[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Formula for Conquest by James R. Adams appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.
James R. Adams is not very good at writing dialogue. By the third page, narrator Tod Mulhane had thrice referred to himself as a “soldier of fortune”, and when he gave his background speech that spent a paragraph more or less saying ‘I had it hard, and I could bore you with the details, but I won’t’, I could not help but think of Home Movies spoofing detective/crime noir. It’s a shame, really, because Adams does a decent job with everything BUT dialogue, so once you get past the clunky and almost cartoonish way everyone in this talks, you’re left with a pretty fun story with some really wild elements.
In “Formula for Conquest”, most of the Solar worlds are inhabited. A race of pink-haired Jovians who can’t pronounce the letter T are at the head of an evil coalition of worlds – Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus – led by Xan VIII against the allied worlds of Earth, Mars and Neptune. The story unfolds with scientist August “Augie” Q. Twilken approaching our “soldier of fortune” (it’s never clear what Tod’s actual job is) in a seedy drug-filled bar; he has a formula that will speed up the evolution of the Venusians so they will be able to throw in with the allied worlds against the Jovian coalition. Augie’s plan is thwarted when Mon Pordo, the head of Xan VIII’s secret police who looks like walrus-camel Jabba the “Hut“, captures the duo and takes them and the evolution formula back to Jupiter.
The Jovians plan on using the evolution formula on the Plutonians to create allies of their own. Mon Pordo has arranged to use the formula on Pluto’s emissaries, the best and brightest, to Jupiter and will present the hyper-evolved Plutonians to a formal gathering of the potentates and generals from the three evil gas planets.
The only relevant portion of Tod Mulhane’s backstory is that he is actually a Martian in human-face. Why is this a big deal? Because Martians have crazy tentacle hands, are impervious to heat, can superconduct and generate massive amounts of direct current. Tod uses this to aid he and Augie’s daring escape from the cells of the lower palace. While the rest of the council is in recess, the hyper-evolved Plutonians sit about waiting to be shown off by Mon Pordo. Tod gets the drop on the Plutonians and fries them with his electro-tentacles. The Plutonians were made of calcium carbonate, so when Tod fried them, their body structures turned into highly reactive calcium oxide. In the conflagratory climax, Tod and Augie set off the palace sprinkler system as Xan VIII and his cronies return to council hall.
The spectre of the war is looming even in these lighter pieces. Here, powers are struggling to forge alliances and bring their allies ‘up to speed’ so that they can stand against mutual enemies more effectively. But any new technology that can have military purpose is a double edged sword; falling into the wrong hand may open a door that is not so conveniently shut as Twilken’s evolution formula, lost a the end of this tale. In spite of its weaknesses, Formula for Conquest has some great ideas and really neat set pieces. Even as one of the weaker stories in this issue, I’d say it was well worth a look!
Pordo plans to present Plutonians to planetary potentates. Try saying that three times fast!