Short Reviews – Sword of Fire, by Emmett McDowell

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Sword of Fire, by Emmett McDowell, was the featured cover story of the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Whatever the hell that is they’re riding is totally making epic meme-face.

At last we get to the exciting cover story of the Winter issue!

Dashing raygun pulp hero Jupiter Jones is on a mission for the Galactic Colonization Board to chart nearby star system with potentially habitable worlds when his ship, the Mizar, gets hit by a space warp that throws him half-way across the universe. Without fuel and supplies to get back, he’s forced to land on an earth-like alien world to seek out the necessary fissiles to get him home.

Jones finds himself on a strange planet with several divergent humanoid races, most of which are the bred-slaves of a race of evil telepathic mollusk men! Lucky for Jones, in the octopods’ temple, they have a giant tentacle monster statue made out of uranium that may be his ticket home!

The Octopods managed to take over the world because the humanoid civilization had found these small creatures that, when affixed to the neck, gave them telepathic powers. Having telepathic powers and small mollusks attached to your spinal cord became all the rage. Of course, the small mollusks were the young life-stage of horrible tentacle monsters from the sea, and everyone who had one of the buggers stuck to his or her neck was easily enslaved.

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Short Reviews – Let The Ants Try, by Frederik Pohl (as James MacCreigh)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Let The Ants Try by Frederik Pohl (as James MacCreigh) appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

A man’s first enemy is his family—for he sees them first—but he sides with them against the families across the way. And still his neighbors are allies against the Ghettos and Harlems of his town—and his town to him is the heart of the nation—and his nation commands life and death in war.

Let The Ants Try is a great one. A lot of pulp stories I’ve read have tried to mix humor and horror, often with varying results, but I think this one nails it. It has an almost absurd premise, practically a joke, that’s played straight through to the end with pretty terrifying and grisly results.

In the not-too-distant future of 1960, we’re looking at Fallout: Detroit. The bombs fell, and it was hell on earth. Those who died in the initial blast were the lucky ones—those outside the city had the fortune to die slow and miserable deaths from radiation sickness. When the radiation finally died down enough, Dr. Salva Gordy, a professor of mathematics and physics, moved back to the ruins of Detroit, to be where his family had been and because he felt he had nowhere else to go.

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Short Reviews – The Green Dream, by Bryce Walton

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Green Dream, by Bryce Walton, appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

Even though I took Walton to task for his 5-point letter on illogical themes in STF, I’ve got to admit that between Savage Galahad and The Green Dream, I’m fairly impressed by his ability to convey the alien and the weird.

In The Green Dream, drug lord Owen Baarslag is accompanied by a strange alien girl, Joha, on his quest for revenge.

Owen is quite a heel:

To the Tellurian colonists scattered minutely through the rich area of Sector 5, Owen Baarslag was an unspeakable obscenity. A degenerate derelict; an abnormal who had “gone native” and things even more despicable. A Stith addict who eked out a precarious existence in the most polluted occupation known: that of forcing the timid Venusian swamp natives to harvest the meagre crops of aukweed from the lake bottoms.

He wasn’t always, though. He was once a scientist, quite brilliant, actually, until he was outlawed by the academy. Owen forever harbors a grudge against his twin brother, Albert, also a brilliant scientist, who was the one who turned in the very psyche eval that condemned him.

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Short Reviews – The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by John and Dorothy de Courcy

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by John and Dorothy de Courcy, appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

There have been a number of husband and wife team throughout SFF history. And we’ve long-since put to bed the myth that pulps weren’t publishing stories by women unless they hid behind a male name. But John and Dorothy de Courcy may be one of the first husband/wife teams I’ve seen credited together, and exclusively together, in the pulps. (Moore and Kuttner were independently well-known, and Moore was always credited under her maiden name when they were credited jointly; John & Dorothy seem to be exclusively a couple thing, and that’s kind of adorable). The de Courcy’s also seem to have some small contemporary popularity and recognition via Libravox despite having a relatively small body of work from the late 40s, published mostly in a couple Ziff-Davis magazines and fanzines.

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is one of those SFF crime-thrillers that could work a contemporary setting just as well as a futuristic one and makes you wish SFF of this era was better represented on the big and small screen. The story’s anti-hero is a rough pace pirate type hanging in an even rougher dive—he’s doing impossibly stout shots to impress folks, but this leads to him getting into a scuffle where he accidentally kills a man: the brother of an exotic dancer who witnessed the murder.

The last thing Captain Brace wants is a run-in with the spaceport authorities. He wants to spare the girl if he can, but his options are limited. He can’t keep her along, but selling the dancer to human traffickers is almost as unpalatable as killing her.

Despite its brutal premise, and its tense and thrilling execution, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a touching and emotional story with a powerful ending.

Short Reviews – Flight From Time, by Alfred Coppel Jr.

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Flight From Time by Alfred Coppel Jr. appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

The premise of Flight From Time is a fairly simple one: a criminal is hoping to get away with his crime by hiding out in space until the statute of limitations on his crime has expired. He’s got everything he needs: supplies, food, fuel, entertainment. All he has to do is wait. It’ll be a long and lonely wait, but he can manage and it will be worth it once he can finally put all of his ill-gotten wealth to good use.

Then his ship’s chronometer breaks down. The crook is no mechanic, and he’s unable to fix it. But it’ll be okay—he just has to wait it out. Maybe be a bit more cautious, judge by the rate at which he goes through his provisions over his decade-and-a-half stint.

When his pocket watch breaks, it’s just salt in the wound. But he can make it. He just has to have patience!

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Short Reviews – Tubemonkey, by Jerome Bixby

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Tubemonkey, by Jerome Bixby, appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.

It’s no big, scalable concept like The Dead-Star Rover, but Tubemonkey does offer some compelling fodder for your space rpg.

At some point, there’s a chance that space radiation will fry your brain and turn you into barely cognizant half-wit. Despite your idiocy, you may still retain your pilot skills, and still have some moments of lucid clarity. Such a condition might make you the ideal mark for space crooks who need pilots who don’t ask questions or really understand what’s going on, just that you’re getting a shot at space one more time.

Rhiannon is one such poor fellow—his mind and memory are shot, but he’s a capable pilot who keeps himself occupied in the sims (“rocket games”). His only real friend is a dog named Sergeant Atoms. When someone comes to him with the opportunity to get back into space again “to help win the war”, poor Rhiannon jumps at the chance.

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Short Reviews – The Dead-Star Rover, by Robert Abernathy

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Dead-Star Rover, by Robert Abernathy, appeared in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories. It can (and should) be read here at Archive.org.

It’s been rare that I’ve been as excited about a story as I have been for The Dead-Star Rover. But I’m back to reading Planet Stories, again, and I did not realize how much I’d missed them, nor just how much a cut above that Planet Stories really was in the mid-to-late 40s, after I’d gone for so long reading other pulps. Don’t get me wrong, aside from that terrible desert of Astounding, I’ve read and reviewed a handful of really good stories, but this… This is angelic choirs in the heaven, lights shining down… Gameable content, my friends!

I could talk about how The Dead-Star Rover blows up modern memes of the pulps, focus on its progressive aspects, like the fact that the couple is interracial and the protagonist is a dark-skinned man with a pale white dame (run in the issue right after Stark’s second adventure), but I’d rather talk about the fact that this is easily adaptable as a Mad Max-esque setting for something like Car Wars.

It’s all here in The Dead-Star Rover! Different races that are largely delineated along the lines of what tech they’ve scavenged and by the vehicles they are using. On this post-apocalyptic world, self-sustaining machine vehicles roam the barren lands, sometimes autonomously, other times piloted. The tale begins with one of the “terrapin” who has just taken out the aero of one of the bird people—its pilot is a beautiful, if brash, woman. Losing her aero has doomed the girl among her people, sparing her life has doomed the man among his.

But onto the setting write-up!

Panzer-jacking the Panzer-Folk

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