Friday, February 26, 2016

Norman Conquest 2066 by J. T. McIntosh

'Tell me, Conan, what are we?  Who are we?'
'Something special,' said Conan soberly. 'Perhaps freaks.  They're special.'
'There must be a purpose.'
'Of course there's a purpose.'
WARNING: This novel contains no spacecraft
I'm not sure why I am reading another book by J. T. McIntosh, whose Million Cities I thought was incredibly bad. Probably I should take Voltaire's attitude of "Once a philosopher, twice a pervert," but I guess I am more curious than cautious, and so I resolved to tackle Norman Conquest 2066 when I spotted it on a bookstore shelf recently.  I purchased the 1977 Corgi paperback edition of the novel, with its fun Chris Foss painting and charming typeface. This is apparently the only physical edition ever printed, though two electronic versions came on the market in 2012, so everybody with internet access can sample the pleasures of this literary work.

The year is 2066 and England has fallen on hard times!  Population is in decline, houses and office buildings sit vacant, factories are idle, and the few remaining automobile enthusiasts have to scavenge at scrap heaps for tires and spare parts. Locomotives and aeroplanes (I usually call them "airplanes," but when in Rome...) are rarely seen, there are no TV broadcasts or national newspapers, and public services are limited--the police don't even investigate accusations of rape!  Luckily, rape is rare because the British populace is so psychologically depressed that most men have lost their "virility."  One character says "Many people these days have the death wish. Sometimes it's conscious, sometimes unconscious."  These dreadful conditions prevail all over the Earth.

Among our numerous characters is Sally Wells, a beautiful blonde shopkeeper and one of the few people in this broken society with any get-up-and-go.  Her two shops are located in the same town as the world's last semi-efficient factory ("There was purpose in the factory, purpose lacking almost everywhere else"), which is owned and managed by Arthur Gardner.  Gardner is a sado-masochist who enjoys being whipped and whipping and otherwise torturing others.  One of our many subplots involves Gardner's flunky Vince Hobley's efforts to rape Wells and kidnap her for Gardner's use in the torture chamber.  Sally knows judo and tosses the Hobley into a river, but Gardner doesn't get too hung up over this failure; his attention has shifted to the project of getting his hands on and torturing the seven children of one of his employees, Frank Seymour. ("...the terror of a girl of eight would be something for a connoisseur.")

Who are these individuals like Wells, Gardner, Hobley and Seymour, who still have a sex drive and the ability to accomplish things, like successfully running a business? Wells discovers that two new genetic strains of homo sapiens appeared at the start of the 21st century and live in secret among the apathetic general run of humanity.  The Sexons can be identified by the fact that they are very hairy, while the Newmen have no body hair whatsoever.  Both groups have modest psychic powers.  But what really distinguishes the Sexons and Newmen (who, inspired by the approach of the thousand year anniversary of William the Conqueror's invasion, take the names "Saxon" and "Norman") from the "peasants" is their tremendous sex drive and ability to effortlessly have five or six orgasms in the space of an hour!  Sally Wells (like we readers) learns most of this information from Conan Hersholt, a Norman, who, in his efforts to increase the Norman population (currently less than half a percent of the total human population) has had sex with over 500 women (nice work if you can get it!) and has his eye on our Sally.  Sally is a hot commodity, and several of our subplots include men trying to get into her pants.

There are plenty of unusual sex scenes, attempted rapes, and scenes of torture in the book.  When Gardner, who is a Saxon, goes a little overboard during a whipping session and kills somebody, he fears the police will finally come after him, and so decides to organize all the Saxons into a revolutionary army and take over the town, the country, maybe even the world.  "From now on no Saxon conceals himself....We march!"

In the streets the Gardner's mob battles a coalition of Normans and the more stable of the Saxons battle for world supremacy.  This fracas lacks urgency for the reader largely because each "army" has only dozens of members and the Normans, it turns out, are psychologically inhibited from committing violence and get martyred instead of fighting back.  I guess the "battle" is supposed to remind the reader of 20th century street protests and riots between rival political factions like in late Republican Rome or Weimar Germany.  (Or maybe the 1964 fights between Mods and Rockers; wikipedia is telling me that the biggest Mod vs Rocker fight was dubbed "The Second Battle of Hastings.")  In the end it is Wells, with the aid of that Norman with seven kids, Seymour, who kills Gardner in a struggle in Gardner's torture chamber.

Besides the pervasive themes of outre sex (did I mention that Saxons and Normans don't get all their powers until they lose their virginity?) and nudity (people are taking their clothes off all the time to prove they are or are not Saxons or Normans) one of the themes of the book is a sort of personification of "nature"; everybody talks about how the appearance of the Saxons and Normans must have some kind of "purpose," that these new races must be the result of decisions made by "nature" who is at times assigned a female pronoun of "she" or called "the old girl."  McIntosh doesn't expand on this idea or do anything interesting with it; it just sits there, irritating my sense of scientific propriety without adding any religious, moral or spiritual dimension to the book.  In the end of the novel we learn that Wells, who has a normal distribution of body hair but nevertheless is ambitious and resourceful, is one of the first specimens of nature's latest and most promising attempt to put the human race to rights, a fourth, as yet unnamed, race that will inherit the Earth from the pathetic peasants, unstable Saxons and ineffectual Normans.

I can't think of much nice to say about Norman Conquest 2066.  The ideas and style are pedestrian at best, and the writing sometimes shoddy--Normans, including Conan Hersholt the womanizer, die at the battle because they are unable to strike blows at their assailants, but then Seymour the Norman gets a knife and tries to stab Gardner in the back, with no explanation.  There are lots of characters, but few of them are interesting or sympathetic, and the high volume of characters (and McIntosh's poor ability to structure the plot) means that the story is diffuse, just a bunch of thinly connected episodes.  Characters will appear and then disappear for long periods of time, and a high proportion of characters are killed.  It feels like the characters and ideas are an excuse for the gratuitous and exploitative sex and violence, but the sex scenes and action scenes are not thrilling--most feel long and slow and clunky.

The best subplot of the novel follows a Norman who, thanks to the intervention of Hersholt and Wells, escapes the smothering domination of his mother (and her dozens of cats!) and his dull grey life and learns how to use his superb Norman body and his psychic powers.  This material could have made for a decent short story, but as part of Norman Conquest 2066 it is submerged and nearly lost in a 156-page mess.

Another J. T. McIntosh failure, characterized by a shaky plot and weird, often eroticized, violence.  Two bad novels and two bad stories are enough; this time we are through J. T.!

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