In the thirtieth century, Safron Wilde and his wife Celeste have bought land from the galactic government to farm on the frontier planet Orkol, traveling there aboard their ship the Hypertron. Only upon arriving to they discover that a new law, news of which hasn't reached Earth, means that the promised vehicles and machinery aren't part of the grant, meaning they have no means of driving to their new homestead, no supplies to build a house with and no equipment to tend their farm with.
It turns out this is all on purpose. Orkol is run by a man named Haldane, who campaigned for the government on Earth to revoke machine grants, but not to tell prospective colonists, sending him a neverending stream of unprepared hopefuls without the proper equipment. Shortly after the planet was first settled, a radioactive mineral called Orkolite was discovered, and Haldane has engineered things so that newly arriving colonists, lacking the proper equipment to be farmers, have no choice but to sell him their Orkolite-rich land and either come work for him mining the stuff or return to Earth.
With few options, Safron and Celeste apply for jobs at Haldane's headquarters. Since they're a chemist and a physicist respectively, Haldane puts them to work in his laboratories, assisting his chief scientist Gray Hawkins. But what Haldane doesn't know, and which Hawkins lets the Wildes know, is that he has distilled Orkolite into an incredibly destructive liquid form with which he plans to overthrow Haldane and take over Orkol... and eventually the entire universe! But exposure to Orkolite causes Safron to begin changing, into something that can possibly stop Hawkins' evil plans and put paid to him and Haldane.
Tropes used in this novel:
- The Alleged Car: A Cool Ship the Hypertron is not. It's a piece of junk that nearly gets the Wildes killed on their trip from Earth to Orkol.
- Asshole Victim: Several.
- Haldane, Corrupt Corporate Executive extraordinaire, finds his entire business ruined when Safron trashes the place after turning into a monster. Nobody is terribly upset at his misfortune. After Safron and Celeste make it back to the spaceport at the end, they find they can't book passage back to Earth because the robot receptionist can only accept cash or ample credit. But at the suggestion of one of the other robots, Celeste calls Haldane, whose base was already destroyed by the transformed Safron, and demands that he pay for their trip or else she'll unleash her Godzilla-sized husband to do a second number on him and maybe even kill him this time. Haldane hurriedly complies.
- Gray Hawkins, a Mad Scientist planning to betray his boss and take over the universe, who allows his assistants to die doing dangerous lab work. The transformed Safron stomps him flat.
- Pargoni, a settler who tried to rape Celeste. He falls off of a cliff while trying to kill Safron with his bulldozer.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Exposure to Orkolite turns Safron into what can best be described as a kind of giant mutant dinosaur thing, complete with a tail.
- Bad Boss: Haldane. Not only does he trick people into coming to Orkol under false pretenses and force them to work for him, but there is also a high turnover rate among his miners who invariably die from prolonged exposure to the Orkolite, and he refuses to provide them with proper protective gear. Hawkins is no better; he similarly refuses to issue protection to his lab assistants and goes through them like tissue paper.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: Hawkins demonstrates the fatal effects of his liquid version of Orkolite on a small blue rodent thing. The fact that this type of rodent later turns out to be incredibly dangerous in packs does very little to make what Hawkins does any less cruel. As to make himself seem like even more of a Jerkass, he claims to be "an animal lover" while doing it.
- Bald of Evil: Hawkins, assuming that's him on the cover of the original Badger edition, anyway.
- Beast and Beauty: Safron and Celeste after the former is turned into a reptilian monster by exposure to Orkolike. Because he still possesses human intelligence, Safron still loves his wife, and Celeste loves him too, due to them being so Happily Married even a little thing like him turning into Godzilla can't affect their relationship.
- Big Damn Heroes: The one-armed robot saves Celeste from getting raped by Elmo and Jake, and then the mutated, kaiju sized Safron also comes to their aid... and ends up destroying the entire town.
- Body Backup Drive: Of a sort. Doctors on Earth can't turn the mutated Safron back into a normal human, so they just make a new body for him, exactly like his old one, and transfer his mind into it. Because Fanthorpe rushes the ending something fierce, we're never told what, if anything, happens to his now mindless old mutated body.
- Boring Return Journey: Averted. Safron and Celeste have just as many interesting and harrowing adventures on their way back to the spaceport as they did going to Haldane's stronghold.
- Call to Agriculture: The reason why the Wildes go to Orkol in the first place. This despite the fact Safron is a chemist and Celeste is a physicist. And they give up any hope of farming pretty quickly to go work in Hawkins' lab thanks to the new laws on Orkol preventing them from actually working their land, forcing them to sell it to Haldane.
- Crapsack World: Orkol. It's pretty much a desolate wasteland filled with predators and teeming with a radioactive mineral, prolonged exposure to which can cause all manner of things to happen to people. And the entire thing is ruled over by a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Disney Villain Death: Pargoni, who falls off a cliff trying to kill the giant, mutated Safron with his bulldozer.
- Dragon with an Agenda: Hawkins is planning to overthrow Haldane and take over his mining corporation, so that he can then use the distilled liquid version of Orkolite to threaten the galactic community into submission and become "a galactic caesar." The mutated Safron puts a stop to that nonsense with his Giant Foot of Stomping.
- Fantastic Racism: Safron hates robots because he thinks they're stealing jobs from humans. However, most of the ones he and Celeste encounter while on Orkol prove to be extremely friendly, noble and brave, forcing him to reconsider his preconceived notions about them.
- Handicapped Badass: The one-armed robot truck driver Safron and Celeste befriend. He proves instrumental in getting them out of some tight scrapes, and despite missing an arm kicks a lot of ass.
- Happily Married: The Wildes. Not even Safron turning into a giant monster is enough to break up their marriage.
- Job-Stealing Robot: To an extent. Safron is described as being extremely prejudiced against robots for this reason. The receptionist at the spaceport and both of the truck drivers the Wildes get rides from are robots, and Haldane's assistant is also a robot. Despite this, Haldane and Hawkins still insist on using humans to work in their mines and laboratories under unsafe conditions, despite the ready availability of robots, perhaps to highlight how evil they are.
- Mind Hive: The blue rat-like aliens plaguing Orkol turn out to be one single creature with multiple bodies.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Orkolite affects different people differently. Most individuals who come into contact with it don't experience any effects at all (unless they're around it too long in which case they die of radiation poisoning). Hawkins was granted sudden and inexplicable youth from it. And as for Safron Wilde, well, it causes him to turn into a big dinosaur thing that still has a human intelligence. In short, Orkolite does whatever Fanthorpe needs it to do at the time.
- Older Than They Look: Hawkins is 70 but looks like he's only 35, due to the Orkolite's effects having de-aged him.
- Rape as Drama: Twice. First, Celeste is almost raped by a settler named Pargoni. Safron saves her. Later, when Celeste is attempting to book passage from some spacers in a bar, the attempted rape is taken up to eleven when two drunken idiots named Elmo and Jake and their scuzzy bar buddies try to gang rape her. She's caved by her mutated husband and the one-armed robot, the former of whom decides to do a number on the town in revenge.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Safron doesn't take to kindly to the citizens of the town near the spaceport trying to rape his wife, and pretty much destroys the place in less than a day.
- Sonic Stunner: The liquid form of Orkolite works this way. It emits a frequency that vibrates living creatures' brains apart.
- Squashed Flat: Gray Hawkins.