Sin Servant by Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

Sin Servant

One of the best of the Don Elliotts, IMHO, at least this far as I read them.

Consider the opening of Sin Servant (Nightstand Books #3651, 1962): “I don’t know why it is I like to hurt people. I just do. Especially women.  It’s the kind of guy I am, that’s all, and I don’t try to make excuses for it.”

The novel chronicles Jimmy Robinson’s journey into the world of S/M and rough sex, from age sixteen to his 20s.  He loses his virginity to an experienced girl in high school who laughs at his lack of sexual know-how.  He then meets a 26-year-old divorcee who shows him how some women like to be man-handled and roughed around.

A bit of autobiography comes into play — Jimmy decides to become a writer. maybe all the sex is true too, who knows.  Jimmy sells a couople stories, but then stops when he finds a more lucrative business: becoming live-in a gigalo for various rich older women. (His first is 37, so that is not really “older” even for a 23-year-old.)  One of his sugar mommas likes to hire call girls for threesomes — high class call girls who come from good stock, and lo and behold, in all irony, one night Leatrice, the girl who had shot him down when he was 16, walks in, to find that the teenage boy she rejected has become a master lover.

It’s an insightful commentary on the psychological make-up of the sadist, and how one is trained to become one by women who desire such things, and how this man seeks out women who get off on pain. This one goes into more detail than your usual “soft-core” and is well-written.

Genre writers (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, western) wrote soft-core to make money when the genre market for magazinesand books dwindled in the late 1950s-early 1960s.  Silverberg wrote an article in 1992 for Penthouse Letters entitled “My Life as a Pornographer” about the scene at the time, recounting:

I was 24 years old when I stumbled, much to my surprise, into a career of writing sex  novels. In l958, as a result of a behind-the-scenes convulsion in the magazine-distribution business, the whole SF publishing world went belly up. A dozen or so magazines for which I had been writing regularly ceased publication overnight; and as for the tiny market for SF novels […] it suddenly became so tight that unless you were one of the first-magnitude stars like Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov you were out of luck.

Silverberg claims he could write a soft-core for Greenleaf/Nightsand/Cornith/William Hamling or Midwood Books and  others in four days, working in the morning to produce 2-4 chapters, taking a lunch break, and then working till evening, where he would switch to writing sf for the rest of the night.  The erotica was paying for his true love, science-fiction that did not pay as much as the market had vanished. It was also paying his rent and dinners at Love Addictfine restaurants and summer trips to Europe.  Producing 2-3 titles a month, starting with William Hamling paying him $600 for the first Nightsstand tittel, Love Addict, and as the books sold well and made profit,  $1200-2000 each. (Hamling paid Scott Meredith $2000 for each pen name/blinded manuscript, and later found out that Meredith was taking more than a standard 10-15% cut, but more like 40-50%, paying writers $1000-1200.” This was  good money for a writer in the late 1950s-ealy 1960s. Silverberg purchased his first house with this revenue — not just a house, but a 10 room mansion once owned by Mr. La Guardia!  $80,000 back then, translated to a couple million now.  When Silverberg was contracted by Hamling to write a certain amount of stories each month for Imagination Science Fiction at $500/month, that was damn good money for a writer in New York in the mid to late 50s:  most writers could live comfortably on $100-200 month, depending what part of the city they lived and if they had modest or upper crust pedacllos.  Silverberg, with his wife, rented a 4-room upscale apartment in Manhattan for $150 a month.  Imagine that!  But $150 in 1950s money was probbaly around $1000-1500, and a four room apartment in New York City today will run $5000 or more a month, with tiny 200 sq. feet holes in the walls going for $1200 or so a month.  Harlan Ellison, he has n oted, paid $10 a week for a room/apartment.

Imn his essay, Silberbeg claims he made about $1000/week on average, not only from checks from Hamling’s many shell accounts used for the books and magazines, but lesbian novels for Midwood as oren Beauchamop and straight sex as David Challon, non-fiction “sex studies”  for Monarch as L.T. Woodward, and science and archeology books geared for the juvenile market for bigger houses, and the science-fiction too.  He burned out on the sleaze in the mid 1960s, but the SF book market had expanded and he wanted to focus more on that.

Silverberg states that the 150 books he wrote for Hamling, and the others (400 in all) not only helped to hone the  carft of plot and dialougue, but put him in a professional mindset that aided the writing of future books — his doens of novels, stories, and anthologies attest to this.

Much more about all this can be read at Earl Kemp’s online zine, el.

Going back to Sin Servant, it is a well-crafted, well-told story with fairly belivable characters. I can see this as a movie.  Who knows, maybe I will adapt it, as I want to make a screeplay out of Barry Malzberg’s A Bed of Money (next review).

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