If someone put a gun to your head and said you had to write a book that lived up to the title Time Snake And Superclown, you might just kiss your brains goodbye and have done with it. But not Vincent King, author of the cult novel Candy Man. His 1976 classic more than lives up to that title, and may actually be the most demented book I've ever read. It's the book that taught me that if a man fails to please a woman sexually, she has the right to remake his face permanently into a bizarre clown mask. Spoilers ahead.
Time Snake And Superclown really reads like Vincent King was off some pretty powerful meds when he wrote it in the mid-1970s. It's just sort of a non-stop delusional dream sequence. It starts out following the nameless hero, who's a Watcher from beyond our world, watching over the humans. He's come to despise the human race, because we're not really alive, we're just wraiths. Especially women, whom the hero calls whore-wraiths. The good guy wakes up in bed next to a strange woman whose false eyelashes are coming off, and he's disgusted by how human she is. "The girl whore wraith sat on the bed-edge like naked pork," he writes at one point.
But then he's following another girl, who turns out to be the same girl he just slept with, but he doesn't recognize her at first because she's disguised as an old woman, and she gets the drop on him. The moment she shoots him with a paralyzing ray and starts being violent to him, he falls in love with her and decides she's not a whore wraith after all:
"I'm sorry about what'll happen to you."... She smelled of lemons and she was clean like a beach after.... after a tide. Her hands were strong and she knelt beside me and her thighs were right close to my face. There was no hair on them, not even fuzz, not like that red old man, not like what he had on his face. I was pretty worried. I was so powerless, but I was glad she was like that and not like the girl whore wraith I'd seen in the hotel. She leaned back and pulled the paintbox over across the floor. "Just to ease your mind," she went on. "We didn't do anything last night. As if I could... with you!" She said that and I felt like a worm... low like a snake. Me, with my powers and she made me feel like that. I wasn't angry, I just felt terrible.
Long story short, the girl who smells like lemons uses the hero's synthetic skin ("light skin") to transform his face into a grotesque clown face, with a giant red nose (that makes rude noises), pale skin and weird hair. No matter what he does, he can't change his face back or get rid of the clown paint. Afterwards, he keeps noticing how nice her hair is, over and over.
Then he tries to get back to the Zone outside reality, where his spaceship and gadgets are, but when he travels into the Zone, the girl who smells like lemons cuts out his "strobe," zapping him back to our reality and stranding him here. And then, it gets worse — he realizes she's taken his pants and he hasn't noticed, for about 20 pages now.
My heart went as cold as ice and when I looked down she'd stolen my pants too.
I must have been really bad not to have seen that.
There were little screams and laughter squeals all around me. The people wraiths were moving, pointing at me... little boys stared and girls giggled. I must have appeared there, like a thunder clap, suddenly... that anger... I was angry and shaking with it.
I didn't care about the pants. But the clown face was something else... that and the wraiths laughing... jeering... pointing. I broke and ran. All through the trees that seemed to sway with the laughter across the grass and through the deckchairs and the people sitting up in them to see me go by. All the time my nose was going like a klaxon. People sure sound funny when they're laughing at you.
She must have planned it that way. She must have known I'd escape. She'd painted my face, stolen my trousers and then cut the strobe when I'd get caught the worst. All that struggle, all my effort, and I'd thought I wa so smart and lucky and she'd planned it to humiliate me.
He spends the rest of the novel wandering around our world, and various surreal landscapes outside our reality, while people jeer at his clown face and he mopes about how he's supposed to be a super-powerful Watcher. Eventually, it turns out that there's an alien entity, the Time Snake, trying to enter our world through the Zone, and the Superclown has to stop it. And the girl who smells like lemons has a boyfriend, who keeps making fun of the Superclown for being a clown, and messing up his nice gadgets. Why is everyone so mean to the Superclown, just because he has contempt for anyone who's less powerful than he is? It's sad.
The lemon girl and her boyfriend turn out to be from beyond the Zone, or two jumps removed from our reality, or something. It's kind of confusing. And the Superclown turns out to have been trained since birth to fight the Time Snake, or at least that's what the lemon girl tells him. He has weird memories of his childhood, which turn out to have been images of the Time Snake planted in his mind. Or something. They tell him to go kill the Time Snake and prove he's a man. In the end, the Superclown realizes that the lemon-girl and her mean boyfriend are playing him. The Time Snake is actually nice, and is from the distant future of the human race, and just wants to make friends. It's sympathetic and lovely. But the Superclown kills it anyway, because lemon girl told him to. And then he feels really bad, but at least he's a man now.
I don't know if this novel proves that the drugs were better in the 1970s, or that the anti-psychotic meds were worse. In any case, if you see it for 50 cents in a used bookstore (as I did), it's worth grabbing so you can quote sections of it aloud to your friends and slowly drive them super-mad.