George Warren’s 1979 Dominant Species is a stand-alone planetary romance novel.
Having had enough of war, mighty-thewed Oak and his addled companion Karth join a fishing fleet. The sea creatures of backward world Nuvelkebek are mighty indeed. Oak survives an encounter with one, thanks in large part to Karth’s intervention.
Mortally wounded, amnesiac Karth suddenly remembers suppressed memories. He charges Oak with a mighty task: find the Order! The grieving Oak has no choice but to accept. Alas, Karth was rather short on details, leaving Oak to discover horrifying truths on his own.
Step one in his grand quest: journey toward the land city of Klath. Klath is quite distant; it is also unwelcoming to visitors. Oak sets out for Pri, a city close to Klath and kinder to visitors. Surely he will find out something about the Order there.
Alas, Oak is all too prone to sudden setbacks. Oak finds himself naked and without a ship. He tags along behind an expedition headed toward Pri, hoping to convince the leaders to let him join the caravan. Conveniently for Oak and the narrative, the naïve and amply bosomed orphaned Lady Mri  takes pity on the well-muscled naked man stalking the caravan. With Mri’s help, Oak finds a position with the Sirk, a circus travelling with the caravan.
Here fortune smiles on Oak. Not only is the Sirk willing to provide Oak with food and shelter, it turns out a number of their members are members of the Order! While they do not know what ill fortune befell Karth and addled his memories, they are willing to do what they can to help Oak in his quest. Step one: triggering his latent telepathic powers.
Matters take a dark turn in Pri. Oak and his companions learn too late that scheming aliens have invaded their world. Not only that, but for contrived regulatory reasons, the declining Galactic Empire heretofore unmentioned in this narrative will do nothing to save the planet.
Pri’s king is but a puppet of the wormlike aliens. Pri itself is only the first stepping stone on the aliens’ plan to conquer Nuvelkebek. Without the Empire’s advanced technology, there seems to be little Oak, Mri, or their allies can do forestall the invasion, especially since they are all on the Worms’ to-kill list.
Thanks to the miracle of the tremendously huge print runs mass market paperbacks were given forty years ago, one of my local used bookstores had a copy of this. I distinctly remember the cover. The contents? I remembered nothing. However, at 230 pages, a reread didn’t seem like an unreasonable investment of time. So here we are, with a review of a book that indeed merits a few tears.
Both the Ace and the Donning/Starblaze edition featured an introduction by Larry Shaw. The introduction grossly oversells the meager virtues of the book. Conversely, the novel isn’t quite bad enough to be remembered for its hilarious ineptitude. There are plot elements that could have made an interesting novel in the hands of a more talented author. Too bad that those hands were lacking.
Oak is forever escaping from one near death situation only to stumble into the next; he survives because (by authorial fiat) he is hard to kill. His survival always feels unearned.
Nor is he much of a hero in the end. He doesn’t manage to foil the evil aliens. Instead, he spends the last fifth of the novel in a coma, leaving the task of exposing the aliens to Mri. Mri too lacks the means of defeating the Worms, although she does convince the civil authorities in other cities that the Worms exist. Instead, saving the planet of Nuvelkebek is accomplished by another faction entirely, one virtually unmentioned earlier in the book. On page 213 of 230, following a Worm victory (described well after the fact), this unmentioned faction intervenes and the Worms are trounced.
I couldn’t help but feel that this was not a surprising climax that had been quietly set up by previous hints; it was the desperate act of an author who was tired of writing (or facing a publisher’s deadline) and pulled an ending out of his ass.
There is one detail of note: Oak, a war veteran, is quite vocal that war is to be avoided when possible, that the costs always fall on the most vulnerable. Thanks to Oak’s inability to significantly alter the course of history, the narrative provides support for his view.
One might get the impression from ISFDB that this was Warren’s only novel. In fact, his obituary reveals that Warren published forty-odd books under a number of pen names. I hope he had more fun writing them than I had reading this example of his work.
Dominant Species is deservedly out of print.
1: Who is not just the obligatory love interest, but also a demonstration that Disco-era authors loved to use gratuitous rape as a way to explore and develop character.