Ah, 1972. What a memorable year! Mini-skirts. Pong. Ziggy Stardust. Last Tango in Paris. And of course, that deathless work of literature, Monster of the Maze by Jeffrey Lord.
Yes, we are back to delve into the sixth volume in the increasingly ridiculous adventures of Richard Blade.
Having already sent Dick Blade to Fantasy Medieval Europe, Fantasy China, Fantasy Prehistoric Times, and Fantasy Utopian Future, writer Manning Lee Stokes (slumming it up under the pen name Jeffrey Lord once more) settled on Fantasy Egypt as the destination for this outing:
Egypt. Shit. What do I know about Egypt?
One can almost imagine the writer tapping on his teeth with a fountain pen, or perhaps banging his pipe on the edge of his desk while he ponders this question. Doing actual research on the topic was, of course, out of the question! Pinnacle Books trafficked strictly in pulpy knock-offs churned out as quickly as possible. They weren’t paying Stokes to go to the library. Perhaps he scribbled out a list like this:
- harems – yes!!!
- gods with animal heads
- babies in the reeds
- priests (…evil???)
- loin cloths… difficult to hide an erection!
Our ink-stained author squints at his list. “Babies in the reeds? What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Wait…”
Somehow our beleaguered pulp scribe turned such meager beginnings into a full-length work of fiction, with a plot and characters and everything!
OK, truth to tell, the result is not one of the better Richard Blade books. But stick with me, reader: because shit gets weird.
Well, let’s not dick around, if you’ll pardon the pun. We might as well dive headfirst into this pulp stew.
We start out as usual in our framing story. MI6-a agent Richard Blade is strolling through London. But…
…at the moment he was bald. He was wearing a most expensive toupee – courtesy of Her Majesty’s government – and beneath his short skull, implanted in the dura mater enveloping his left frontal lobe, was a paper-thin wafer of crystal. Blade’s brain was in direct communication with Lord Leighton’s computer.
Yes, horror of horrors, paragon of masculinity Richard Blade is bald! And also, for some reason, he has let noted mad scientist Lord L install a ‘crystal’ in his head. At the moment Lord L is using this feat of experimental mind-control surgery to… give Blade walking directions to Blackfriars.
The experiment is, I guess, a success. At any rate it forces Blade to hail a cab back to the Tower of London. While in the cab he has a sudden flash, a moment of decision. Blade decides he doesn’t want to wait for his hair to grow back or for Lord L to figure out how to calibrate his new brain crystal: he wants to go back to Dimension X now. For the Last. Time.
Back in the secret computer lab beneath the Tower of London, the hunchbacked Lord L is not pleased with Blade’s decision. He wants more time to mess around with Blade’s brain. But Blade is undeterred. He’s afraid that if he doesn’t go back to Dimension X now he just won’t have the guts. The courage. The intestinal fortitude. It takes an iron-clad will to survive in a land flowing with loincloths and busty maidens!
Once more to the brink and let that be an end to it. He did not particularly fear the physical dangers, the battles he fought, the monsters he faced, the sexual exhaustion at times forced on him. He feared that his brain would be destroyed.
Supposedly this is the “last trip” through the computer Blade will be required by Her Majesty’s Government to make, but as we know there are a couple dozen more books waiting in the wings, this is hard to take this seriously. Another thing we readers know is that Blade generally spends his time in Dimension X subduing the natives, being worshiped as a god, and putting his swizzle stick in the hot pocket of any maiden who so much as looks at him sideways. So it’s hard to feel a great deal of sympathy for his misgivings.
At last they came to the central room that housed the master computer. Lord L did what he had never done before: he followed Blade into the little disrobing cubicle. The old man talked as Blade stripped and donned a loincloth and began to smear himself with a tar salve that prevented computer burns.
I believe the author is mis-remembering here. In fact Lord L usually takes the liberty of buttering Dick Blade up personally. *shudder*
Also, I’m super glad they solved the problem of computer burns before they invented internet porn.
Having been properly stripped down and lubed up, Blade is seated in The Chair and The Switch Is Thrown. As usual Manning Lee Stokes takes the opportunity to treat us to a particularly whacked out acid trip:
Lights flashed and bells rang and behind a shadow screen he saw horned figures copulating. A clown ran up from nowhere and smote his raw brain with a bladder and there was more pain. The clown and the pain locked hands and danced off into silver fog. A girl with fur all over her came out of the fog and stood looking at him. She sucked her thumb and stared at him and mouthed words that he could not understand. As his brain watched she grew a penis, a huge pole of flesh, and laughed and began to toy with herself and then went off turning cartwheels.
Somehow Dick Blade’s acid trips always involve penises.
At any rate, we’re only in chapter 3 and things are moving right along! We’re already in
As Blade comes to, he realizes that something ain’t right:
[He] looked at his hand. It was small and pink and chubby. Tiny. He was a baby. The computer had reduced him to an infant.
No, fair reader, this is not another hallucination. Our heroic, square-jawed protagonist that he is, is now trapped in the body of a pink, mewling infant! Although the transformation to baby form is not total. Baby Blade’s cranium is somewhat oversized and man-like and he can still think and, importantly, talk.
However, there is more bad news:
Richard Blade squirmed over on his back and waved his chubby pink arms and legs in the air. He glanced down and saw his little worm of a penis and said: “Goddamn the fucking luck!”
It’s good to see that, even in infant form, Blade’s priorities remain unaltered.
Why has Blade been transmogrified into a baby? We are informed by the book that it is the crystal in his brain that has done this. Sure, that doesn’t really make sense, but this series grip on science has always been pretty hazy. In the mind of the writer there is apparently no great leap from a crystal controlling a man’s mind to make him walk down the street to that same crystal altering his entire body.
At any rate, no sooner has Blade begun to come to grips with the fact that he is now a helpless baby than he realizes that he has company.
Blade smelled the women before he saw or heard them.
Did females in the 70’s smell a lot stronger than modern women? Or is Blade part bloodhound?
Female bodies nearby. A mixture of perfume and sweat, the musky woman odor he had known in a thousand beds.
There are two of these odoriferous creatures that you Earthmen refer to as ‘women’. One of them, the pertinent one to the plot, is named Valli.
The woman Valli had a light and pleasant voice, with some force in it, and, Blade thought, a tinge of kindness. He made his decision. With a woman like this he might stand a chance. He let out a series of wails and waved his hands and feet frantically in the air. He felt his sphincter muscles let go and cursed as he wet himself.
Fortunately for Blade, apparently nothing gets those female hormones flowing like a baby with a dirty diaper. Valli immediately wants to nurture this poor, helpless, and hideously ugly baby.
And these aren’t just any women! With typical Dick Blade luck, our hero has found himself in a harem. Yes, Baby Blade is in an entire palace full of bored, beautiful young women wandering around topless.
[Valli] was young, probably not yet twenty by Home-Dimension time, and she wore only a short skirt, or kilt, with underpants of some silver color. Her breasts were bare, large and firm with brown-tinted nipples. A mass of dark hair was piled atop her head and held with golden combs.
She took him into her arms. “Is the poor little thing hungry?”
I imagine you know where this is going, reader.
Valli took one of her breasts and held it to him and thrust the nipple into his mouth. She had some milk, thin and warm and strange tasting, but Blade knew that it would keep him alive for the time being. He sucked contentedly, holding that firm round breast in both his chubby hands and making noises.
These books were really ahead of their time in trying to cater to highly specific niche fetishes! Just think: self-published ebooks were decades away!!!
And, gentle reader, in case you’re thinking, “Well, it’s not really sexual, he’s a baby,” I have news for you: this is Dick Blade we are talking about. It’s always sexual.
He eased up and sucked away and found, once his immediate hunger was appeased, that he was taking a very odd pleasure, what amounted to a physico-sexual sensation, in keeping her warm breast in his mouth. If he ever got out of this, he thought, he could tell old Dr. Spock a thing or two about babies.
We’ll come back to Blade’s more Freudian impulses re: mother-figures in a bit. In the meantime it is important to know that babies are illegal in the harem, or something. Valli can’t be caught with Baby Dick or he’ll be strangled. There’s no real reason given for this baby murder mandate. Better to just go with it for now.
We learn that Blade is in the Land of Zir. The ruler of Zir is called the Izmir, and this is his harem. Valli hides Blade in a little-used pavilion in the harem.
Widdle Baby Blade is growing up quickly. Using the crystal in his brain, Blade has managed to communicate with Lord L in the Home Dimension and they are… fixing his body? Somehow? Again, this doesn’t make a lot of sense from a science perspective. Hard sci-fi this is not. Regardless, Blade is somehow growing larger on a daily or even hourly basis. His hair is coming in, and he has even re-gained the ability to walk.
While Blade waits for puberty to hit, he has a front row seat to some lady sexy-times in the harem!
He hid and listened as various women came, always women in pairs or sometimes threes or fours, and used the pavilion as a place of assignation for Lesbian love. The Izmir of Zir was an old man, mostly impotent and with bad breath, and there were five hundred women in his harem. Small wonder, Blade conceded as he lurked and watched, that they sought out the pavilion to writhe on the divans and use their bodies and artificial phalli to gain relief.
That’s right, readers! Between the last Blade book and this one somebody invented lesbians!
Meanwhile, Blade has managed to somehow keep Valli from noticing that a) he is a weird, ugly man-baby; b) that he is growing rapidly; and c) that he can talk. Blade has also come up with a needlessly intricate plan that for some reason requires him to grow back to being a man in thirty days instead of one or two. Apparently the computer can control this.
Blade decides to loop Valli in on all this. Of course, being a fragile (and musky!) woman she faints dead away. When she comes to, he tries again. After calming down her female hysterics, he is able to communicate the essentials and make her believe his story. Blade and Valli start plotting out a plan to get the Izmir to…
Oh god. I have to interrupt myself here to talk about this. There is so much fucking plotting in this book. Just pages and pages of Blade and various people talking about the tedious details of all the supposedly brilliant plans he keeps hatching. Blade, of course, is supposed to be an uber-mensch from the highly advanced society of 1970’s England. Primitive Dimension Xers, and apparently the reader, are supposed to find all his plans incredibly clever. In fact they’re all quite rote and pedestrian. You would think that even a person from Fantasy Egypt would see through them. And in many cases they do! But that doesn’t stop the book from spinning its wheels and spending pages and pages on tedious, trivial details. Most of which turn out not to matter in the least. It’s fucking maddening. And it made the first half of this book a real chore to get through, bizarre baby metamorphoses notwithstanding.
Back to the plot at hand: Blade learns from Valli that there is a high priest named Casta and a princess named Hirga. Casta leads a faction of black-clad priests commonly refer to as ‘crows’. He is rumored to be breeding half-men, half-monsters in the deep catacombs where the priests live. He is also rumored to have some sort of weird sexual relationship with Hirga. Basically, Casta and Hirga will be our Obvious Villains for this story.
Casta has told the aging and senile Izmir that a magical child will appear to succeed him on the kingdom’s throne. This is no doubt so that Casta can produce such a child himself and secure power. Blade wants Valli to smuggle him into the Izmir’s room at night, where he will impress the Izmir by being a magical talking baby and convince him that he, Blade, is in fact this supposedly prophesied child.
Valli has a hard time following this plot because, obviously, she is a foolish woman who only thinks about babies.
“Blade – what does it mean?”
Blade sat up on her lap and scowled at her. “That is no matter. You must not be stupid, Valli. You must answer questions and do as you are told.”
He wished that Valli were brainier, cooler, more like a man than a woman, but wishing was vain and stupid and he must make do. She was all he had.
Of course, if Valli were a man, she wouldn’t have big boobs. And she wouldn’t keep hugging Blade against them and causing him to get a weird baby hard-on.
Oh yes! That happens.
A wrinkle in Blade’s plan is the Izmir’s guard, named Rasmus, who is not just going to let a woman smuggle a weird baby into the Izmir’s bedroom at night. Fortunately, Blade has a plan to deal with this: Valli just has to fuck Rasmus.
Oh sure, Valli doesn’t want to fuck Rasmus. She’s not into Rasmus at all. But Blade spends zero time thinking of possible alternatives with his supposedly super-powerful brain. Instead, he basically brow-beats Valli into agreeing to bribing Rasmus with sex. Which she then proceeds to do – off-screen, mercifully.
“Rasmus is ours,” said Valli. “He will do anything I ask. He should, after this afternoon. He nearly killed me. He is not a man at all – he is a beast, a goat, an animal or a devil. I do not know what he is – except that it is impossible to satisfy him.”
“That is good,” said Blade. “He will want you tomorrow and the day after.”
So I guess Richard Blade is a pimp now…?
One way or another, Valli is now able to sneak Blade into the Izmir’s bedchambers. Things go pretty much according to plan – at first. Blade wakes up the Izmir, tells him he’s the prophesied child, and does some somersaults. He then tells him that he will prove he is who he says he is by magically growing into an adult in less than 30 days!
Except that it turns out the Izmir isn’t senile. He’s just been faking it. And he knows that the whole child prophesy thing is a load of old rhino shit.
See, this is what I mean when I talk about Blade’s stupid plans that are supposed to be clever and brilliant. Everyone knows you’re full of crap, Blade.
Still, things work out. It turns out that the Izmir has been looking for a chance to stick it to High Priest Casta and Princess Hirga. He tells Blade that he’ll declare him his heir if Blade can actually pull off this miracle growth. But if Blade doesn’t manage to turn into an adult in the advertised month, he is one dead baby!
This book may be chock-a-block with lesbian sex, weird man babies, and Freudian mom-crushes, but one thing it does not have a lot of is suspense. So we get a chapter break and then without further ado we are informed that yes, Blade did grow into a man in thirty days, and now everything is totally copacetic. Blade is now the Izmir’s heir and a prince of the Kingdom of Zir.
Phew, thank god we avoided anything resembling dramatic tension!
Adult Richard Blade is also back to being a steely-eyed smoldering hunk of man beef.
His thews were mighty again, his legs like pillars of oak and his chest deep and his shoulders massive. He had his hair clipped to a decent length but let his beard grow long and black and curly. Now that his body again matched his head in proportion he was as handsome as ever
The Izmir gives Blade his own harem. Since Blade is basically James Bond with a libido problem, you might think that the rest of this book would consist of one giant orgy as he borks his way through several hundred willing, nubile maidens. Surprisingly, this is not what happens. Richard Blade is a gentleman, see.
And also, it turns out he the woman he really wants to bang is the one whose tits he’s been sucking on for the last couple dozen pages: Valli.
Blade has befriended a guard captain named Ogier. Ogier will be his sexually non-threatening second-in-command through the rest of the book. So, make a note of him, I guess. Valli, it seems, is still part of the Izmir’s harem, and even though the Izmir is basically impotent, he is also very jealous. He won’t just let Blade have her.
Ogier agrees to spirit Valli out of the Izmir’s harem for Blade. In return Blade will let Ogier and his men enjoy the entire rest of Blade’s own harem. Oh shit, did I write that Blade was a gentleman a moment ago? Undo. Undo!
“I will do it – and hold you to your word [says Ogier]. I will loose my men on your dovecote and you will have a happy harem, Blade. We have not had women lately, my men and I, and I think each of us are good for six, at least.”
And one with pepperoni!
I’m sure Blade goes off and obtains the consent of all the harem women involved, but the book, ummmmm, skips that part. Instead Blade sends Ogier off on his mission and spends some time trying to communicate with Lord L through his brain crystal, which works only intermittently and when it is convenient to the plot. And then,
He got up and summoned a servant and had a bath prepared. When he came out of the bath, with only a cloth about his genitals, Valli was there.
Never one to miss a chance to perpetuate some casual sexism, Blade makes sure to tell Valli to smile.
“Smile,” he commanded. “There, that is better.”
Blade and Valli make small talk.
“Did you have trouble leaving the harem?”
She shrugged and her bare breasts moved. Her nipples were taut and aroused.
Blade is very excited by all this and wants to immediately get down to his favorite activity: tedious plotting! However, Valli has other things on her mind:
“Can we not talk later, Blade? Now you must understand – I want a child. Your child!”
By now Blade was fully tumescent and the cloth that was covering him was bulging.
Damn those loincloths. So shitty at hiding boners!
Now, some readers may be concerned that, since Valli is like a mother to Blade, this situation may seem a tad incestuous. Not to worry! The narrator is here to assure us that this is all completely legal in many US states. Also, let’s talk some more about weird baby boners!
Had he not from the very first, even with his infantile penis, wanted this girl? For that was what she was – a girl. No mother to him now. Nothing of incest here.
Congratulations, Manning Lee Stokes: You just made it weird.
Well, it’s a good thing that Dick Blade and Valli aren’t biologically related. Before you can say “lifting the loincloth” it’s time for bopping squiddlies.
The deed done, Dick Blade doesn’t let Valli stay the night but, uh… at least he’s a gentleman about it?
“Goodnight then, Valli. Ogier will be waiting to get you back to the harem unseen.” He kissed her and patted her behind lightly and, with a sense of some relief, saw the guard on the door take her arm and lead her away.
Blade is about to fall asleep on his bed (naked, naturally – Dick Blade never misses a chance to be in the buff) when he notices a suspicious bulge behind the drapes. No, that’s not a double-entendre to do with loincloths. I mean an actual bulge behind the actual drapes.
Blade draws his sword and presses it against the bulge, ordering the intruder to step out. And who should appear but….. Princess Hirga!
Is Dick Blade man enough to go another round with the princess? And just how hard will she slap him when he tells her to shut up and smile? Find out here in part 2 of our critical retrospective of Monster of the Maze!