William J. Lambert, III – Adonis (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.

Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.

California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.

A fair review to be sure, though I would give Lambert more credit for his handling of a large cast, even if it is unnecessarily large. The reviewer doesn’t comment on the steamy moments except to say there is “of course plenty of sex.” It’s actually rare for reviews of pulp to mention erotic scenes. Too bad, since it would be nice to have an historical record of reactions to such things. Vintage pulp isn’t afraid to venture into uncomfortable territories and I wonder if authors intended to make readers feel that way or if it’s just a sign of our changing attitudes toward sex.

That newspapers and magazines reviewed pulp at all, and so rarely mention the sex scenes, I believe is a testament to the fact that many gay readers gobbled up these books for their plot and representation. If it weren’t for the Adult Only aisle, finding adventure stories with a happily gay protagonist would be rare to impossible during the 1960’s and ’70s. It’s still rare!

I’ll try to explain the plot, but it won’t be easy. LSD would probably help. I’ll do my best without…

Adonis Tyler is a hunky detective sleuthing out the culprit of a sadistically mutilated laboratory rat. The rat dates back to prehistoric times, making it particularly valuable to researchers. So valuable, in fact, that if they can find its remaining entrails there’s still a chance to harvest its otherworldly powers.

Shadowy figures also seek the rat intestines, however, including a cabal of attractive men who’re fueled with the sexual prowess of actual Egyptian gods. These cutthroat hotties murder off the researchers, but still can’t locate the dead rat without Adonis’ help.

Adonis follows the case to Egypt where he experiences first hand (among other body parts) what these human sex gods can do. Along the way mysteries unfurl until we’re given a satisfying conclusion which leaves much to the imagination. Perhaps it continues on in Book 2? Perhaps it’s meant to leave the head spinning with visions of erotic nightmares? Either way, it’s a story grabs ahold and doesn’t let go.

Despite my years-long scholarly interest in gay pulp from the 1960’s and ‘70s, I’m still amazed by the uninhibited, creative energy of these novels. There was a lot of repressed sexual desire back then and, for the first time in world history, a generation of gay writers had an outlet to share their nightmares and fantasies with the masses. Being the first, it’s no surprise their products would emerge a little messy, bizarre, and exceedingly unfiltered.

Indeed much of Adonis gets wild. For example, Adonis willingly allows a hallucinogenic ant to bite his peter to experience heightened stimulation. He also has an unusual quirk where he drops his pants and satisfies himself when faced with high stakes danger. He learned this trick to “clear his mind” during the Korean war. Much to the reader’s horror and surprise, he instinctually revisits this technique after stumbling upon the skeletal remains of a fresh corpse.

Pulps are a snapshot of this particular era of queer history. They reveal more about that generation’s gay experience than any boring textbook—though in some cases it’s still best to think of them as a textbook and not erotica. Not all pulp is as dark and gritty as William J. Lambert (who’s still churning out novels, by the way), but all of them reveal something unique about that era.

Indeed much of Adonis gets wild. For example, Adonis willingly allows a hallucinogenic ant to bite his peter to experience heightened stimulation. He also has an unusual quirk where he drops his pants and satisfies himself when faced with high stakes danger. He learned this “clears his mind” during the Korean war. He revisits the technique after stumbling upon the skeletal remains of a fresh corpse, much to the reader’s shock and surprise.

Pulps are a snapshot of this particular era of queer history. They reveal more about that generation’s gay experience than any boring textbook—and they’re far more fun to read. Not all are as dark and gritty as William J. Lambert (who’s still churning out novels, by the way), but all are a product of their time.

If you like a lot of sex with your history, reading gay pulp is the way to go.

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