"And what say the stars, old crone?"
"They speak of evil--of dark and dreadful things; of a voyage across the void from star to star; of an evil ten thousand years in the making; a devil's nightmare now about to bloom."I bought the book back in July while in South Carolina.
If you are like me, you drink lots of Ovaltine, have been playing Space Hulk: Ascension, and have no idea who Ivar Jorgensen is. Fortunately for people like us, there is isfdb, which tells us that "Ivar Jorgensen" is a pseudonym used by such famous authors as Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Randall Garrett, and Henry Slesar, as well as a few others. Those others include Paul W. Fairman, who edited Amazing Stories and Fantastic in the period 1956-8, as well as penning numerous SF stories and novels between 1950 and 1973 (including the novelization of a TV series starring the eminently likable Sally Field!) Whom the Gods Would Slay was one of Fairman's earliest sales, appearing as the cover story of the June 1951 issue of Fantastic. (Attention, cheapos! Click here to read the magazine version for free at the internet archive. While you are there, check out the fan letter from Terry Carr in which he assesses the ability of Virgil Finlay to illustrate horror stories and passes judgement on a bunch of artists and writers I never heard of!)
Hangra was a little gypsy girl born in medieval Europe who, when someone spotted her special talents, was sent to India to study ancient secret knowledge under a guru! Today she is in an old crone who lives in the Scandinavian mountains, occasionally hired by the local Vikings to make potions. When she senses that a spaceship carrying evil passengers is approaching the Earth, she manipulates the neighboring Norsemen into becoming Earth's defense force against the aliens! Guided by Hangra's eerie magic, four heroes set out from the Viking village: Rolf of the Golden Horn, a Viking chief who terrorized Christian France and Italy but is now sick of war, his lieutenant Lars, their stolid but dimwitted comrade Jorgen, and one of their galley slaves, a Nubian named Tazor, a man of wisdom who has learned five languages over the course of a life of being bought and sold from one end of the world to the other. (Tezor is granted his freedom when he volunteers for this mission.)
Whom the Gods Would Slay's 140 pages are split into three "books," and when Book II starts our point of view switches to Mars, the Red Planet! There we meet Lall, the most beautiful woman on Mars, a woman with an insatiable sexual appetite! Thanks to centuries of eugenics laws designed to foster intelligence, all healthy Martians are short and spindly stoic pacifists with oversized heads, but Lall is a freak with a body like a Playboy Playmate and a brain feverish with passion! But hold your horses, horndogs--Lall is the product of an experiment that mixed human and insect DNA, and after sex she lays eggs which hatch voracious five-inch-long ants! Driven by sadism and a lust for revenge born of the fact that only a perverted minority of the macrocephalic Martian men have any interest in impregnating her, Lall (with the help of her five husbands, the five least cerebral men on Mars) has given birth to a horde of monster ants that has devoured all life on Mars! Now she and her man-harem are piling into their space ship to leave the barren waste that is post-ant-attack Mars and conquer the Earth!
In Book II we also meet Rollo, a former associate of Rolf's, a Viking who fell in love with a Christian woman and turned his back on his career of marauding to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ! So dedicated did he become that the Church made him a bishop! He receives a mental message from Hangra, and sets out to meet Lall. Along the way Rollo preaches the Gospel to the poor and battles the Vandals who oppress them. At the same time, Rolf and company must deal with a company of Mongols.
Whom the Gods Would Slay is a fun melodrama that takes Christianity and sex as its themes (we learn all about Rolf and Rollo's conventional love lives as well as about all that Martian perversity.) Fairman focuses on the psychology and motivations of the many characters, which I appreciated. I also liked the character's histrionic speeches, though some readers may find them over the top. The novel's science is obviously pretty sketchy (not only does Fairman expect us to believe that one woman could give birth to an army big enough to eat all life on Mars, but he seems to think that in space the sun is invisible because there is "nothing against which it could shine; nothing to refract its rays") but this is a story about human drama, not science, anyway.
(Skimming over the 1951 magazine version of Whom the Gods Would Slay, I see there is no locust swarm--instead the ants are confused by the "radic emanations" of Rollo's giant gold cross, gold being "the purest metal," and Rollo herds them all into the river to drown. This resolution, based on chemistry and featuring radiation, actually sounds more like a conventional classic SF ending than the locust plague, though the locusts have a sort of Biblical association that suits the story's pro-Christian theme.)
Fairman is a competent writer, the novel moves at a brisk pace, and it is full of surprises--I hardly expected to find a woman who gives birth to monster insects, an invasion from Mars and an endorsement of Christianity all in the same book. Thumbs up for Whom the Gods Would Slay.
At the end of my 1968 copy of Whom the Gods Would Slay we find advertisements for Belmont's line of SF (a line suitable for the "connoisseur") and a "special offer:" five books for the price of four! Among the books advertised is Novelets of Science Fiction, one of my faves, a Belmont Double I own and have read that includes Kris Neville's Special Delivery and Dave van Arnam's Star Gladiator, and another Double featuring The Thief of Thoth by Lin Carter, which I read in a different Belmont edition. Leo P. Kelly, with whose work I am not familiar, is highlighted, and Mack Reynolds, whose success is somewhat puzzling to me, has two books listed. Check out the ads below, and if there are any unacknowledged masterpieces listed, let me and your fellow readers know in the comments!