More Kline! Outlaws of Mars

Kline was one of the masters of the classic Good-girl / Bad-girl dichotomy, as well as the good Bad-girl, that flourished in early 20th century Sci-Fi up through the writings of Leigh Brackett.

One of Kline’s shticks was to take the All-American gentleman and stick him in an Oriental despotism, where alien sultans and viziers conspired against one another and beautiful princesses either had guards who’d kill you if you so much as looked at them wrong in their pampered towers or they were ready to throw down with a blade and carve out an empire with the rest of them.

Unlike Brackett’s bad-boy heroes who often end up with the bad-girl (if he didn’t kill her), Kline’s heroes may go after the good one and get her, but are just as likely to find the good-girl is bad and the bad-girl is good.

Morgan screws up horribly bad with the good-girl (shoots her not-Woola!), but it’s still love at first sight for both of them–she even intervenes to spare him from execution. But after a duel that leaves one of the best swordsmen on Mars dead by Morgan’s blade, the bad-girl has eyes for Morgan, too!

The roomy apartments of Nisha Novil were furnished with a splendor that was almost barbaric, and Nisha herself was the most ornate object of all. Lying on a swinging divan upholstered with alternate stripes of orange and blue plush, she shot a languishing smile at Jerry from beneath her long, curved lashes, as he was ushered in before her.

The only cloth upon her shapely body was a silken cincture of orange trimmed with blue. Her small breast-shields were of blue and amber beads. By any standard she was undeniably beautiful.

With a wave of her hand she dismissed the page. Then she spoke, her voice low, with a purring quality, like that of a kitten that is being stroked.

“You are prompt, Jerry Morgan, but why have you brought the bodyguard? Were you afraid I might injure you? As you see, I am unarmed.”

“Your highness forgets that I am a prisoner under suspended sentence of death. The guards …”

“Yes, to be sure. I had forgotten.” She addressed the two. “My slaves will give you pulcho in another room. Wait there until I send for you. I will be responsible for your prisoner.”

With respectful salutations, the two guards followed a brown slave-girl through a curtained doorway. Then Nisha waved a slim hand, and the other slave- girls who stood in attendance behind her filed out of the room. As soon as they were alone, the princess rose with feline grace, and stood before Jerry, smiling up at him beneath languorous lids. She was no bigger than Junia, and much like her in appearance. Yet there was something about her, an untamed feral something in her every look and gesture.

“Come,” she said, taking Jerry’s hand and leading him to the divan. “You must be weary after your dual with Arsad. Come and rest here beside me while we talk.”

“I did lose some blood,” Jerry replied. “That was why I was about to ask your highness’s indulgence …”

“But since I am dispensing with formality,” she cooed, drawing him down upon the divan, “you may rest here as well as in your own apartment. And what I have to say cannot wait, for there are those who plot against your life, and I would save you. Tomorrow will be too late.”

“Your highness is most generous to take an interest in my life.”

She snuggled against him. “On the contrary, I am most selfish. From the very day when I first saw you, standing before the throne of Numin Vil, I have desired you.

“I heard of the suicide of the slave in your apartment, but did not grasp the significance at the time. However, when I learned of your duel with Arsad today, I knew that you had done something to displease my brother, and that where Arsad failed, another of Thoor’s tools would eventually succeed. So I had a talk with my brother.”

“I don’t know what I ever did to him,” said Jerry, “except that I turned one of his own sarcastic remarks against him, this evening.”

“That had some weight, but it is not the true reason for his bitterness against you,” she told him. “It began when our cousin, Junia, begged your life from Numin Vil after you had slain her dalf. I may add that those of whom Thoor becomes jealous never survive long.”

“It seems that I have been exceedingly fortunate, then.”

“Your skill with the sword saved you tonight,” she answered, “but other means of compassing your death have already been planned. Thoor Movil’s spies are everywhere, and when he heard of the look which Junia gave you in her apartment today, you were marked for death.”

“And just what can you do about all this?” Jerry asked.

“Everything,” she replied. I have made a pact with my brother. Your life is to be spared to me on condition that you never again cast your eyes toward our fair cousin.”

“So you have arranged the whole thing between you. Thoughtful of your highness. But did it not occur to you that I might have some ideas of my own on the subject?”

To his surprise, she flung her arms around his neck—pressed her warm lips to his.

Had he never seen Junia, it is quite possible that the Earthman might have capitulated. Gently he disengaged the clinging arms from around his neck, and arose.

Nisha fell back on the divan, panting. Then she sprang straight for the Earthman. Screeching curses, she beat upon his breast, scratched his bare flesh until the blood welled forth. And through it all he stood immobile, hands at his sides, teeth clenched in a grim smile.

Her fit of fury passed almost as suddenly as it had begun. With horror in her eyes, she stood limply before him.

“Deza help me!” she moaned. “What have I done?”

“Have I your highness’s leave to go?” he asked, with studied calm.

“No, wait! You must not leave me thus!”

She turned and ran into another room, reappearing a moment later with a basin of water, a handful of soft moss, and a bottle of jembal. Jerry stood like a statue while she washed away the blood and applied the healing gum to the scratches she had inflicted. Her ministrations finished, she looked up at him, tears swimming in her large black eyes and pearling the long lashes.

“Forgive me, my dear lord,” she begged, contritely. “Strike me! Break me with those strong hands of yours! But do not leave me with anger in your heart. Only say that you forgive me, and Deza will grant me strength to go on, knowing that I may some day win your love.”

“It is I who should ask forgiveness,” Jerry told her, “since you have only wounded my body. But I, it seems, have unwittingly wounded your heart.”

“You are generous, my lord,” she cried, and flinging her arms around his neck, crushed her lips to his. “Now go. But remember—Nisha loves you, and will be waiting.”

I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Space Elves – Circa 1933

In the pulps, even Mars had its strange and fey races:

He had knelt on the bank, and was just parting the rushes, when a reflection in the water before him made him look up. A huge black bat was pursuing what at first glance appeared to be a large butterfly. Apparently disabled, the smaller creature fluttered groundward, falling into the rushes not ten feet from Thorne.

In a steep spiral, the bat swooped toward its fallen prey. Leaping to his feet, Thorne saw the futile fluttering of a pair of lacy, opalescent wings above the rushes, and knew that in a moment more the bat would claim its victim. He jerked a javelin from his quiver and hurled it at the descending monster. It struck the black, furry neck with such force that the barbed head emerged from the other side.

Now it was the bat which tumbled into the rushes, only a few feet from the creature it had struck down.

Having satisfied himself that the ugly thing was dead, Thorne stepped over for a closer look at its intended prey. But as he did so, the lacy wings suddenly rose above the bushes, and he stifled a cry of amazement when he saw that they were attached to the shoulders of a slender, perfectly formed girl about three feet in height.

Save for a girdle of filmy, pale green material drawn tight at the waist by a belt of exquisitely wrought golden mesh and ending in a short skirt, she was nude. Her silky skin was a perfect flesh tint, and covered with fine down, delicate as peach bloom. Her golden yellow hair was bound by a fillet of woven green jade links, circling her forehead just below two delicate, feathery antennae, which swept upward and backward like a pair of dainty plumes.

As he stood staring down at her, scarcely believing his eyes, she suddenly faded from his view.

The Earthman blinked and looked again. But where she had stood he now saw only the rushes which had been bent downward by the weight of her tiny body.

Faintly he heard the fluttering of wings overhead. He looked up and saw only the empty sky. Suddenly a little pixie voice, musical as a silver bell, broke the silence.

“I know you now, man of the Old Race,” it said. “You are Sheb Takkor, the younger. You have saved the life of Eriné, daughter of the Vil of the Ulfi, and she is not ungrateful. Hold out your hand.”

In obedient wonder, he extended his hand. A glittering something dropped into his palm. He saw that it was a tiny ring fashioned from platinum and set with a sparkling green gem.

“If you should ever need the Ulfi, rub the jewel and if there is an Ulf within scent of the ring he will be yours to command.”

“Very kind of you,” said Thorne, “but…” He suddenly realized that the fluttering had stopped. He was talking to empty air.

Yirl Du had come down the bank and was surveying him quizzically. “Your pardon, my lord. Were you speaking to me?”

“Yes. No. I was speaking to an Ulf – that is, to an Ulf maiden.”

“Has one of the Little People paid us a visit?”

“Not intentionally, I guess. You see, she was struck down by that bat.” Thorne indicated the carcass. “I saw her fall, thinking her only a butterfly, yet I pitied the creature and so slew the bat with a javelin. She became invisible and presented me with this.” He held out the ring.

Yirl Du exclaimed with astonishment. “Why, that is indeed a precious thing, my lord, and such a gift as only the Vil of the Ulfi or a member of his family might present to a man.”

“She named herself Eriné, daughter of the Vil.”

Thorne was brimming over with questions about the Little People, but resolved to curb his curiosity until he could talk to Thaine or Lal Vak. Sheb Takkor, he reasoned, would be supposed to know these things. To question Yirl Du about them would be to make him suspect either that he was not Sheb Takkor, or that he had taken leave of his senses.

The Tough Sword-Fighting Space Dame

I’ve given Disney a lot of shit for their “Hurr durr, we’re finally getting a woman with a light-saber” marketing, because ass-kicking women with swords and light-sabers are kind of Otis Adelbert Kline’s thing:

maza

From the cover of the 1929 issue of Argosy serializing Maza of the Moon.

A few weeks back, Anthony did a post on how to make good Strong Women characters. He hit in a few good points, even if he didn’t pick a great example. Even “good” Strong Women characters like the one he references are actually figures of fun within their stories; note that he even points out that there are constant references to how unwomanly she is and won’t find a man. I disagree with his take that “They need to suffer some sort of loss related to their femininity” to be a good strong female character, but his point that “They need to be paired up with a male character equally strong or stronger” has merit.

I’ve noted that women in the pulps may suffer from The Worf Effect–if the male hero can’t hold his own against the toughest dame on the planet, he’s not gonna be much help to said dame when they’re really in a pinch. On the other hand, you know a dame is tough when she can give the guy who’s gonna topple a space dictatorship with his sword a run for his money.

It’s a shame that the new kids feel they have to reach for anime for their examples of tough women in sci-fi, when they’ve been hanging out in the pulps all along.

Take for example this great scene from Swordsman of Mars–Thorne has just met Thaine, the childhood friend of the Martian who he’s traded places with. At her camp, the pair are attacked by a band of hostile Martians, and a couple of them pull Thaine into her hut and briefly out of sight of the hero.

He was about to spring through the opening when he saw the girl framed in the doorway, dagger in one hand and sword in the other, both dripping blood. Behind her, barely visible in the dim light of the interior, lay one dead and one dying foeman.

“Why – why, I thought…” stammered Thorne, lowering his point.

The girl smiled amusedly and stepped out of the hut. “So you believed these clumsy Ma Gongi had cut me down. Really, Sheb, I gave you credit for a better memory. Have you forgotten the many times Thaine’s blade has bested yours?”

So her name is Thaine, mused Thorne. Aloud he said: “Your demonstration has been most convincing. Yet I have not lost my ambition to improve my swordsmanship, and I should be grateful for further instruction.”

“No better time than now. Still, I have you at a disadvantage, since you hold an inferior weapon.”

“It is a handicap which a man should accord a girl,” Thorne replied.

“Not one this girl requires.”

She sheathed her dagger and extended her blade. Thorne engaged it with his captured weapon which, though more heavy and clumsy, was somewhat similar to a saber.

He instantly found that he had to deal with the swiftest and most dexterous fencer he had ever encountered, and time after time he barely saved himself from being touched.

“It seems your stay at the military school has improved your swordsmanship,” said the girl, cutting, thrusting, and parrying easily – almost effortlessly. “In the old days I would have touched you long ere this. Yet, you but prolong the inevitable.”

“The inevitable,” replied Thorne, “is sometimes perceptible only by deity. For instance, this” – beating sharply on her blade, then catching it on his with a rotary motion – “has often been known to end a conflict.”

Wrenched from her grasp by his impetuous attack, her sword went spinning into the undergrowth.

Instead of taking her defeat badly, Thaine actually beamed.

“You have developed into a real swordsman, old comrade! I am so glad I could almost kiss you.”

“That,” Thorne answered, recovering her weapon for her, “is a reward which should fire any man to supreme endeavor.”

“It is evident that you have mastered courtly speech as well as fencing. And now I will prepare your favorite dish for you.” She called the brute. “Here, Tezzu,” indicating the bodies. “Take these away.”

There are a number of things in effect here:

Thaine’s able to remain boastful to rib her childhood friend, but the hero wasn’t deprived of his moment in “saving her”; alone, either of them might have been overtaken, but Thaine can hold her own. It’s important to note that this wasn’t a case of the hero showing up and the woman has done all of the work and didn’t need any help at all.

Thorne gets a chance to both size up Thaine’s fighting skills and judge how good he’s supposed to be, since at this point, he’s new to Mars and new to filling in the shoes of the young Martian viscount he’s stepped into. Ultimately, it’s his lack of proper Martian table manners that gives him away to Thaine.

Now that Sheb/Borgen Takkor (actually Harry Thorne) has been shown to have taken a level in badass, the girl can be impressed by his growth. She no longer sees him as an inferior, regards him as someone who she could genuinely rely on when pressed and is prepared to reward him with her affections as a strong woman who’s found a stronger man.

Food. A lot of women like to cook for a man. And being promised that you’ll be cooked your favorite meal is a hell of a thing. An unbelievable amount of human behavior is predicated on doing things that will get you your favorite meal cooked for you by a lady and the endeavors undertaken to earn such a privilege. So, you want a beautiful Martian lady to cook you tasty bug-steaks? You’d better be able to kill AT LEAST as many evil Martian swordsmen as she can when you guys get attacked by them.

From Heroes Fighting Communist Space Dictators to Post-Capitalist Utopias

Well before the Cold War, even many years before World War II, speculative fiction writers saw and forewarned of the dangers of Communism. In Burroughs’ Tarzan series, Tarzan himself goes up against communist agents and assassins sent by Stalin on a number of occasions!

Yet by the 40s, after Europe had been thoroughly wrecked by two conflicting socialist ideologies, you had nudniks writing into Science Fiction magazines talking about post-scarcity society and proclaiming that once we were all socialists, space would be so great and safe that the notion of heroes fighting villains and dictators among the stars would be unthinkably silly.

Like Burroughs, Kline, who was by all reasonable standards a forward thinking writer with all sorts of progressive notions of tough, powerful and independent women, equality of man, suffrage, yadda-yadda-yadda, was unafraid to make the tyrannical evils of a space communist society something for his fighting man to topple.

Swordsman of mars

Originally serialized in Argosy Magazine in January and February of 1933.

Harry Thorne has been sent to Mars to act in the stead of a young Martian noble:

“As Borgen Takkor, you are, of course, son of Sheb, the Rad of Takkor. If he were to die, your name would become Sheb. As it is, you are the Zorad of Takkor. Zorad, in your language, might be translated viscount, and Rad, earl. The titles, of course, no longer have meaning, except that they denote noble blood, as the Swarm has changed all that.”

“The Swarm?”

Lal Vak nodded.

“I can think of no other English equivalent for our word Kamud. The Kamud is the new order of government which took control of Xancibar about ten Martian years, or nearly nineteen Earth years ago. At that time, like other Martian vilets, or empires, of the present day, we had a Vil, or emperor. Although his office was hereditary, he could be deposed at any time by the will of the people, and a new Vil elected.

“For the most part, our people were satisfied. But there suddenly rose into power a man named Irintz Tel. He taught that an ideal community could be attained by imitating the communal life of the black bees. Under his system the individuals exist for the benefit of the community, not the community for the befit of the individuals.

“Irintz Tel did not gather many followers, but those who flocked to his banner were vociferous and vindictive. At length, they decided to establish their form of government by force. Hearing this, Miradon, our Vil, abdicated rather than see his people involved in a civil war. He could have crushed the upstart, of course, but many lives would have been lost, and he preferred the more peaceful way.

“As soon as Miradon Vil was gone, Irintz Tel and his henchmen seized the reins of government in Dukor, the capital of Xancibar. After considerable fighting, he established the Kamud, which now owns all land, buildings, waterways, mines and commercial enterprises within our borders. He promised us annual elections, but once he was firmly established as Dixtar of Xancibar, this promise was repudiated. Theoretically, like all other citizens, Irintz Tel owns nothing except his personal belongings. But actually, he owns and controls all of Xancibar in the name of the Kamud, and has the absolute power of life and death over every citizen.”

“What do people think of this arrangement?” asked Thorne. “Do they submit to such tyranny?”

“They have no choice,” replied Lal Vak. “Irintz Tel rules with an iron hand. His spies are everywhere. And those detected speaking against his regime are quickly done away with.

“Some are executed, charged with some trumped-up offense, usually treason to the Kamud. Men in high places are often challenged and slain by Irintz Tel’s hired swordsmen. Others are sent to the mines, which means that they will not live long.”

During his adventures on Mars, Thorne finds himself assigned to be the personal guard of the Dixtar’s beautiful daughter–a virtual death sentence:

“It is a fatal beauty that corrupts our most loyal followers and makes traitors of our stanchest patriots. And today we are constrained to part with two more of our best swordsmen. They were her guardsmen, but they chose to let their hearts rule their heads. For such a malady, where our daughter is concerned, we have a most effective form of surgery.”

“What is that, excellency?”

“In order that the heart may no longer rule the head, we separate them. A bit drastic, we will admit, but it never fails to cure. We sent for you and this prisoner because we must replace the two excellent swordsmen. Our daughter, as you know, must be well guarded.”

Kline even lampshades the hypocritical ostentatious largess communist dictators indulge in:

The size and magnificence of the suite reserved for the daughter of this apostle of simplicity who would make all citizens equal, was astounding.

To the communist nudniks infiltrating fandom, this sort of slander against their perfect system of life and governance is unthinkable and intolerable and therefore must be denigrated as unserious and implausible and unworthy of consideration by Tru connoisseurs of science fiction.

Consider this letter to the editor of Planet Stories written in 1946:

All stories concerned with interplanetary wars, space piracy, pioneering, racketeering, etc., are taking for granted that present economic operations will continue unchanged. But, even today, the advances of science and technology are bringing the day close at hand when the method of buying and selling goods for a price, using money, will have to be abandoned, with a scientific method of distribution taking its place. And what effect would this have on the future! War, with the elimination of buying and selling, would cease to exist. As money would no longer be used, space pirates, interplanetary police and what-have-you would also have to go. Consider the exploration of a new planet. With machines doing most of the work, let us take mining as a specific example. The rough-and-ready drink-hard, die-hard miner would cease to exist. Educational standards of the time would be such that the staff of trained technicians required to man the machines would not be the type to engage in drunken brawls and fist-fights.

At the risk of sounding like Jeffro, SOMETHING HAPPENED!

Sometimes You Just Need an Excuse to Get to Your Implausible Action

I’m reading The Swordsman of Mars, my 5th planetary romance by Otis Adelbert Kline, and the 4th in his Dr. Morgan series. As with all of the Doc Morgan stories, we are briefly introduced to the concept of telepathic exchange of minds across space and time–a process which he discovered with the help of Lal Vak, a Martian scientist living a million years in Earth’s past, which allows for individuals with similar enough physiques and thought patterns are able to transfer personalities with the help of their devices.

Dr. Morgan finds bored or down on their luck highly capable individuals and sends them off to implausible adventures on alien worlds, with the promise of thrills and romance and assurances that they’ll probably do just fine once they get there and learn the language.

It’s a silly concept, one which Kline even lampshades in the author’s foreword of the second Dr. Morgan book, The Prince of Peril:

Dr. Morgan had worked on telepathy for many years in his spare time, when he was in practice; but on his retirement, he tried a different track. “I had to amend the theory,” he explained. “I decided that it would be necessary to build a device which would pick up and amplify thought waves. And even this would have failed had my machine not caught the waves projected by another machine, which another man had built to amplify and project them.”

Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.

“Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.

Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”

He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being— one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was no less incredulous when Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.

Interestingly enough, with the exception of the third Venus book, the Dr. Morgan books have all been prequels to the first one–the second Venus book recounts the adventures of a character who hooked up with Grandon for the climactic battle at the end of Planet of Peril (a “you wouldn’t believe what it took for me to get here in time, remind me to tell you someday!”), and this first Mars book I’m reading is actually the account of Harry Thorne, the guy Dr. Morgan tells Grandon about at the start of Planet as his first successful experiment with Lal Vak.

And it is the task of this first successful experiment to stop the first failed experiment. The first guy Doc Morgan sent to Mars, Frank Boyd, turned out to be an asshole and set himself up as a strongman to take over the world.

In barely more time than it took to you to read this post, Thorne gets sent to Mars, where he is attacked by a stirge-like insect, which he quickly dispatches… however his loss of blood has made him weak, so when Lal Vak brings him back into town and he’s bumped into by an arrogant oaf who demands satisfaction–he falls faint before the first sword-blow! The engineer of his disgrace? None other than Frank Boyd, the man Thorne was sent to stop! And because he de facto lost the duel, he may not honorably challenge him again and is bound to accept any and all humiliations that Boyd may subject him to!

That’s as far as I’ve got, but if it’s like any of Kline’s other stories, it’ll be cram-packed with sword-fight, wild monsters, and hot action dames.

Argosy-1933-07-01

I think that thing is supposed to be his pet flying duck-bat mount. DIFFERENT FROM WOOLA, I PROMISE!

Planet & Prince of Peril

I’m about halfway through Kline’s second Venus book, Prince of Peril, and it has been awesome.

I regrettably did not get a chance to talk much about Planet of Peril, but do want to take a minute to note that it did feature a pretty kick-ass female lead, Vernia, who was, like Maza, a fighting general who had become the most powerful queen on Venus after defeating several rivals in a bloody succession war. The scientist who sends Grandon to Venus recounts the beginning of Vernia’s reign:

The wild, mountainous kingdom of Uxpo, of which these forests are a part, is situated at the extreme southern limit of the empire of Reabon. Uxpo, together with seven other kingdoms, was originally conquered by the famous emperor, Margo, and its fierce, previously unbeaten mountaineer people reduced to slavery.

“Upon Margo’s death, three years ago, the people of Uxpo entertained high hopes of freedom. They had learned that the emperor’s daughter, Vernia, a mere slip of a girl, had succeeded to the throne; they revolted and, almost overnight, slew every soldier, officer and agent of the empire. Their old king had been executed by Margo at the time of the invasion, but his elder son, Lugi, was placed on the throne.

“Two days afterward a courier brought news that the princess Vernia was coming at the head of a hundred thousand soldiers. Lugi assembled his five thousand mountaineers and went forth. The army of Uxpo was annihilated, and Lugi was executed for treason. Once more the fierce Uxponians bowed their necks to the yoke of the conqueror.

Unconquerable on the battlefield, even able to escape assassins, the princess finds herself about to be undone by a technicality by her main rival. While Vernia and Robert Grandon go bouncing from adventure to adventure, trying to get back to her capital, the timer is running out – if she’s gone for a year, she’ll be considered to have abdicated the throne. The big happy ending when Vernia and Grandon are able to return to the capital, have outwitted the big bad and thwarted his scheme to marry Vernia and seize the throne, and themselves are married is one of the most awesome S&P endings ever.

Four soldiers removed the bodies and order was restored with surprising celerity. Again Grandon moved to the foot of the throne where Vernia awaited him, wide-eyed and trembling. He took her hands in his for a moment, then she resolutely bade him proceed.

Upon his return the four kings had prostrated themselves on the steps leading to the throne in accordance with the customs of their ancestors. Grandon turned to Vernia. “I am emperor now, am I not?”

“Assuredly, my lord.”

“And my word is law?”

“So long as it does not conflict with the written constitution of Reabon.”

“Is this matter of mounting to the throne on the backs of one’s vassal kings written into the constitution?”

“No. It is a custom that has been observed for generations and signifies the complete submission of the heads of the various kingdoms.”

“Then it shall be abolished. I expect loyalty from my subjects, but not abject servility.”

Then, to the surprise of the four kings, he bade them rise and stand, each man on the step he occupied, two to the right and two to the left. Thus attended, Grandon mounted to the throne while the spectators looked on in amazement.

When he had taken his seat with quiet dignity and rested the scarbo across the arms of the throne, Vernia mounted and bowed before him with right hand extended palm downward—an example which was followed by the entire assemblage. It was indeed a day of surprise for the good people of Reabon, for no sooner had she knelt before him than he, in violation of an age-old custom which decreed that the empress should sit at the feet of her lord, swung the scarbo to one side and lifted her up beside him on the throne.

“You shouldn’t have done this,” she gasped. “My place is—”

“Custom be hanged!” he responded, and there, in full view of that vast multitude, he kissed his bride full upon the lips.

The crowd responded with a resounding cheer. “A long and happy reign to our emperor and his empress!”

Then the shimmering scarlet curtains crept around the throne, and Grandon forgot all else when two soft arms stole around his neck and Vernia’s fluffy head nestled on his shoulder.

Prince of Peril has not, as of yet, had so satisfying a female lead as Planet of Peril (unlike Vernia or Maza, Princess Loralie is a bit more of a typical damsel in distress and, for the first half of the book, gets very little characterization while she’s being carried off by evil princes, cannibal apes, and horny robots). Still, it’s had some really great set pieces, including a Burroughs homage that combines the scene of Tarzan defeating the Ape King in hand to hand combat and Carter fighting the Tharks on Mars. The Venusian ape king takes a new bride each month, and this one wants to mix things up a bit and marry a food-woman (they call humans food-men and food-women, because they eat them). The monthly wedding ceremony also provides an opportunity for anyone who wishes to challenge the king and take the throne and the wives.

“Who will fight Rorg for his bride and his kingdom?” The final challenge was flung out by the victorious king-ape as he looked triumphantly about him. “Speak now, or…”

“I’ll fight you, Rorg,” I said, drawing club and knife and stepping in front of the giant. As I did so I caught a fleeting glimpse of Taliboz and Loralie. On the face of the traitor was pleased anticipation. The eyes of the princess showed surprise, and something more. Incredible as it appeared from her recent actions, it was undoubtedly concern for my safety.

But these were only fleeting impressions.

Borg stared incredulously down at me for a moment, evidently unable to believe that I had actually challenged the king of the cave-apes. Then he struck at me quickly, but not exerting his full strength, as if I were some insect annoying him.

Instinctively I used my club as if it had been a sword—parrying the blow with ease and countering with a thrust which bit into his furry abdomen, drawing blood and eliciting a grunt of rage and pain.

Although the club was so constructed that I could not hope to inflict a mortal wound by thrusting the sharp flint teeth with which it was armed, it could and did cause considerable pain and annoyance. As the cave-ape system of fighting was merely that of striking and dodging. I hoped to offset my adversary’s enormous advantage of strength and reach by employing the technique of a swordsman.

With an angry bellow, Borg swung a terrific blow for my legs. Again I parried, and countered with a neck cut which would probably have terminated the engagement in my favor had it not been blocked by one of his huge tusks. The tusk snapped off and clattered to the rock; but as a result, the club wounded him only slightly, adding to his fury.

Foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth in his rage, the king-ape beset me with a rain of blows that would have been irresistible to any but a trained swordsman. Splinters and bits of broken flint flew from our clubs as time and again I parried his terrific blows.

After each blow I countered with a cut or thrust, and soon my opponent was bleeding from head to foot; yet his strength and quickness seemed rather to increase with each fresh wound. Had he possessed a swordsman’s training, I verily believe that ape would have been invincible on his own planet or any other.

Presently I succeeded in raking him across the forehead with the point of my weapon, so that the blood ran down in his eyes, half blinding him. But he wiped the blood away with the back of one huge paw and countered with a blow, the force of which numbed my wrist and splintered my club into fragments.

I leaped back, then hurled the club handle straight for the great, snarling mouth as he bounded forward to finish me. It struck him in the front teeth, breaking off several and momentarily bewildering him.

In that moment I leaped, and with the fingers of my left hand entwined in the wiry hair of his chest and my legs gripping his waist, I buried my flint knife again and again in his brawny neck. Blood spurted from his pulsing jugular as he endeavored to shake me off, to reach me with his sharp fangs, and to gore me with his single remaining tusk. But his mighty strength was spent —his lifeblood draining.

A quiver shook the giant frame and like some tall tree of the forest felled by the woodman’s axe, he toppled backward, crashing to the ground.

Leaping quickly to my feet, I seized the club of the fallen ape-monarch and, brandishing it aloft, said, “Rorg is dead, and Zinlo is king. Who will fight Zinlo? Who will be next to die?”

From the throats of several of the ape-warriors in the semicircle from which Urg had come, came low growls, but none advanced, and the growls subsided as I singled out in turn with my gaze each of the truculent ones who had voiced them.

Far below me, the mob of apes was clamoring, “Meat! We want our meat!”

I knew that, spent as I was, the enormous body of Rorg was more than I could raise aloft and hurl to the mob below, so I had recourse to an old wrestling trick. Seizing the limp right arm of the fallen king-ape, I dragged the body to the edge of the cliff. Then, bringing the arm over my shoulder in an application of the principle of the lever, I heaved the remains of Borg over my head.

A moment later the milling beasts below were tearing the carcass to pieces, snarling and snapping over their feast. This custom, I afterward learned, had been established in consequence of the belief that the flesh of a strong, brave individual would confer strength and bravery on the one who devoured it.

Again I brandished my club aloft, shouting, “Who will fight Zinlo for his kingdom? Speak now, or keep silence for another endir.”

This time I heard not even a single growl from the warriors on the cone top.

An old warrior who had lost both tusks, an ear, and several of his fingers, stepped from the ranks and advanced to the cliff edge. “Rorg is dead,” he announced. “Farewell to Rorg.”

Following his words, a peculiar, quavering cry went up from the throats of the thousands of apes congregated in the crater, as well as from those on the plateau. So weird and mournful did it sound that I shivered involuntarily.

As the last plaintive notes died away, the old warrior shouted, “Zinlo is king. Hail, Zinlo!”

A deafening din followed as the ape-horde, brandishing knives and clubs aloft and clattering them together, cried, “Hail, Zinlo!”

Another great bit has been the encounter with the 5000 year old Prince and Princess who turned themselves and their followers into robots, and now the Prince is all “You must mate with us!”

There’s some great uncanny valley horror to this that you see much later in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The page stopped before an ornate doorway, two guards saluted and opened massive doors. Then a pair of scarlet curtains were drawn back, revealing a luxurious boudoir. “His Highness, Zinlo of Olba,” announced the page as I entered the room.

The curtains fell in place behind me. I heard the guards close the heavy doors.

As I looked at the beauteous dead-alive creature that reclined on a luxuriously cushioned divan in a scarlet and gold decked recess, a feeling of revulsion swept over me; yet, paradoxically enough, this was combined with admiration. I was revolted at thought of the nearness of this living dead thing, but could not but admire the consummate art that had created so glorious an imitation of the human form.

I realized that if I would live to be of assistance to Loralie I had a part to play.

Xunia smiled languidly, seductively, as I stood before the raised divan just outside the niche it occupied. With feline grace she extended a slender, dimpled hand. Shuddering inwardly, I took it, expecting to feel the cold clamminess of death. But it was as warm as my own and as natural—from its white back in which a delicate tracery of blue veins showed, to the pink- tipped, tapering fingers. I raised it to my lips and released it, but she clung to my fingers for a moment, pulling me to a seat on a low ottoman just in front of her.

“Long have I awaited your coming, prince of my heart,” she said. “Be not afraid to come near to me, for it is my desire and my command.”

“To be prince of your heart were indeed an honor,” I replied, “yet you name me this, having only seen me today.”

“The moment I saw you I knew it was so. Fear not, beloved, that there have been others before you. I am, and have ever been, virgin in mind as in body. Once I thought I loved, yes, but it was long ago, and then I was but a child.”

“You make me very jealous, nevertheless,” I said, remembering the part I had to play.

“I did not really love him, I swear it, dearest.” She ran her fingers through my hair in a gentle caress so natural, so womanly, that I found it well- nigh impossible to believe her other than a real princess of flesh and blood. Then, before I realized what she was about, she twined her arms about my neck and kissed me full upon my lips.

The kiss did not taste of acid, as I had imagined it would, but was like that of a normal, healthy girl, though it aroused in me a feeling of revulsion which I was at some pains to conceal.

“I go now, beloved, to prepare for your marriage,” she said. “Await me here.”

As I stood up, she took my hand and arose gracefully. The time for action had arrived. Yet, as I looked down at the slender, beautiful figure, the long- lashed eyes gazing trustfully up into mine, I hesitated to carry out the plan which I had been contemplating as I sat there on the ottoman before her— a plan with which I hoped to accomplish a double purpose—to rid myself of this machine-monster and to get her brother away from Loralie, for she would probably summon him telepathically, if in no other way.

I was trying to think of her as a dead thing in a machine, yet it seemed impossible that she was other than human, so natural was she, and so beautiful. But the thought of Loralie and the danger she was in steeled me to the task.

Seizing Xunia by her long black hair, I whipped out my stone knife and slashed the artificial muscles of the slim white throat. She gave one startled scream, which ended at the second slash of my knife, and went limp as I jerked the head backward, cracking the metallic structure which took the place of cervical vertebrae. Instead of blood, there spurted from the severed neck a tiny stream of clear fuming liquid, a few drops of which fell on my hand, burning it like molten metal.

Dropping the sagging body, I turned and was about to part the curtains which led out into the hall to see if the coast was clear, when I heard a stealthy sound behind me. Swiftly turning, I saw Xunia, apparently unharmed. In her right hand was a long, straight-bladed sword drawn back for a thrust. Behind her lay the body I had just destroyed.

I leaped back just in time to avoid her vicious lunge. Then, jerking my spiked club from my belt, I dealt her a blow which crushed her skull like an egg-shell. But scarcely had this body sunk to the floor ere a panel opened in the wall behind it and a third, armed like the second, stepped out to attack me.

“Fool,” mouthed the advancing figure. “Think you that you can slay one of the immortals?”

Prince of Peril has been much more episodic than Planet of Peril, but what episodes!

Perhaps one of the most amusing parts, though, was in the introduction, which includes an in-universe shout-out to Edgar Rice Burroughs:

Now I had been a devotee of imaginative fiction for many years, and had often thought of turning my hand to writing it. I prided myself on having a better than usual imagination; yet, I did not think of the implications of the theory of telepathy when Dr. Morgan told me that the man who built the thought-projector was on Mars. While I deferred to no one in my fondness for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories of John Carter and others on Barsoom, I was well aware of the fact that what we knew of the planet Mars made his wonderful civilization on that planet quite impossible. I said as much, going into facts and figures.

“Of course, we won’t really know for sure about the exact conditions there unless we land on Mars. But still we know enough to make Burroughs’s Mars probability zero,” I concluded.

Dr. Morgan nodded. “Entirely correct,” he said. “There is no such civilization on Mars.”

He then explained his own incredulity when his machine picked up the thoughts of a man who identified himself as a human being— one Lal Vak, a Martian scientist and psychologist. But Lal Vak was no less incredulous whoa Dr. Morgan identified himself as a human being and scientist of Earth. For Lal Vak was certain that there could be no human civilization on Earth, and cited facts and figures to prove it.

More Maza!

I was originally going to try to come up with some clever and trolly title about how Maza is more badass than Leia (she is) and how Star Wars looks pretty weaksauce when put side by side with this book (it does), but instead I’m going to just use the above throwaway title and dive right in.

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Space ships, lasers and televisions?  A Strange Novel of the Future indeed!  Frazetta’s cover was actually a lot truer to the titular character’s description, but hey! Space flappers!

Unlike some pulps with completely indistinguishable characters (Captain So and So, Lieutenant That Guy, Private The Other One and Doctor Doctor), Kline does a decent job of putting together the oft-seen heroic triumvirate, with the brilliant man of action(Ted), the guy with organizational know-how and follow-through(Roger), and the trusted scientific sounding board (Professor Ederson).  I know I’m underselling it here, but each of these characters is split up and given their own action-packed thread in the story that, once woven together, ties up nicely at the climax to show that each played an integral part in the resolution of the crisis.

 

At the heart of the story is a tragic war between two races, the “white” Martians and the Asiatic Lunarians.  At one time, the races had been at peace and even had colonies on one another’s worlds, but a dispute whose origins are so old as to be almost forgotten led to the near destruction of both Mars, whose atmosphere was stripped off by Lunarian ray weapons, and the Moon, which had its atmosphere stripped off by use of the ray weapon and was bombarded into Earth orbit by Martian guided asteroid assault.  The survivors of the war on the Moon were forced to live underground and in domed cities at the bottom of canals and craters.  One of the Lunarian Princes returned to find the surface of the Moon obliterated and in his sorrow spent the rest of his days on earth (thereby explaining the Asian races and the Chinese written language).  Early on, Kline teases at the Evil Chinaman trope, especially with the betrayal of Doctor Wu and the plan for China to establish a separate peace with the Lunarians, but the heroes are proven wrong!  The Chinese people rise up against their leaders and refuse to bow to Lunar tyranny!  Even many of the Lunarians are opposed to their despot and, once freed from the dungeons of political prisoners, help in the fight against the P’an-Ku.

Maza of the Moon gives us a very early incarnation of Light Saber fights.  Since lasers would not be invented for another 30 years, Kline is somewhat limited in his ability to describe them, but what else could you call “fencing” with green and red rays?  The rays themselves are versatile in their purpose, as they can be used as close range weapons (the fencing) or long range fired weapons, either as side-arm or shipboard.

The degravitator devices Ted Dustin develops are monstrous: they are able to cause protons to lose their charge, setting electrons loose and destroy matter at the atomic level.  Whether it’s Lunar dragons, space tigers the size of draft horses, or the space fleet of the P’an-Ku, these things can make short work of anything!  One of the neatest tricks, though, is when they get modified into a diffuse beam as part of the space warship that is built to be the vanguard of the counter attack against the Moon, it acts as a deflector shield that will instantly annihilate any projectile or disperse any ray-beam attacks that would otherwise hit the ship.  Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this entire story is that no one takes a moment to really appreciate how freaking scary dangerous the stuff Ted can make is, but when Roger is flying this ship through a fleet of Lunarian globe ships, you really don’t care because it is way more awesome than that time when Han Solo killed that one TIE Fighter.

Oh, yeah, I said that Maza was better than Leia.  Well, with New Star Wars coming out, we’re hearing about how Leia’s not just a Space Princess, she’s a Space General.  Well, back in 1929, Maza was a Space Princess and a Space General.  Maza leads, from the front, an army of over half a million Lunarian infantry and Lunar-dragon riders.  She is no damsel.  Sure she gets saved a couple times after saving Ted once, but after she learns that the P’an-Ku has captured Ted, she is ready to put her life on the line for him, and there are OVER HALF A MILLION of her subjects ready to lay down their lives for her.  How many dudes did Leia have who would do that?  Two?  The Rebels would make anyone a General, and when did Leia ever lead anybody into battle?  Some of Leia’s Space Princessness is kind of wrecked by her homeworld being destroyed, but she is not as good an Action Princess either.  Get a load of this:

At ray fencing, the Princess[Maza] was the equal of any trained soldier in her army, but her opponent, she found, was the most skillful she had ever encountered.  His tactics, however, were purely defensive except as he tried to destroy her projector.  Evidently his orders had been to bring her in alive.  He would feint, swinging his ray as if he meant to strike her down, but never in direct line with her body.  Noticing this, she resolved to stake everything on one long chance.  Accordingly, she held her projector away from her – a tempting bait.  He swung for the lure, leaving his guard open for but an instant.  But in that instant her red ray struck him full in the chest, and he was no more.

Yeah, that’s right, THIS Space Princess is a master at fighting with light sabers!  Tell me again about how regressive the pulps were, while I try to think of any modern Space Princesses this awesome.

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Ignore the middling reviews of this; they’re wrong.  Kline’s Maza of the Moon is one of the best action sci-fi stories EVER.  I give 5.5 Death Stars of out of 5.55 out of 5

Kline is stuck in Burroughs’ shadow, with many either accusing him of ripping off Barsoom or his other writings, to the point where fandom fabricated a non-existent feud between the two.  I liked a Princess of Mars, but I absolutely loved Maza of the Moon.  I suppose if you love Burroughs and aren’t going to go into it with the “Burroughs is better so this will be crap” attitude, you could do a lot worse than Kline.  As for me, he’s on my list of writers to look out for.

I bet Kathleen Kennedy hasn’t read Maza of the Moon…

Later this week or next, more Gardner F. Fox and other Planet Stories.

Addendum: ZOMG!  There was a comic adaptation!!!

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Maza is introduced saving our hero from a tentacular death.

Weekend Micro-Haul

The long weekend allowed me to make some headway in my reading and a harmonious convergence of a thrift-store half-off sale and a bored teenager not wanting to break my twenty meant I grabbed Otis Adelbert Kline’s Maza of the Moon and Earth’s Last Citadel by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner for free this weekend.

I finished Sceptre of Morgulan.  The worst thing that can be said about it is that it’s book 2 of 4 (or 3 of 5, depending on how you want to count Drasmyr).  Even though the scope of the book in terms of characters and plot threads is a bit more new-school, the flavor is very retro.  While Children of Lubrochius shows the rise of the titular criminal/necromantic organization (Gimme Shelter playing in the background), Sceptre shows the turning point where the villain’s enterprises begin crumbling.  So, the organized crime venture is falling through with the thieves guild on the rebound, internal squabbles getting out of hand, a botched demon summoning, and the head of the Children coming in to shut Korina’s operation down because of the turf wars she’s started.  Still, the lady has demons, goblins, a couple mages, an ancient vampire and maybe even the Sceptre, if she can track Gaelen to Morgulan’s pocket dimension.

Because I had to drop everything and read Sceptre of Morgulan, I still had about 100 pages left in Hardtack and Coffee.  Overall, it was a great book and full of fun invaluable minutiae for Civil War buff regarding the day to day life of Union soldiers, but I wish that Billings had thought to put in an afterword to bring it all back around.  The book is a bit front-loaded, with most of the best stuff in the early to middle of the book (everything from what daily rations consist of to the various means soldiers would use to try to get out of doing work), and ends rather abruptly with the chapter on signal flagging.

Earth’s Last Citadel was a bit of a disappointment.  An American, a Scot and two American Nazis in Africa happen upon a spaceship that is the vanguard of an alien invasion. They get stuck in time stasis for a million years or something, so that when they come out, the aliens had come, conquered, built and declined so that all that was left on the planet was one lone alien citadel, Carcasilla, inhabited by a race of immortal humans and a crazy giant telepathic wizard face.  The 4 WW2 era humans are caught between the crazy wizard, the immortal quasi-humans in the fortress, the barbarian humans in the caves and the energy alien that will starve if it can’t feed on the remaining humans’ life force.  In something of a script-flip, the morlock-like cave dwellers are the descendants of the humans who fought against the alien overlords and team up with the humans to fight the eloi-like Carcasillians who had been engineered by the aliens as toys and vessels and can therefore be controlled by the alien.  Eventually, the past-humans defeat the wizard (a human controlling a robot face), the alien, get the source of Carcasilla’s power and the Carcasillian’s immortality, use it to power up the ship and restart humanity on Venus.  Sounds awesome, right?  Unfortunately, the weak descriptive language made it difficult to picture any scenes or action at play, leaving one with only a vague sense of what had happened or was going on.  It was like trying to watch something through murky water or a fog.  Or like that time when Elmer Fudd was unicycling down a highwire into a lion’s mouth while wearing dark glasses:

The Time Machine meets Wizard of Oz with hyper-intelligent parasitic alien energy beings should’ve been so much better!

Anyway, I’m reading Leigh Brackett’s Sword of Rhiannon to cleanse the palate a bit.  It is more than sufficiently awesome.