Short Reviews – Stalemate in Space, by Charles L. Harness

[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.Planet Stories Logo

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.

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Short Reviews – Garden of Evil, by Margaret St. Clair

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Garden of Evil by Margaret St. Clair appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.garden-of-evil

Garden of Evil is a short, sweet, absolutely delicious swipe at anthropologists.

When I had finally read some of Vance’s Gaean Reach, I had an “aha” moment—“So, THIS is what LeGuin was trying to do with her Hainish books!” I see now that she may have stolen a bit from Margaret St. Clair, as well. Given how awful the last Hainish book I read was, I probably won’t be reading any more LeGuin soon, but St. Clair is on my list.

Ericson is an ethnographer on the planet Fyhon, a lush world that is roughly equivalent to Cenozoic Earth, who’s recovering from violent drug addiction with the help of a green-eyed, green-skinned native girl named Mnathl. Ericson had gotten hooked on byhror, something similar to the coca plant, which he used to give him the strength and endurance he needed to return from a failed solo expedition into the wilds of the southern continent.

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Short Reviews – Peril Orbit, by C.J. Wedlake

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Peril Orbit by C.J. Wedlake appeared in the Summer 1949 Issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.Planet Stories Logo

If Payne needed to fill up a couple of pages, he picked the right piece to do it with.

Peril Orbit is a (very) short story of a one man craft that had attempted to use the Sun to slingshot from Earth to Venus when something went wrong, and he got stuck in a decaying solar orbit.

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Short Reviews – The Starbusters, by Alfred Coppel, Jr.

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Starbusters by Alfred Coppel, Jr. appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It may be read here at Archive.org.Planet Stories Logo

Sometimes a story can have all the right pieces, but they can fail to come together in a satisfying way. Sadly, that is the case for Alfred Coppel’s The Starbusters.

Commander “Strike” Strykalski and the Whedonesque crew of the T.R. Cleopatra will be reunited with their old Engineering Officer (and Strike’s old flame), Ivy Hendricks, to test out a new warp drive engine right as humanity is on the brink of total war with the tentacular hive-mind of Eridani who are preparing to invade the Centauri system. Naturally, they’re called on to help fight against the gathering Eridan fleet AND try to test out the warp drive engines the Cleopatra has been fitted out with, and they turn a near catastrophe into a decisive victory.

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Short Reviews – S.O.S. Aphrodite, by Stanley Mullen

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

S.O.S. Aphrodite by Stanley Mullen appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be found here at Archive.org.Planet Stories Logo

Okay, now this was a cool story. It may have been a little bit by the numbers, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a neat little sci-fi romp.

This is also the story where it really clicked with me “Cowboy Bebop is a love-letter to the Planet Stories-style pulps” (or at least the kind of SF stories you’d find there). I’m ashamed that it took me so long to make the connection. But the cool bounty-hunters, the dangerous dames, the seedy smoke-filled dives, the organized crime rackets, the tough-as-nails grizzled space cop who’s on his third strike – it’s all there, and Bebop did justice to the kind of SF stories Television and Cinema largely forgot. S.O.S. Aphrodite could have easily been dropped into Cowboy Bebop’s setting, even used as a flashback for Jet Black or one of his partners.

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Short Reviews – The Madcap Metalloids, by W.V. Athanas

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Madcap Metalloids by W.V. Athanas appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be found here at Archive.org.Planet Stories Logo

One of the cruelest fates an author in Planet Stories can suffer is to follow Leigh Brackett–doubly so if their story is kinda meh.

The Madcap Metalloids is not so much a terrible story as a weak story hampered by some clunky rubes-in-space dialogue.  Now, rubes-in-space dialogue is fine if the story’s angle is rubes-in-space, but here it felt like the humor here was forced through the characters’ dialectic affectations in an effort to prop up a merely amusing story.

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Short Reviews – Queen of the Martian Catacombs, by Leigh Brackett

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Queen of the Martian Catacombs by Leigh Brackett appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be found here on Internet Archive.Planet Stories Logo

Queen of the Martian Catacombs introduced the world to Eric John Stark, one of the last great pulp heroes, in a messy and chaotic romp across the wilds of a Mars on the brink of total war.

Stark, a mercenary and an outlaw facing a 20 year stint for running guns to native Venusians, is confronted by his old mentor Simon Ashton and told that the only way he’ll remain a free man is if he’ll act as an Earth Police agent to investigate a pair of Martian warlords, Delgaun and Kynon, plotting to unite the barbarian tribes to launch a global war against the canal-dwellers’ city states.

Stark joins up with the warlords as a sell-sword, along with a number of other off-worlders, including an old enemy who’d betrayed him back on the Venus job. Delgaun tells the pair to keep their rivalry in check, at least until the war’s over, but you just know that these guys are gonna kill each other before things are over! Kynon arrives in a triumph, boasting that he’s found the ancient secrets of life transference from the lost Rama tribes; he puts on show, supposedly transferring the consciousness of an old man into a slave boy, for the crowd who meets him with messianic adulations.  Stark sees through Kynon’s act and calls him on it – indeed, the transference was just an act, but it will be enough to stir the desert tribes and rally them behind Kynon and Delgaun’s banner. What no one knows, however, is that Delgaun, Berild (Kynon’s consort), and Fianna (Berild’s handmaiden) actually are quasi-immortal members of the lost Rama tribe, and Delgaun and Berild are using Kynon, the desert tribes, the off-world mercenaries, and the Rama mystique to establish a global empire and restore their lost power.

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