Thursday, January 8, 2009
Cage a Man
I first found out about this book when I read Wayne Barlowe’s Extraterrestrials, admired the artwork and decided that I was going to read all the science fiction novels mentioned in that book. That campaign introduced me to the Well World series, the Tschai books and a buried treasure called Cage a Man, by F. M. Busby.
The plot of Cage a Man is simple. A man called Barton wakes up to find that along with several other humans, he’s been abducted from Earth and is sharing a huge cell with alien prisoners. Before he can do more than get friendly with one of them, Limila, their kidnappers shove Barton into a grey room where he will stay for the next eight years.
The kidnappers are Demu, an alien race which believes that everyone else is inferior to them – animal-like, actually. However, if others can learn the Demu language, they are considered people and are allowed citizenship among the Demu. They are also surgically enhanced so that they look like Demu. And the Demu happen to be exoskeletal creatures without noses, ears, external genitalia or secondary sexual organs.
Barton, however, is too angry at his captivity to learn their language, even when the Demu try to teach it to him. Instead he plays mind games with them, alternating comprehension with pretences of having forgotten what various signs mean. The Demu play those games right back, treating him like the guinea pig he is to them and giving him lobotomized women in the hopes that he will demonstrate mating. The room is a sensory deprivation chamber, and by the end of his time there, Barton’s on the edge of insanity.
He does escape, though. And that’s when the fun really begins.
I won’t say anything more about the plot, but the aliens in the story deserve a bit more description. The Tilari, Limila’s people, are physically not much different from a lot of aliens-of-the-week from Star Trek, but their culture is very alien. The Tilari use sex as a greeting among friends, a comfort, a means of reconciliation and a way of expressing gratitude. I’ve never before read a SF novel where the heroine had pleasurable, guilt-free sex with other men after she became involved with the hero.
The only stumbling point in this story is the extensive physical enhancement carried out by the Demu on anyone lucky enough to be admitted to their society. To be specific, I didn’t buy that a woman could have her scalp, ears, nose, teeth, fingers, toes, breasts and genitalia removed sans anesthesia without 1. dying from shock and blood loss 2. being physically scarred (if she lived) to the point where she would be reluctant to disrobe, much less have sex 3. being mentally scarred as well.
Limila, on the other hand, isn’t happy that she’s been mutilated, but she behaves as she did before the surgical alteration. She’s still willing to have sex with Barton (and others), though both his reaction and the slow rebuilding of her body are realistic. The story is very much Barton’s – no one else gets a point of view – and characterization-wise, it could be more fleshed out. But for what it is, it’s an excellent read, and I recommend it.