This post will primarily be a detailed summary of the novel. If you can read French and are planning to read this novel in the future, then consider this a spoiler warning.
Les Hommes marqués (The Marked Men) is the second book published in 1976 by Julia Verlanger under her other pseudonym, Gilles Thomas. Just as Les Portes sans Retour, this novel is set in the distant future, where humanity has colonized many different worlds.Garral Saltienne, the protagonist of our novel, is a citizen of Terra, and one of the people who fought for Terra’s autonomy from the Associated Worlds. The war for Terra’s independence is hopeless; a lost yet worthy cause. Garral, as well as many other people, are captured and forced into slavery. An intricate network of a substance called vadium is grafted to their nervous system to ensure obedience. The vadium, which is remotely connected to a box, controls the Garral and his compatriots by inflicting incredible amounts of pain when activated by their masters.
To add insult to injury, a massive A is tattooed to their foreheads, indicating to everyone they meet that they are androids. There are two types of androids in the galaxy: one is a robot that is designed to appear and act human, the other are humans that have been forced into slavery through the use of vadium. Garral’s android classification: ATOF, à tout faire, a jack-of-all-trades.
At the beginning of the story Garral is being taken from Terra to one of the Associated Worlds, Talsie, where he is sold to a man who considers Garral and a few other androids an investment whose values will increase as the slave market dries up. The man bought men only, and fit, able-bodied men, as they bring in the most value. Garral, a few weeks after arriving on Talsie, is sold to a rich, middle aged woman, Marri Saurgal, who treats him more as a pet than as human – or as a servant. She parades him around in front of her peers and sleeps with him whenever she wants.
Life isn’t particularly hard with Marri, until, during a party, Garral is tortured, through the use of the vadium-controlling box, while Marri is too intoxicated to intervene, in front of all of her guests. After this incident Garral vows to escape at the first opportunity that presents itself. One does so when Garral brings Marri to the spaceport to see her off when she is invited to a planet he isn’t welcome on and he encounters one of the other men, Carmal, who lived with him briefly before being sold to Marri. Together they plot to escape Talsie; Carmal murders his owner and they steal one of his space crafts.
They fly to a planet called Last Chance, a lifeless rock whose interior has been terraformed to suit human life and which is the only safe harbor for criminals and escaped slaves. Upon arriving they apply for citizenship, which they can only attain after passing three dangerous tests, individually. Garral’s first two tests, climbing up a long, extremely hot shaft, and fighting a robotic android to death, are passed with some challenge.
It is the third test that affects Garral the most. Since Last Chance is essentially a dead planet with a complex underground habitat scientists experimented with the DNA of food-producing plants to increase their wields. A vast underground cavern was converted into a kind of biodome for this experiment, and animal life, such as pollinators, were released into the artificial biome. In true science-fiction form, though, the plant and animal life mutated beyond control and instead of destroying it all, the area was sealed off for future study. For the third test Garral is deposited at one end of the now overgrown jungle and told to hike, for 10 days, to the other side, and if he survives, he’ll gain his citizenship. As he camps one night he is stung by a nocturnal butterfly and becomes deathly ill, but survives, and manages to make it to his destination.
Days later he notices changes to his body; big changes. His cells have mutated, increasing the power of his immune system which removes the A from his forehead and the vadium in his nervous system. He develops other abilities as well. With his newfound abilities he vows to right the wrongs that led him to this point.
I was going to write some commentary with a few excerpts here and there but I’ve decided to leave that for another post. Les Hommes marqués is the second of four novels and one short story in volume 2. I think I will write an all-encompassing critique once I’ve finished this volume.
The next novel in the collection is La Jungle de Pierre (The Stone Jungle), published in 1979 under the pseudonym Gilles Thomas. Look for the summary here in about 2 weeks time.