invisible, for instance. In one case, near the very beginning of the book, Remo shoves a shotgun up a guy’s ass so quickly that the guy doesn’t even know it happened until he wakes up in a hospital later. That’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with.
And then there’s the plot of the book. It’s so far out there! I love it! It’s insane!
The book opens with some people protesting a university science lab. I love this. The crowd is protesting what they believe is the lab’s ability to create “genetic monsters.” What is abundantly clear is that the crowd has no idea what it’s talking about. Some people get up and make some grandstanding speeches, and they’re all complete nonsense. The kind of stuff you’d expect that particular aunt to share on Facebook. You know the one.
To rebut the crowd, a scientist comes out to address them. This is the “lady scientist” that the back of the book so patronizingly refers to. She’s Dr. Sheila Feinberg, and despite what the blurb says, she’s not an incredibly attractive woman. In fact, she’s described as rather plain. Still, she’s whip smart, and after a few minutes of berating the crowd for being so stupid, she decides to make a grand demonstration of her own.
She has with her a phial of “chromosomes.” No, I have no idea what that’s even supposed to mean. Free-floating DNA strands? Cell nuclei? Just…cells? Who knows? Who cares?
Anyway, she says that, to prove her point, she’s going to just drink it. She does.
Then she passes out.
Later she wakes up and she’s part tiger.
I shit you not. This is the plot of this novel. This woman is now part tiger. Quite literally. She’s got the strength, speed, and agility of a tiger. Also claws. And also also she’s got an unquenchable hunger for human flesh.
The book took a very dark turn at the beginning in a way that made me think that the whole thing was going to be a lot more disturbing than it was. See, one of the protesters at this event was a particularly annoying woman and her particularly annoying baby child. I found them both quite distasteful, representing a lot of things about both science ignorance and lack of child-rearing skills that just hit a little close to home for me. Anyway, it’s not even a quarter of the way through the book that this annoying woman finds her annoying baby with its stomach ripped out and eaten. While the rest of the book had its dark moments, this was very much the darkest and actually seems out of place in retrospect.
Enter Remo. We first find Remo and Chiun at some kind of a bar. We learn a lot about their relationship, which is very…interesting. It’s got some standard tropes that it’s leaning into very hard. Chiun is Remo’s teacher, and he spends a lot of time berating Remo for his incompetence. He is a master of Sinanju, a variety of martial art that is native to Korea. I have just now learned that there is a region in North Korea that shares that name. It was heavily bombed during the Korean War.
Chiun often complains about leaving the legacy of Sinanju to a stupid white man who doesn’t deserve it. That sort of thing. He’s a disturbingly-portrayed character. He’s a racist caricature, but he’s also very racist himself. Several times he comments on how he’s trying to be more tolerant, and then he says something about how he looks forward to the day when white people and black people can put aside their differences and unite in their inferiority to yellow people. Stuff like that. It’s…wow. Not good.
He’s very much a stereotype, and it makes a lot of the book hard to read. He also does most of the real work in the story. Remo, for instance, spends a lot of it out of commission after his first encounter with the feral Dr. Feinberg. Chiun has to heal him up, set up defenses, and then figure out a way to re-teach Remo his abilities. More on that in a minute.
There’s a bar fight and Remo kicks a bunch of redneck ass, I guess for the sole purpose of showing us how awesome he is. He only does it because Chiun is being a pain in the ass himself. He’s sitting in the truck demanding complete silence so that he can write a book. This means that Remo has to keep another guy from starting his own truck. Not unreasonably, the other guy takes offense to that. He’s the one who ends up with a shotgun up his ass.
Dr. Feinberg is meanwhile using the fact that genetic manipulation is super easy to her advantage. Who needs CRISPR when you can just grab some chromosomes and eat them? At one point she takes the skin from a baby’s eyes and uses it to tighten her own wrinkles away. She uses the promise of this ability to lure other women into her organization, to whom she gives the tiger formula and starts to raise a small army. She also gives herself giant breasts, blond hair, and presumably other advantages so that she can accomplish whatever it is she wants to accomplish. You know, chromosomes.
Mainly, her goal is to destroy humanity. Or at least subjugate it. She perceives herself as the first of a new species, one that is superior to H. Sapiens. You know that drill.
Remo and Chiun, while being masters of Sinanju, are also the sole agents of a federal agency called CURE. The only people who even know about CURE are themselves, their handler, Harold Smith, and the president, who is unnamed but has a Southern accent. Smith puts our heroes on the hunt for Dr. Feinberg, who is around the Boston area.
Murders are happening. Gruesome ones. We get to see a few of them. They’re largely of men who Dr. Feinberg seduces, but not always. The back of the book got that wrong. Sometimes she kills and eats women, other times children.
It doesn’t take long before Remo runs into her, but she’s got the advantage. He’s looking for the frumpy dark-haired woman from the beginning of the book. He lets his defenses down when he runs into a bosomy blond woman who turns out to have claws and teeth. He fends her off, but takes some hits. He’s out for a while.
Even after Chiun gets him healed up, there’s this whole weird bit about how his body has regressed so that he’s lost his Sinanju powers. It doesn’t have anything to do with the plot itself. Dr. Feinberg is as oblivious to it as anybody. It just happens so that, I guess, the stakes are raised a bit. Plus it keeps Remo from preparing himself and avoiding most of the rest of the book. A big deal is made about how Remo starts smoking again. Apparently that was a nasty habit he had before he became a Sinanju master, but Chiun broke him of the habit. Now that his training has left, his old bad habits have come flooding back.
Dr. Feinberg’s little army is on the grow, but she’s not satisfied with where it’s going. “It” in this case being both her plan and her new species. She needs new blood, and the blood she wants belongs to Remo Williams. By blood, I mean semen.
She’s convinced that he’s the most viable male the human race has ever produced. She doesn’t know that most of his strength comes from his training. Without that, it turns out that Remo Williams is a fairly normal guy who likes to smoke and lie around and eat greasy food. Still, after a bit of back-and-forth, she manages to capture him and take him back to a remote cabin in the woods, whereupon she makes him have sex with her repeatedly. At first he likes it, but he’s later troubled by the idea of what she’ll do when she’s done with him. Dr. Feinberg is troubled by Remo’s passivity. Isn’t he supposed to be the ultimate man?
In the end it turns out that all Remo needs to do to get his powers back is to breathe right, so he does that and escapes. There’s a big showdown. Dr. Feinberg is convinced that she’s finally gotten pregnant, so she’s free to kill Remo. She thinks this because she keeps vomiting. Part of me thinks it takes a little longer than a few days for morning sickness to kick in? I honestly don’t know. Several sources are telling me that it’s about six weeks into the pregnancy, but that’s for humans, not tiger-women.
The two face off in a field somewhere. Remo sets it on fire, which helps because all animals hate fire and she’s more animal than person even though she’s also a noted genetic scientist. It distracts her enough that he’s able to fight her off a bit, and then he throws her just so that she lands on a stick or something and gets impaled. She’s dead.
When Chiun shows up, Remo explains that she wasn’t pregnant at all. Her body was beginning to reject the tiger chromosomes so that she would become a regular human again. That was what was making her vomit, and it was what let Remo have enough of an edge to finally take her down.
The book ends with Chiun making a joke about using DNA to turn all races into Asians, and then turn them all into Koreans, and then turn them all into North Koreans so that everybody can enjoy the same superiority that he does. I guess that if this were a TV show it would freeze-frame on everybody laughing and then the credits would roll.
And there you have it. This was a crazy-ass book. I would have had a good time reading it if it hadn’t been so damned keen on the harmful Asian stereotypes. All that ninja-master-with-the-long-mustache stuff is so gross. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse than Yellow Peril Asian stereotypes. I don’t think I’m qualified to make that call.
Remo, on the other hand, is a fun character. He’s got some charm and personality. More than any of the other Man Fantasy heroes I’ve read. He can actually banter instead of lecture. His morality is more along the lines of “whatever I’m told to do,” which might be problematic, but it wasn’t in this book. Still, he’s a regular guy who got trained to have superpowers, which is refreshing. He’s not yet another guy with a dark past and a long list of names to take out.
The book had a tendency to digress for several pages at a time. The narration would hook onto a character besides any of the main ones. Usually this character was one about to be killed by Dr. Feinberg. We’d get all sorts of unnecessary information about, say, the Italian/Irish tensions in Boston or a particular police officer’s career history and the time his dad died. This was very similar to the way Penetrator books would give a lot of backstory just before Mark Hardin explodes their heads, but it was different enough in execution. I guess you could say that pre-death backstories in The Penetrator tend to be more personal than in The Enforcer, who will go off on tangent after tangent. My assumption is that both of these are efforts to hit an agreed-upon word count.
And that’s this incredibly bananas book. I honestly had a good time with it, but only in that sense of “oh no what’ll happen next.” From a scientific point of view, nothing made the least bit of sense. It’s so absurd that it probably needs to be read as some kind of a fantastical allegory. I bet if you read it right, this book would have a lot more in common with The Alchemist than anything, which is a nice segue into the fact that I have another one of these books waiting for me and it has an actual alchemist in it. I’m excited!