[originally posted here at Castalia House]
The Sandhound Strikes by Ross Rocklynne appeared in the Spring 1945 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
The Sandhound Strikes is a great example of why it’s such a shame that Ross Rocklynne has become one of the forgotten greats of science-fiction, supplanted in the pantheon by Campbell’s Big Three. His work that I have read has covered a wide range styles and narratives, ranging from straight-ahead ray-gun romance, to blue-collar space adventure, to even the sort of thinky-stories that would become staples of magazine sci-fi.
The Sandhound is a caped-crusader/masked vigilante character, and The Sandhound Strikes is Rocklynne’s second story featuring the character. Superheroes, but on Mars. The Sandhound is less gritty than the Shadow, so maybe a Batman or a Green Hornet, but on Mars.
The Sandhound himself is named for the clever Martian fox creature that hunts among the dunes. He’s got a doofy sidekick named Bozo Dullard who is strong and telepathic and prone to needing long naps until his adventure/danger sense starts tingling (Bozo’s a walking “I Sleep” meme). Sandhound’s also the kind of superhero who is not afraid of leaving the scene of a crime in a stolen police car.
Rocklynne does here what he does best—take your typical pulp adventure and put it in space. But he doesn’t just put it In SpaceTM; he usually is able to come up with some really intriguing and bizarre sci-fi stuff to make the whole story work.
On the Sandhound’s Mars, humanity has developed an odd truce with a native plant-based life-form known as Sorogasters. While the unimpressive illustrations (I think by Doolin) depict them as these weird turnip-men, they came across in the text being more like Groot. Not only are these aliens physically bizarre, they communicate through a series of clicks and taps made with their roots—the only way “speak” with the Sorogasters is by something akin to tap-dancing on special plates.
Anyway, the situation on Mars is that humans need air and what better way to get air than having an alliance with a race of plant people? So the Sorogasters provide oxygen and use their acidic secretions in glass-making (a major industry on Mars!), and humans make sure that all of their refuse is shipped to Sorogaster settlements for composting. Needless to say, the smell is awful! But even more significantly, to solidify the truce, the lives of Sorogasters have been made sacrosanct—even killing one in self-defense can land you capital punishment.
The Sandhound’s nemesis, Clay Marybrook, an “industrial tsar” with big stakes in the Martian glass business has some scheme that the Sandhound is certain is tied to the recent murder of native. Marybrook’s a near untouchable king-pin, though, and has gotten himself legally declared a Sorogaster as part of a move to end a strike. The Sandhound, his companion Bozo, Marybrook’s daughter Estrilda, and Estrilda’s beau Paul Penny get swept up together in a criminal conspiracy involving drugs, murder, blackmail, and an invention that could put Marybrook out of business for good.
Paul’s brother Morton is trying to get a giant observatory built on the moon; Morton’s sunk all of his money and all of his clout and favors into getting a huge optic lens crafted by none-other than Marybrook; in the meantime, Paul’s developed a device that can use electric currents to emulate lens effects—it would be a huge blow to Marybrook who has overleveraged his glass business; Estrilda tries to get her father to have pity on Morton and cancel the contract for her and Paul’s sake, but instead Marybrook sends a Sorogaster thug after Paul and the device—a thug whom Paul kills in self-defense, putting him in dire peril!
Lot of action and a lot of weird in this story. And it’s not just pulp-heroes-but-in-space; there’s a lot of thought that went into the wild machinations of a story that could only work with its sci-fi element, including some hard/cutting edge science. Degenerate Sorogasters become addicted to colchicine, changing themselves (mentally, physically, genetically, and therefore—here’s the rub!—legally), with Rocklynne giving a nod to Michael Dewar’s research in the not entirely accurate reference to its discovery “in the 1940s” (Colchicine had been around much longer, but Dewar had just published a paper in which he [accurately] hypothesized the chemical structure of colchicine earlier that year).