Planet of the Gawfs by Steve Vance (1978)
I'm a sucker for a good sci-fi book cover. Aliens, futuristic weaponry, space ships, monsters, and chicks are all signs of what might be a kickass book. When I found Planet of the Gawfs, I knew I had probably found a winner. How could I go wrong with a book that features on its cover a monkey man with a space gun shooting a lizard man to protect a scared chick while a spaceship floats in the background? At 50 cents, I knew as soon as I saw it that I was going to buy it.
There turned out to be a problem with the cover, though. I read the book, waiting for the scene where a monkey man with a space gun shoots a lizard man to protect a scared chick while a spaceship floats in the background. It never happened. My guess is that the publisher didn't want to commission some artwork, so they just picked something that kind of worked. That isn't the problem with the cover, though. It's a sweet cover, and the main character is a super strong mutant who grows thick hair all over his body, fitting the description of the monkey man on the cover. No, the real problem with the cover is the suspicious brown smear I found on the inside. I was careful to avoid touching it.
According to the prologue, in 1997, the earth was hit by a mysterious plague that wiped out most of population. Some people who got the plague survived, but their children started being born with various deformities and super powers. An anti-mutant campaign began, with a powerful politician declaring "God's blueprint only!" These Gawfs, short for "God-awful freaks", were soon rounded up en masse and shipped to a planet called Thear to live out their lives with their own kind.
If this sounds familiar, it might be because it's a lot like the Marvel Comics universe, where funny-looking mutants with super powers are misunderstood and hated by much of the general population. While I was reading it, I kept thinking that Planet of the Gawfs could easily be a comic book. It's very fast-paced, with action happening almost of the time, and it's full of weird-looking mutants who have various powers and do a lot of fighting.
Eli, the hero of our tale, was long able to blend in with the humans by shaving his whole body and capping his fangs. When he used his superhuman strength to save a friend, though, his friend turned him in, and off to Thear he was sent. Life on Thear turned out to be nasty, brutish, and short, with monsters that want to eat you and savage tribes that want to kill you (and maybe eat you). Eli, along with a motley crew of strongmen, monkeymen, four-armed dudes, ten inch tall chicks and other mutants, want nothing more than to escape the planet and seek justice. And so off on the adventure we go.
There's so much cool stuff jammed into this book. There are gun battles, fisticuffs, monsters, evil government dudes, space puking, psychosis, and a guy who can transfer your mind into the body of a pig, just to name some. At only 173 pages, Planet of the Gawfs has a pretty high cool stuff to page ratio. It's also got a sweet cool stuff to dollar ratio.
If there's one good lesson to take away from this book, it's that you can't judge a person by their appearance or super power. If there's another lesson, it's that you can sometimes judge a book by its cover, especially if it's got something like a monkey man with a space gun shooting a lizard man to protect a scared chick while a spaceship floats in the background.
Buy this book.