The GasBy Charles Platt (Olympia Press/Savoy Press/Loompanics Unlimited; 1970/80/95)

This incomparably vile relic from the UK is the highlight of sci-fi author Charles Platt’s seventies-era excursions in literary pornography (which include THE IMAGE JOB, THE POWER AND THE PAIN and SWEET EVIL). For that matter, I’d say THE GAS is the apotheosis of the “Fuck Book” trend of the 1970s. The idea of a man-made drug causing people to lose their sexual inhibitions had been done before THE GAS saw print (see R.L. Seiffert’s THE POLLUTERS from 1968), and after (see James Herbert’s THE FOG from 1975), but no other novel took the concept as far as Platt did. So extreme are its contents that the Savoy edition of THE GAS was seized by British police in November of 1980, and used as evidence in a trial that landed Savoy’s David Britton in prison. Hence, this sickie is now a bonafide historical document.

Of THE GAS’S three editions the Savoy publication is the one to read. It was revised somewhat from the original Olympia Press version (which appeared after Platt’s intended publisher Essex House went belly-up) yet fully retains the crudeness of its humble fuckbook origins (and contains a record number of typos), and so is far preferable to the more heavily revised Loompanics Unlimited publication that appeared in 1995, in which Platt made the story’s satirical bent more overt–and, I feel, lessened its impact. However, the Loompanics version does at least contain an introduction in which Platt retrospectively details the book’s origins–it was written, apparently, to “exorcise my British inhibitions once and for all”–and so isn’t entirely without worth.

But anyway: Vincent is a British researcher on the run from the spread of the titular gas, a yellowish contagion accidentally released from a government laboratory. As the book opens Vincent picks up Cathy, a young hottie, in a stolen car and, infected by the gas, fucks her every which way. From there the madness only increases, with mass orgies, a specially designed sex machine, parachuting lovers and other wackiness (of which it’s best not to give away too much) gradually giving way to unbelievable violence and perversion as the British populace’s darker impulses rise to the fore. Vincent certainly isn’t immune to this aspect of the gas’s influence, and gives vent to his ugly side in a thoroughly repellent cavalcade of gory aggression that prefigures, and outdoes, the excesses of the splatterpunks.

Obviously this book isn’t for wimps, and nor will it appeal to connoisseurs of arty porn (of the type practiced by writers like Samuel R. Delany and David Meltzer). Yet in its crudity and outrageousness THE GAS achieves a definite artful catharsis, being very likely the last word in extreme erotica.