Irving A. Greenfield wrote a large number of novels from the 60s into the 90s, in genres as varied as softcore porn, historical, thriller/adventure, western, and sf. Used copies of many of the these novels still are available, although some (like Succubus: A Novel of Erotic Possession) fetch steep prices.
In the Fall of 1975, when I began my sophomore year in high school, another student brought in a copy of the just-published (i.e., July 1975) novel Aton. It was avidly read and passed hand-to hand through most of the freshman and sophomore classes all that Fall.
Having read Aton meant you knew what other students were talking about when they name-dropped ‘Nempie’, ‘Pula the Boar’, and the classic phrase, ‘I am a Man Amongst Men !’
With its explicit violence and sex, Aton made the novels we were obliged to read in English class – like A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird – utterly insipid.
Whatever you may think about its literary merits, Aton has an outstanding cover, its lurid red and black tones a masterpiece of paperback cover art. Although the identity of the cover artist is unfortunately not disclosed, he or she stands alongside the great James Bama as a master of paperback marketing.
As far as the novel goes, Greenfield knew what his reader wanted: within the first five pages, there is a graphic act of violence and cannibalism. Add in a scene in which Aton – the lead character – guides a woman’s hand onto His Manhood, and the potboiling is complete !
The novel is set in an un-named Bronze-Age location. The tribe to which Aton belongs are rather primitive hut-dwellers with a theology centered on animism. As the novel opens, Aton is contemplating challenging – via a duel to the death –his father Nempie for leadership of the tribe.
But even as Aton maneuvers to strike at an increasingly belligerent Nempie, events conspire to change his world view: for Aton has been foretold to be A Man Amongst Men; a Beginning…….
When re-read after the passage of over 40 years, Aton is a mixed bag.
There certainly are sufficient Splatterpunk passages, ones recounting all manner of atrocities. These impart genuine momentum to the narrative for the book’s first three quarters. There also are plentiful passages in which visions of the afterlife, and its scheming Gods and Spirits lend a fantastical quality to the narrative.
However, the final chapters of Aton reveal flagging effort on the part of the author. These chapters eschew the intense action of the earlier passages of the book to instead dwell on increasingly laborious conversations on metaphysical matters between Aton and the tribal shaman, an elder named Zell. Whether these exchanges reveal a mental and philosophical enlightening on the part of Aton, fulfilling his destiny as A Man Amongst Men, is up to the reader to decide, but I found the novel’s ending to be unconvincing.
Summing up, despite its failings, its fantasy-inspired sequences and liberal Cro-Magnon Splatterpunk character makes Aton one of the more offbeat and unique novels of the mid-70s. This one is worth picking up.