[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Stalemate in Space by Charles L. Harness appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
So far, I’ve read plenty of stories with great dames who are gorgeous, brave, competent and excellent foils for their male counterparts. But Stalemate in Space is the first Raygun Romance I’ve read so far that features a lone female protagonist, tells the story and goes through the character arc of the female lead from her perspective while adhering to the romantic tropes of the Sci-Fi dame.
This isn’t a story where the genders are simply flipped, with a ‘man-with-boobs’ character out-performing her foes in terms of physicality – Evelyn Kane is the very capable and very feminine heroine who relies on her traditionally feminine strengths to achieve her goals. Evelyn is like a reverse Matthew Carse – she wins over the heart of the evil space warlord by being a tough, smart, sexy no-nonsense dame, embodying the pulp feminine ideals, just as a male pulp protagonist would win over the evil space princess with his virtu.
The Terrans are at war with a humanoid race called the Scythians. Both sides have built what are basically Death Stars, but the Scythian death star, The Invader, was finished before the Terran Death Star The Defender. During the initial battle, the two death stars crashed into each other, resulting in massive and prolonged ship to ship combat. The Scythians spent nine years conquering the human’s death star. Evelyn Kane, daughter of Lord Gordon Kane, commander of The Defender, has vowed to die fighting the Scythians rather than abandon the ship on the last escape pod.
Evelyn stays behind, posing as a Scythian, and uses telepathic powers to maintain her cover. She manages to become the ‘kept woman’ of Viscount Perat, the commander of the occupying Scythians, keeping him fascinated with her wiles and wits while she buys time to accomplish her ultimate goal-sabotage the fusion piles on The Defender to create an unstoppable reaction that will destroy both death stars.
Evelyn is a badass: she has limited telepathic powers (mind-probes and mind-shields), she has a robotic homunculus with a tiny piece of her brain in it that she can remotely control with her telepathy, she’s a competent chess player, a dancer and even apparently has memorized and can sing the lengthy hymn to the Scythian all-father in a rather alluring fashion. More impressively, Evelyn manages to do all of this without being Mary Sue-ish. Even when he is finally able to out Evelyn for the traitor that she is, Perat, Viscount of the Tharn Suns, is so impressed by her bravery, her dedication, her audacity and willingness to sacrifice everything to prevent a Scythian victory, that he realizes that he is, indeed, in love with this strange Terran woman who would’ve killed him if she could.
There are a lot of really awesome, iconic Sci-Fi elements in this one. It has Death Stars, man! And you see why the rebels had to one-shot it in a New Hope, because otherwise, you’re literally having to fight a ground-war to take control of something that’s as big as a small planet. Evelyn even uses what are basically Jedi mind tricks on villain mooks to get into the confidences of the dark lord of space. It’s like a bizarro Star Wars in which Luke is a sexy spy who seduces Darth Vader while plotting to flip the self-destruct switch on the Death Star!
Stalemate had a number of plot holes or spots where things felt missing, possibly bits that had been trimmed for space reasons. The homunculus was not well introduced, nor was the piezo crystal, but even with those issues, this was still a great story with a cool twist ending. The bit with the Viscount’s ring was a Chekov’s Gun well-fired. After Queen of the Martian Catacombs, this was probably my favorite story in the issue.