It’s sort of a tradition to end my reading year in true pulpy fashion, so it worked out that one of my required reading selections for the month of December is something from the “Boys’ Own Ultimate Pew-Pew Space Opera Brigade” subgenre. I’ve reached the end of my required reading for 2015, so although I’ll be inundating the blog with a backlog of book reviews during the next two weeks, I’m posting a write up of my last required vintage read today. Why? Because this book is so fluffy, I’m afraid I’ll forget about it if I wait any longer, that’s why.
I’ll just give you the back cover blurb:
One million years back in the swirling, shrouded past, evil ultra-beings ruled the Planet Roo. Suddenly, unbelievably, they are alive again, threatening the universe with total destruction.
Only one man dares challenge the Evil Ones. He is Captain Future, inter-galactic agent of justice, whose identity is top secret, whose strength is ultimate. He sets out alone to stop the deathless menace creeping ever closer…
… which is great, except that synopsis only describes the final ten pages of the story.My synopsis of the other 120 pages:
Dr. Philip Carlin, one of the botantists who discovered vitron, a super-vitamin that prolongs life and combats disease, has been recruited by the System Government to return to the Planet Roo, to help investigate the native uprisings that threaten to destroy 90% of the galaxy’s supply of vitron. Carlin soon learns that Captain Future, the galaxy’s foremost astronaut/botanist/inventor/explorer/superhero will also be aiding in the task, along with his Futuremen friends: Grag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon the floating brain-in-a-box. Grag and Otho bring their pets, Eek and Oog. Adventure and duplicity follow the gang everywhere as they try to uncover the person instigating these riots!
Coming from the line of Captain Future stories primarily written by Leigh Brackett’s husband, Edmond Hamilton, Danger Planet, originally titled Red Sun of Danger, is either #1, #5, or #18, depending on how you like to distribute your SF pulp. I’ve learned that sampling a pulp series from the middle is best, in order to avoid the overloaded premise-setting exposition and wobbly pacing of the first installments. This tactic seems to work with Captain Future.
A clean and nifty adventure straight from the 1940s, this installment of the Captain Future series will satisfy that pulp craving with a standard plot of criminal pursuit, benign twists, disguised heroes and villains, sensawunda space tech, and a Scooby-Doo ending that the hero anticipated from the beginning. Better yet, it’s relatively inoffensive to modern sensibilities, where the good guys avoid hurting the natives and chase after a profiteering vitamin hoarder. A large cast of straight-laced, standard characters tick the boxes for diverse personalities, with some light humor provided by the friendly rivalry between the bot and the droid.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Cut your rockets, folks. There’s another layer here we mustn’t ignore. Let’s bring this sucker home:
In the far future, mankind has conquered the stars and disease, but the most fertile ground for cultivating the most valuable of plant life is in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The long-time colonial suppression of the jungle natives is no longer working, and now their rioting is threatening the survival of plantations that supply the plants to overseas buyers. The government suspects a monopolizing profiteer of inciting the revolts, taking advantage of the instability to institute a new regime that will prohibit foreign corporate interests. Can a team of government-backed scientists and unaffiliated strongmen put an end to the protests?
Not to ruin the good-natured flavor of this innocuous little story, but the mild sense of White Man’s Burden and neocolonialism makes me feel sorry for the native Roons, even though the ending proves that the superstitious Roons were right all along. The references to red skins (39), also called devils in the jungle (30), all coming from a planet called “Roo” are too familiar to feel very alien. The heroes aren’t hateful toward the backwards natives, but, you know, that plant is really important and Roo has the best climate for it, so you guys just need to get out of the way.
I’m thinking Leigh and Ed maybe took a Mexican beach vacation that summer.
And maybe Ed brought along some Lovecraft stories to enjoy on his holiday. When Danger Planet finally reaches those last ten blurbed pages, the straight prose changes, and we get a familiar Lovecraftian horror, courtesy of “the Old Ones” called “the Kangas” (54):
‘Awful!’ he whispered. He was shaken by a horror and a fear that no man in the universe had felt for a million years.
Up over the edge of the crater, from the newly gouged depths, was coming a fat, black, obscene thing. It was a big, semiliquid, plastic mass, that heaved itself painfully over the rim and was followed by another of its kind. (125)
…a horror of scores of obscene, fat, black shapes writhing amid unearthly machines and objects…
…Captain Future felt the sudden combined mental attack of the creatures below beat down even his artificially amplified resistance (126-127)
Oh, the horror! The horrific, horrible horror of cosmic horrorness!
…which is just the kind of prose that is fun in the short term— sometimes—but never all that convincing.
(My problem with Lovecraft, long before I was aware of any controversy, is his reliance on evil for the sake of evil. How am I supposed to believe Cthulhu is horrific if he just keeps telling me how horrific it is? Maybe this is all just a big misunderstanding!)
Weaknesses aside, this is just the kind of fluffy pulp sci-fi I crave this time of year and, unlike the dryness of Foundation, the overt positivism of Carson of Venus, or the kitchen sink adventures of Galactic Patrol, the quick and clean storytelling of Hamilton’s Brett Sterling franchise made for a pleasant afternoon.
One of my favorite pulp blogs, Schlock-Value.com, has a funnier (and also positive) review of this book. Please go check it out, if only to experience in minutes what I experienced in an afternoon, only you’ll laugh more.