Sunday, November 13, 2022

John Cleve's Master of Misfit (Spaceways #5)

Between 1982 and 1985 Playboy Press published the nineteen books in the Spaceways series of science fiction sleaze paperbacks. Master of Misfit was the fifth book in the series. It was published in 1982.

These books were credited to John Cleve, a pseudonym used by American science fiction writer Andrew J. Offutt (1934-2013). He wrote under a dozen or so different pseudonyms. To confuse things somewhat the name John Cleve was used by other writers. It’s possible that some of the Spaceways books may have been collaborations.

Like most sleaze fiction these books have either been ignored or regarded with a sneer. And science fiction fans are often quite disapproving of the idea of injecting sex into their favourite genre. But like so much American sleaze fiction of the period from the 50s to the 80s they were written by a guy who wrote “legitimate” science fiction as well as sleaze. And the other book in this series that I’ve read, Purrfect Plunder, was a rather pleasant surprise.

Master of Misfit opens with a bit of a cyberpunk vibe. Cyberpunk was just starting to make waves in the science fiction genre in 1982. The movie Blade Runner came out that year, William Gibson had had his first cyberpunk story published, Bruce Sterling’s first stories set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe had appeared. The cyberpunk ethos was already in the air.

Dorjan is a thief. Dorjan is one of his names. He has many others. He’s a very successful thief and pirate. He’s not quite human. He spent some time as the slave/pet/personal stud of the very wealthy and very powerful Murrah an Rahmyne. It amused her to have certain modifications made to her slave’s body. Some were intended to enhance his performance as her personal stud but others were intended simply to amuse her. Dorjan has retractable razor-sharp claws, he has 360 degree vision and he has lightweight but extremely powerful wings which can be neatly and unobtrusively folded when not in use. Dorjan is the captain of the pirate spacecraft Misfit and other members of his crew have also been enhanced by genetic and biomechanical means.

All of which, when combined with a universe in which high-tech crime and space piracy both thrive, certainly qualify this novel as proto-cyberpunk if not an early example of full-fledged cyberpunk.

Dorjan is out to steal the Heart of the Universe. This is a fabulously valuable necklace of gold inlaid with firegems, firegems being (literally) living gems. Stealing this jewel is impossible, or would be impossible for an ordinary Galactic (as the descendants of the humans from Earth who colonised this corner of the galaxy are known). But Dorjan is much more than human.

It’s not just a matter of stealing the necklace. Dorjan and his crew have to make a safe getaway from the planet Panish.

We’re also introduced very early on to Coppertop. She has had many names also, and an adventurous life. She has been a slave and a whore but now she’s the very rich widow of a very rich man. She is now known as Lizina Harish. She loved her husband very much and she mourned his passing sincerely but now two months have elapsed and for those two months Lizina has not had a man. She’s practically crawling the walls as a result. Tonight she is most definitely going to have a man. She has one picked out. He seems to be rich and very good-looking. She’s more than willing to accept his invitation to spend the night at his penthouse. Instead of getting a night of passion she gets kidnapped by slavers, and subjected to exquisite tortures (after she’s been raped).

The two plot strands intersect when Dorjan realises that the gorgeous woman he couldn’t help noticing is a slave. He knows she’s a slave because his First Mate has an unusual talent. He has a kind of limited psychic ability. He just knows when someone is a slave, even when they don’t appear to be.

Dorjan and his crew are thieves and pirates but they draw the line at slavery. Most of them, including Dorjan, have been slaves themselves. They have an intense dislike of slavers, and they are always willing to take a break from thieving to rescue a slave.

Dorjan and his crew have another agenda. At one point in their wanderings through the galaxy they discovered an asteroid that had been turned into a spacious habitat capable of housing several thousand people. Since the asteroid had been abandoned they claimed it. They intend to establish their own tiny independent community there, a haven for escaped slaves.

There are going to be complications. Coppertop belongs to Ganessa. Ganessa operates the finest mobile whorehouse in the galaxy. Coppertop was to be a star attraction. Ganessa is not a woman who takes kindly to having her possessions stolen from her, and she paid good money for Coppertop.

There are plenty of adventures to come, plenty of action, more thieving and lots of sex. Including sex with aliens. Dorjan has discovered a new species of intelligent alien. She’s incredibly cute, incredibly female and there’s nothing in the universe she likes more than having sex. And she’s totally sexually compatible with humans. There’s also some much weirder alien sex but there’s lots of god old-fashioned regular sex as well.

The secret of combining sleaze fiction with other genres such as science fiction is to integrate the sex fully into the plot. In this case the author does that very successfully, since the plot mostly revolves around prostitution and sex slavery, but with a definite science fictional flavour.

The sex is reasonably graphic.

Master of Misfit is fast-paced, action-packed and very sleazy. The cyberpunk feel is very marked (and handled in a fairly effective way). I suppose you could call this book sleazepunk. Whatever you decide to call it it’s entertaining and it’s highly recommended.

I also recommend the next book in the series, Purrfect Plunder (which features a particularly interesting alien species).

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