Short Reviews – Juggernaut of Space, Ray Cummings

Juggernaut of Space by Ray Cummings appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories and was one of two ‘novels’ in this double-billed issue. 

I haven't read the Bubble Dwellers, but I'm guessing the cover art was for for that.  The awkward way that guy's shooting that ray gun reminds me a lot of the old US MegaMan covers, though.

I haven’t read the Bubble Dwellers, but I’m guessing the cover art was for for that. The awkward way that guy’s shooting that ray gun reminds me a lot of the old US MegaMan covers, though.

Juggernaut of Space is presented as one of those ‘after the fact’ survivor’s accounts of a dreadful incident, the framing device being that the narrator is a journalist who is delivering his final, definitive account of events over the air waves.  There are examples of this style which are so full of ‘gee-golly-gosh, you wouldn’t believe!’ that they are simply unbearable, but fortunately that is not the case here.

Earth had been undergoing radical climate change (like, for real climate change, with snow in summer), and the cause, one astronomer reveals to the journalist and his tough detective friend, is a mysterious rogue planetoid that seems to be exerting an unnatural force on our world.  Not long after receiving this information, the journalist, his friend, an out-of-luck, a hot speakeasy dame, and a wealthy fatcat are abducted by aliens and whisked away to rogue world.

The prisoners find that the rogue world is inhabited by a race of humanoids who have diverge, in an obvious homage to the Eloi and Morlocks, into Radaks and Lei.  The Radaks are violent brutish slave masters, while the Lei are a weaker but more human and compassionate people who are kept in the Radaks’ thrall.  The Radaks take the captured humans before the Great Mind (one of those typical old fashion human-but-with-a-giant-head aliens) who explains that his world is dying…  so he’s going to pull Earth out of solar orbit and claim it for the Radaks!  What happens next is a bit disjointed; some of the prisoners get mind-tased, there’s some struggling, but eventually everyone meets up out on the planet’s surface in the Valley of Unkillable Things (which are amorphous slime monsters).

With the help of a couple Lei who are part of the resistance, the humans are able to reunite with each other, confront and kill the Great Mind in a big psionic showdown.  Without the Great Mind, the Radaks are uselessly running amok, having been so accustomed to following orders, and most are killed in the ensuing battles with the Lei.  The Earthers are able to facilitate a mass evacuation of the Lei to Venus before the planetoid falls into the sun.

Perhaps the part that stuck out the most in this story was the fatcat.  Cummings did a pretty good job juggling so large an ensemble (5 humans, 2 Lei and 2 Radak) in such a short story, but the fatcat really shone in terms of character arc.  He goes from being all for himself, trying to bribe his way out of his captivity (‘I’m important on Earth, don’t you know who I am?’ ‘Our plan involves killing everyone on Earth, so that doesn’t mean much.’), to being the big damn hero who saves the day.  Not only is he able to play the Great Mind’s 2nd in command’s greed against him to get his hands on a mind-zapper and come to the other prisoner’s rescue, once he gets back to Earth, HE BANKROLLS THE EVACUATION OF THE LEI!  That is the most astounding part to me.  I mean, sure the guy’s rich, but I thought he was maybe a ‘King of Chicago’ type rich, not a ‘fund the rapid development of space technology so we’ll have enough ships to evacuate a planet and then buy houses for all of my friends’ rich.  The idea of seeing such a capable and magnanimous capitalist in a work of any sort of fiction these days seems so preposterous that it’s kind of awesome here to have a character of exceeding means use those means and not be crapped on or praised back-handedly.  There was no “yeah, he saved us and the Lei, but he’s still kind of a Richie scumbag”; more of a “man, what a great guy for doing all this great stuff with his means!”

This may not have been one of the better Planet Stories features I’ve read, but the determined ‘we can do anything, damnit!’ attitude displayed by the heroes is refreshing in these dark times.  I mean, just think: once upon a time, Americans believed that a rich guy and our best scientific minds would be able reverse engineer space ships and build a fleet of them in a matter of months to avert a humanitarian crisis that didn’t even involve having to take in the refugees!