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[This review contains spoilers, but so what?]

I suspect few of you have heard of Pel Torro. You should not consider yourselves deprived.

If his name sounds bogus, that’s because it is. Pel Torro was one of numerous pseudonyms used by a genuinely odd duck by the name of Lionel Fanthorpe. An Anglican minister who writes extensively on the topics of UFOs and Forteanism, Fanthorpe has a website that reveals him to be a friendly, charming, avuncular fellow who is very likely in on his own joke. During the 1950s-60s, Fanthorpe was one of presumably several hacks-for-hire who churned out books at an assembly-line rate for a skid-row outfit called Badger Books. Protip for writers: if your publisher’s criterion for choosing a company name is to pick any random mammal as long as it alliterates to “Books,” you are probably not being ushered into the world of literature through the VIP entrance.

Badger Books’ mission was a model of artistic indifference, as I have learned thanks to The Google. Evidently, they had a collection of cover art on hand. Whether they owned the necessary rights to these may or may not have been the case. They’d present them to their writers with instructions to write a story around the painting. These are conditions not dissimilar to the way legendary B-movie producer Val Lewton was forced to work at RKO Studios in the 1940s. Lewton would be given lurid and cheesy titles — Cat People; I Walked with a Zombie — and told to write and produce films to fit the titles. Lewton had an ace up his sleeve, however: he was a born creative genius and filmmaking alchemist who could turn crap to gold, and his movies were often RKO’s very best moneymakers, still considered influential classics to this day.

But the words “born creative genius” do not apply, I am sorry to say, to Lionel Fanthorpe, at least not when he was into his Pel Torro persona. Reportedly, he was paid $20 by Badger for Galaxy 666. As sleazy an operation as I suspect they were, I still have some sympathy for them here, as they overpaid Fanthorpe by about $21. Hopefully he wrote them a receipt.

I’m not sure if Douglas Adams ever read any of Fanthorpe’s work, but there is a quality of Adamsian absurdism to this story. I suspect Fanthorpe was only doing it half-deliberately. Galaxy 666 is only remembered today, by the few who do, because of all Fanthorpe’s assembly-line efforts, it alone seems to have made the jump to the US, where it was released by a gloriously sleazy imprint called Tower Books. Their metier was mostly cheap pulp adventure, and porn with awesome titles like The Lady from L.U.S.T. #5: The Hot Mahatma (I am absolutely not making that up) and Yesterday’s Virgin (“Sex and brains — but mostly sex — were Peggy’s weapons, and she used them on every man she ever met.”). I’d rather read either of those two, preferably out loud in a con suite where everyone’s drunk, than Galaxy 666. And yet Fanthorpe’s little opus is often a wonder to behold in its own transcendent realms of suck.

Tower slapped a generic cover on the thing featuring a bad plastic knockoff toy starship Enterprise. I suspect they didn’t run that one past Legal. I further suspect they didn’t have a Legal to run it past.

Plot? What is this “plot” you speak of? Things happen until they’re done happening. What’s funniest about this book is the way that, although it’s a scant 138 pages, Fanthorpe stuffs his prose with more padding than a warehouse full of Tempurpedic mattresses. He has a contractual word count to meet by deadline, and by golly, will he meet it. And so one adjective is never used when Fanthorpe can find three more in his thesaurus, and his characters confront every crisis they face by launching a meandering and repetitive debate that can go on for pages, with random disgressions into history or philosophy or whatever tickled Fanthorpe’s fancy. Again, you get the impression the fellow was chuckling merrily away to himself while cranking this out. After all, a writer has to have either a great sense of humor or very bad drugs to write something like “He was scratching away at the computer as though it were a part of his own body that was particularly sensitive and had been invaded by fleas.”

Of all the one-star books I’ve read, this is far and away the funniest. Fanthorpe’s dialogue exchanges would be the stuff of a million facepalms were it not so easy to imagine them, not as scenes in a novel meant to be taken seriously, but comedy sketches starring, say, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Then they become pure win. You know you’re in good hands when, three pages in, you’re already exposed to this.

The two old men shuffled off along the visitor’s gallery until they reached the bar.
“Now,” said the first, “tell me, my friend, you looked very surprised at the mention of Galaxy 666. What’s the matter with it?”
“Everything’s the matter with it!” answered Bion.
“You ever been?” asked Milka.
Bion nodded.
“Yes,” he said, “and I wish by the seven green moons of Gongle that I hadn’t!”
“That’s a strong oath for a spaceman to use,” said Milka.
“By the seven green moons of Gongle,” repeated Bion.
“Tell me about it,” invited Milka.

Fanthorpe seems to have been confused about the definition of a galaxy. It appears he thinks a solar system is a galaxy, because a solar system is what Galaxy 666 is. So two “computer men,” Ischklah and Korzaak, fly there on a craft piloted by Captain Bronet and his copilot Oski, because they’re concerned about all the contradictory information — indeed, it’s “so varied and so contradictory that there is no possible gestalt of any kind which the computer can detect” — their computer is giving them about the place. But that’s what you get for using Windows Vista. (Rimshot!) Once there, the “galaxy” tries to drive them mad. Then it forces their craft down on an “apocryphal” planet. Here’s how it looks, in Fanthorpe’s timeless, mellifluous prose.

There were pinkish streaks among the rock, and it seemed that some of the chromatic tint from the atmosphere owed its origin to these. There were a number of white veins in the rock, which bore some kind of resemblance to marble, but the majority of it was grey. It gave an over-all impression of greyness streaked with pink and white, rather than an overall impression of whiteness tinged with grey and pink, or an overall impression of pink streaked with grey and white.

After all that verbiage, I still have no idea what color the goddamn rock is. Anyway, our four spacemen confront some gelatinous aliens who knock them out and kidnap them onto their vessel. Not much caring for this treatment, they beat up the aliens and Bronet takes over their control room. Realizing that Galaxy 666 represents all that is chaos in an otherwise ordered universe, Bronet concludes that the only way to escape its pull is to go temporarily insane. So he does, and they get away, and the grateful jelly beings drop our astronauts off on the nearest planet, where they hitch a ride home. The end.