Friday, March 28, 2008

The Unassembled Boy

Back when I was young and lusty, the Gold Medal paperbacks were hot fuel for a young man's imagination. The sexiest of these books would probably be rated PG-13, maybe shading into the occasional R-rating; tame by today's standards, but on the throbbing edge back then.

Gold Medal became Fawcett Gold Medal along the way. And along with a plethora of other trashy paperbacks, gave us Travis McGee, by John D. MacDonald, his best and most durable hero, and a writer about whom I cannot offer too much praise. A writer's writer.

One of these lurid Gold Medal tales was a science fiction novel by Herbert D. Kastle (1924-1987), entitled The Reassembled Man. (Gold Medal, 1964.) It had a terrific Frazetta cover that more than called to teenaged boys. Cost forty-five cents. (Interesting to note that while the publication date is listed as 1964, the Frazetta cover is dated '65. Can't tell that from the cover, but I have a copy of the illo that is larger and more legible.)

The plot, such that it was, was spun about the idea that power corrupts. The set-up was that a group of alien scientists, who looked much like large beetles, came to Earth to study it. They wanted a human observer who would become their recorder. They collected an average guy, one Edward Berner, and took him apart, down to the basic cellular level, and put him back together so he was faster, stronger, impervious to illness, and a sexual dynamo. The ostensible purpose of this rebuilding was to keep him from being damaged until they were ready to download his information. Then they turned him loose.

They didn't, alas, make him smarter or wiser, and so the story concerned his abilities to indulge his appetites -- he could eat, drink, and make merry -- along with her nine sisters -- and suffer almost no ill effects. He kicked ass, took names, and got laid like he was pumping pure Viagra instead of blood. Cut a swath across the country.

A sixteen-year-old boy's wet dream.

Ed essentially becomes a bully. He is unbeatable, and while not bulletproof, has no problem beating the crap out of anybody who gives him any trouble. A brother-in-law who used to give him a hard time gets pounded. Ed's wife, at first happy with his new sexual prowess, tires of him being in charge in a hurry. Ed is movin' and shakin' and he runs over everybody who gets in his way.

He wins, but in doing so, he loses.

So, it's an old story, but you speak to a passing parade. At sixteen, I hadn't seen much of the literary column marching down my street.

The crux of the tale is Ed coming to realize that power corrupts and that he has become corrupt, and how he needs to deal with it.

However, just as he is getting it sorted out, the beetles come back, collect their recording, and decide that humanity is rather boring, so they end the project. Which includes taking away the upgrades.

Going back to where he was before was a Flowers for Algernon moment. Ed would rather be dead than do that, so the aliens gift him with minor modifications, so he isn't what he was as the near-superman, but is more than he was when he started.

Lesson learned, better than he was, and fade to black ...

Of course, I was less interested in Ed's come-to-realize stuff back then than I was in his plowing the carnal fields; still, it was a good book, in that it kept you turning the pages, and did have a point to go along with the sex and violence.

Maybe I'll go see if I can find it in that box in the attic and see how well it held up.


Jas. said...

Hmm ... sounds like Kastle and/or someone at Gold Medal read "Danger - Human!" (and I checked: Dickson got that one published in 1957): aliens take a man apart and put him back together better than he ever was.

Kastle obviously took that idea in a different direction ... but it sounded like an interesting direction for a teenager. Definitely let us know how the book holds up if and when you re-read it.

Steve Perry said...

Or he read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, from 1818.

Or any Greek or Roman or Norse or Hindu or Buddhist mythology, all of which offer men -- or women -- who are improved.

Not much new under the sun, plotwise, and Gordy didn't come up with this trope. I love the Dorsai, but I didn't swipe them for my Matadors, any more than Drake did for Hammer's Slammers. Ulysses and Ajax and Achilles were around a long time before anybody came up with paper to write about 'em ...