Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Special Feature, by Charles V. DeVet.
NYC, Avon Books, June 1975, paperback 95¢ (176 pages)
Special Feature is a terrible s-f novel about terrible characters. It is hard to tell which are the more unlikable, the humans or the cat-people. But taken as a noir thriller in which the reader is gradually brought to sympathize with some seriously flawed characters, or as a funky “how many things can you find wrong with this s-f scenario?” quiz, Special Feature is an unusual and fascinating page-turner.
Pentizel, a cat-women from the banned planet Paarae, has stolen a spaceship and flown to Earth. Due to the icy climate of Paarae, she chooses St. Paul, Minnesota in winter in which to secretly hide.
Although her goal is pointedly kept mysterious (except for being given away in the cover blurb), she is immediately identified as arrogant, cruel, and contemptuous of humanity:
“Once inside her room [in a slum hotel], she locked the door, drew in a deep breath and let it out. Her whole body relaxed with the expelled breath. A world lay within her eager grasp, a world in which to lose herself. And a billion decadent weaklings to be maneuvered in any way that suited her.” (p. 8)
Unknown to Pentizel, St. Paul is completely covered by surveillance cameras, in seemingly every street and almost every room of every building. Howard Benidt, manager of TV station RBC, sees the cat-woman’s assault and stealing of a pedestrian’s clothes, and her checking into the flophouse in disguise. Benidt decides to make a “Special Feature” out of this alien invasion of Earth, to boost his channel’s ratings and his own prestige among its management:
“The room was getting warm. Benidt took off his coat and hung it on the back of his chair. ‘Now I want a top-grade build-up on this. Play up strong the potentiality of violence: assault, murder, blood. Make it good. Start cutting in immediately — on whatever program’s running on the channel now – with tantalizers. Don’t tell them exactly what the feature will be. Let them use their imagination. Build up their curiosity – and impatience – for the start of the biggest, live thrill show in the annals of video.” (p. 15)
If you are wondering how Benidt can get away with this, keep wondering. It is not until page 60 that the commissioner of police tries to claim authority to stop the TV special and capture or kill Pentizel because:
“‘Killing that salesman outside the Holiday Inn was too much. As you are well aware. The old plastic surgeon was an ex-felon with demerits a yard long – and with no relatives to complain. We let that pass. But when you allow a reputable citizen to be killed, it has to stop.’”
Benidt quickly phones an RBC executive with political pull, who is very pleased that, “‘We’ve topped all previous ratings – on any network.’” He gets a reprieve for the program, and the cat’s gory continued freedom, to go on. Other questions such as how or why a TV station has been able (both technically and socially) to install cameras throughout the city to rival those in Orwell’s 1984; or how Earth has acquired colony planets around several stars to which one- and two-man spaceships can fly in just a week, while St. Paul seems unchanged (except for the omnipresent TV cameras) since the 1970s (there are references to “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”; how long has it been since anyone called that company by its full name instead of “3M”?), go equally unanswered.
The serious questions are what Pentizel and, later, her mate Marror are up to in St. Paul; whether they can accomplish their goal while having been turned without their knowledge into a TV spectacle by Benidt; and, after they find out and vow vengeance against him in particular, whether Benidt can escape:
“Benidt had no illusions now. His life – melodramatic as the expression may sound – hung in the balance. Unless he could outmaneuver the cat female and do it soon, she would kill him. He had to do what he could to defend himself, without waste of time.” (p. 114)
Special Feature is what is known as an idiot-plot novel. If any of the characters exhibited any common sense (including the background characters such as the security forces who operate compounds surrounded by high fences with tree branches conveniently overhanging them), the story would fall apart. But despite knowing this, DeVet has written a gripping suspense story that will hold the reader to find out what happens next.
Pentizel and Marror talk and plan strategy in several scenes, but they are not anthropomorphized as much as portrayed as super-intelligent felines with an instinct to toy with their adversary before killing him. Whether this will give the increasingly desperate Benidt the chance to survive is for the reader to find out.
Special Feature is unusual in having a cover by George Wilson, best-known for hundreds of painted covers for Gold Key comic books and covers of paperback novelizations of such newspaper comic strips as Flash Gordon and The Phantom, but not for original novels.