[originally posted here at Castalia House]
Space Bat by Carl Selwyn appeared in the Winter 1946 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
Something that has not yet ceased to amaze me is the wide variety (dare I say diversity?) of women characters in the pulps. Sure, most of them are young and attractive (though that’s not always the case) because most people enjoy stories about young, attractive people falling in love, but who these women are varies greatly. They have different backgrounds, different professions, and different personalities (though most leading ladies in the stories tend to be confident and capable individuals).
Karen Vaun is easily the most interesting part of Carl Selwyn’s Space Bat. While she’s got the sexy-librarian thing going on where if she lost the glasses and undid her hair, she’d be smokin’ hot, the more important thing to know about her is that she’s the owner of a major corporation that is about to make a million dollar land investment in the Saturn Rings. Most of the major twists in the story come about from the protagonist underestimating her.
Lou Flint is a squatting trapper on the Rings of Saturn. He acts as a warden of the local wildlife, chasing off hunters who are overhunting feather-deer. Feather-deer furs are in fashion on earth, but overhunting threatens them with extinction. To make matters worse, even though his pappy had tamed those wild frontiers alongside the current Governor, Flint’s squatter’s rights aren’t recognized by Saturn’s government. The 20-odd planetoids in the Rings Flint has been trapping on are set to be sold for a million bucks to Fur Fashions, Inc., and K.V. Vaun is on the way now to deliver the check. If Flint can get a million bucks first, the Governor will sell to him, but that cash isn’t easy to come by.
Getting the bounty on a legendary Space Bat would get Flint his million, but with Vaun on the way, there’s not time to hunt one down. So, he cooks up a cockamamie plan to kidnap and ransom Vaun with the help of his Venusian pal Greeno. Flint will pretend to show Vaun the Ring and Greeno will show up to take Vaun after faking a fist-fight; because authorities don’t know Greeno, they won’t assume Flint was in on it, and then they can collect a million dollar ransom and save the feather-deer.
Though Flint didn’t count on Vaun being a woman, he’s still ready to go through with his plan. He hates her and her fur business—to him, she’s a cold-hearted butcher, and the two suits she brought with her going on about rates and shipping costs send him over the edge. He’s in the process of berating her for her lack of womanly warmth when a Space Bat attacks the ship. Not gonna lie, this thing is a nightmare.
She proves her salt helping out during the initial fight, and Flint begins to have a change of heart:
“You’re braver than I thought.” It was the first kind word –or thought—he’d managed about her since they’d met.”
Flint sees the opportunity to chase down the Space Bat and get the million to save his precious planetoids, but he also sees a change in Vaun, who’s exhilarated by the danger:
“Karen Vaun looked like an entirely different person. The office pallor was gone from her face; it was rouged with excitement. Her prim knot of hair had lost its pins and tumbled to her shoulders. Her whole body as she stood there, still breathing heavily, had taken on a slim vibrance that belied the memory of her former rigid dignity.
The real miracle was her eyes—her glasses lay broken on the floor. Her eyes were soft blue, bright as a spring morning now.
Flint shook his head in astonishment. “When you get back,” he said, “take a look in a mirror and think things over. You’ve been wasting your time behind a desk.”
Again, this is a reflection not just on how attractive Karen is, but a fridge-brilliant moment that will once more highlight how Flint has underestimated Karen. Karen wants to go chasing after the Space Bat with Flint.
Flint has no way to let Greeno know the plan’s been called off, so Greeno carries out the original plan. Flint eventually has to escape the authorities who arrest him for being involved in the kidnapping and save his pal Greeno and Vaun in big fight with the Space Bat.
Before the end, Vaun has another surprise for Flint, when he goes in for his big ‘damn it all’ kiss after fessing up and apologizing:
“Might as well be shot for a sheep as for a lamb,” he said. He put a hand under her chin, kissed her soundly on the lips, then ran toward the woods.
When he was halfway there, he heard her cry, “Mr. Flint! Wait!” It occurred to him that she probably didn’t even know his first name. He didn’t look back. And Miss Karen Vaun did a very strange thing.
She had one hand behind her as Flint ran away. Now she brought it forth and in it was Flint’s own ice pistol. She raised it, took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
Flint’s legs stopped in midstride, knees bent one before the other, like a stop-motion movie. He sprawled forward.
Before he could get up, the girl was beside him. She sat down on his back, pinning him to the ground. “Next time you kiss a girl without knowing whether she wants to be kissed or not,” she said, “hang onto your gun.”
Then the police, with Hudson and Leggett [Vaun’s suits], were crowded around them.
“Are you all right, Miss Vaun?”
Flint lay there feeling very foolish.
But the girl ignored the crowd, still talking to him, “You didn’t know I was an ice pistol expert, too, did you? You didn’t know I was in the fur business because my father used to be a trapper on Venus. When I was twelve years old, I could bring down a tigodon at a half a mile.”
Because we are in the world of romance, Vaun doesn’t hold a grudge—Flint DID end up saving her from the Space Bat and his passion for the feather-deer has moved her. She covers for Flint and Greeno and even squeezes them into her plans:
“Greeno was merely bringing me out to look at these planetoids while Mr. Flint went to get his big guns for the bat. Kidnapper? Preposterous! Mr. Flint and I are buying these planetoids together.”
“What!” Leggett and Hudson said the word simultaneously. And they seemed the only ones in the crowd who could speak. “Together!” Leggett said weakly. “Why this area is a million dollar investment!”
“Two Million,” Karen said. She took Flint’s hand, he standing there dumbfounded as the rest. “Mr. Flint’s going to contribute a million of his own from the sale of the bat. We’re going to raise feather-deer here. It would be bad business to kill them all off.” She paused, surveying the crowd as if daring anybody to disagree with her. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll get back to Saturn. We have business to discuss.”
Though we’re left with an implication that Flint and Karen are going to end up happily ever after, Karen’s not had to give up who she is—she’s still going to be running her company, she’s still going to be fabulously wealthy, and her investments are likely to make her moreso.