Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cycle of Nemesis by Kenneth Bulmer

In early 2013 I read Kenneth Bulmer's 1965 novel Behold the Stars.  At a used bookstore in Lexington, South Carolina I paid one dollar for the 1966 Mayflower Dell paperback, which across the pond, in the mother country of jolly ole England, back in the Swinging '60s, went for three shillings and six pence, guvnah.  Notwithstanding the cover illustration, just about the worst and least ambitious I have ever seen on a paperback, I liked Behold the Stars, it having an interesting take on space travel and space warfare. 

Curious to read more of Bulmer's work, I recently purchased the Ace paperback of 1967's Cycle of Nemesis, which has an exciting Kelly Freas cover.  This week I read the 190 page novel.

Our story begins a few centuries in the future.  The solar system and the ocean floor have been colonized.  The human race is at peace under a world government, but a terrible threat looms, and almost nobody knows about it!

Hall Brennan is a sort of upper-middle class archaeologist adventurer type.  He has discovered that, 7000 years ago, a high civilization flourished in what is today Iraq.  A horrible monster, Khamushkei the Undying, utterly destroyed this civilization, but the last survivors of this doomed society were able to imprison the unkillable monster in a "Time Vault" that would contain it for 7000 years.

Realizing that Khamushkei is about to escape and destroy human civilization a second time, Brennan makes it his life's work to find the Time Vault and deal with the creature.  Brennan is joined in his quest by some other upper-middle class types he meets at an auction at an old aristocratic house in the English countryside.  Khamushkei is aware of their doings, and sends monsters from Mesopotamian myth (lamassu and utukku) to kill them.  When the adventurers easily defeat the monsters with their ray guns (future England has abandoned all that gun control jazz, apparently) Khamushkei uses his powers to snatch the party and transport them through space and time.  Khamushkei whisks them to a series of different eras and locations, one after another, where the British travellers face monsters, aliens, ancient Assyrians, earthquakes, tornadoes, and crocodiles.  (Khamushkei never thinks to transport them a mile up in the air so they fall to their deaths, or a mile under the Pacific so they drown, I guess.)  Finally, one of Brennan's comrades gets to the Time Vault where he reads a spell and Khamushkei is imprisoned for another 7000 years.

This book is quite poor.  The plot is a little weak; it feels like Bulmer carefully planned out the beginning and end, and they do mesh together (our heroes see visions of themselves at the auction in the first chapter, and when they return to the auction at the end of the book they realize what these visions signify) but then just stuffed the long middle of the book with a jumble of disjointed and tedious episodes in order to reach a particular page count.  The characters are boring and I didn't care which of them lived or died.  Most crippling is the style; there are feeble jokes and many of the sentences are long and burdened with extraneous details and clumsy metaphors.  Here are two sentences from early in the proceedings that had me grimacing:

"The shaky old lady against whom I had been bidding turned laboriously in her chair to see her competitor, her silks and nylons and strings of beads hampering her movements, her yellow old face like that of a bird inquiring of the bird table in the garden, and before she could make up her mind whether to go on or not the hammer fell in sonorous sealment."  (30)

"The butter rich slabs of sunshine that lay across the carpet in Pomfret's lounge and dazzled from his windows, the fresh air, the sound of birds, the scents of early flowers drifting in across those sunbeams, all these homely natural comforting things chilled as Brennan began to speak."  (34)

I think I'm a generous reader, willing to forgive weaknesses in a story or novel if it has compensating good points, but with Cycle of Nemesis I couldn't find a single thing to hold on to, so reading it was a boring chore.  I have no choice but to give Cycle of Nemesis a thumbs down; it is unlikely I will be reading any more Kenneth Bulmer novels soon.   


  1. But what a cover! The gorilla-gremlin-esque creature with spike hands, fascinating in good and bad ways...

  2. The cover is quite good, and there are creatures like that in the book.