Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Attar The Merman: Attar's Revenge by Joe Haldeman

The same year that Joe Haldeman published his lauded science fiction novel THE FOREVER WAR, two trashy pseudonymous paperbacks out of the same typewriter hit the shelves of drug stores, truck stops, and maybe even a few bookstores.

Packaged by Lyle Kenyon Engel and released by Pocket Books in January 1975, ATTAR'S REVENGE (cover by David Plourde) is an unusual mixture of science fiction and men's adventure. At 144 pages, it's lean and tough and offers plenty of action that wouldn't be out of place in a Penetrator pulp. However, its hero is more like the Man from Atlantis.

ATTAR'S REVENGE starts with an island off the coast of Australia where lies Aquatic Research Associates, Limited (or ARAL). Founded and operated by marine biologist Wallace Hamilton and funded by millionaire John Tucker, ARAL adopted a dozen half-breeds (so the children wouldn't become loyal to any one nation) and raised them to be great physical and mental whizzes, able to speak several languages and expert in all forms of combat. Hamilton also discovers a surgical method to transform two of them, now around twenty years of age, into water breathers, complete with gills.

Attar and his "sister" Essence undertake a mission for the CIA to destroy a Japanese criminal organization called the Black Lotus, which is polluting the Earth with drugs, prostitutes, illegal gambling, and assassinations for hire. Led by wheelchair-bound Yoshinobu Johnson, the Black Lotus is also into slaughtering dolphins for meat, which just won't do.

After Essence is killed by the Lotus during a commando raid in California, Attar goes all out for revenge, pledging to kill not just Johnson, but his five closest aides as well to ensure the Black Lotus is destroyed forever.

Besides the concept of an adventure hero with gills, ATTAR'S REVENGE has fun with another science fiction gimmick, which is that Attar can communicate telepathically with two dolphins, Sam and Lily, which follow him all over the globe and even save his life a couple of times.

ATTAR'S REVENGE is a lot of fun--bizarre and full of action. I like it a lot more than Haldeman apparently does. He wrote online:

And then there was the saga of Naked Came the Merman. The title comes from a book now mercifully forgotten, Naked Came the Stranger. A bunch of newspaper writers decided to fabricate a sleazy best-seller; they all got together for a long weekend and each wrote a chapter, and it worked.

I'd done two of the pseudonymous adventure novels for Lyle Kenyon Engel, which were about Attar the Merman, a guy who has gills and can talk telepathically to porpoises and whales. I just couldn't face writing a third one. So I threw this gauntlet out to my fellow workshoppers: I'd outlined the book, A Cold Place to Die, chapter by chapter. I'd pay a hundred dollars, against a pro ratum of future income, to anybody who would come over on Easter break and crank out a chapter.

They came, and I paid, and the result was a total disaster. I should have foreseen it. They were good writers, but they weren't experienced: they could only write in their own styles; I'd given them two Attar books to study, but they were incapable of pastiche. So I had ten wildly variant pieces of useless rough draft. I cobbled the book together, but it was pretty horrible. The series quietly closed after two installments.

Two months after ATTAR'S REVENGE, Attar the Merman returned in the second and last novel, WAR OF NERVES. While one can understand why the now-famous Haldeman, who won his first Hugo and Nebula awards for THE FOREVER WAR, would want to distance himself from cheap paperback originals, it's too bad Pocket Books didn't continue the series, because this first entry is pretty cool.


Temple of Schlock said...

Nice! I'll have to check these out. I like "War Year," "The Forever War" and "All My Sins Remembered," and of course Lyle Kenyon Engel gets a free lifetime pass to the Temple for bringing us the awesome Dark Angel series.

Jack Badelaire said...

Sigh...yet another trashy series I need to hunt down and read.

Christopher Mills said...

Gotta find these! At least there's only two to track down!

Joe Kenney said...

Great review! I reviewed both of these Attar novels a few months ago on my blog:

The second volume is much better than the first one -- at least I thought it was!

Jack Badelaire said...

Hey Joe - cool blog! I just added you to the blogroll over at my Post Modern Pulps blog. I'll be definitely keeping a lookout for your upcoming posts!