Short Reviews – Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells (as Gene Ellerman) appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

Of all the short stories I’ve read over the last year, Raiders of the Second Moon is by far one of my favorites.  I would go so far as to say it’s a perfect sword and planet pulp piece.  In its meagre ten pages, Raiders gives us an alien jungle world, a square-jawed American spaceman turned jungle barbarian, talking ape men, a devastatingly hot jungle huntress, a giant skull temple, blood for the blood god, and a Nazi mad scientist.  Even better, like Fritz Leiber’s Jewels in the Forest, Raiders of the Second Moon could easily be run as a tabletop adventure with just a couple of stat blocks.*

Captain Stephen Dietrich has crash-landed on Sekk, a secret jungle moon hidden in orbit on the far side of the moon we know, in pursuit of the evil Dr. Karl Von Mark.  The crash left Dietrich with amnesia, however.  He became friend to both the human-like Zurans and the ape-like Vasads, to whom he is known as Noork, a corruption of his first words after the crash: New York.

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Short Reviews – Prodigal Weapon, by Vaseleos Garson

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Prodigal Weapon by Vaseleos Garson appeared in the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.Planet Stories Logo

Prodigal Weapon was, at best, a missed opportunity.  Like Garson’s later story, The Little Pets of Arkkhan, I can see this being made into a mediocre episode of Outer Limits or Star Trek, but, for a story about laughter, it offers only a few chuckles.

Humans on earth are being rounded up and taken as slaves by a race of indestructible bald red ogres called “Kraks”.  They are impervious to heat, cold or any weapons, and all hope for humanity seems lost.  Just to show up one wise guy who thinks he may have a chance against them, the Kraks pull the freshly taken slave out of line and offer him a chance to prove to himself that his captors are invincible.

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Short Reviews – Red Witch of Mercury by Emmett McDowell

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Red Witch of Mercury by Emmett McDowell appeared in and was double-billed with Spider Men of Gharr as the featured story of the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

I’m no longer surprised by how good the average Planet Stories piece is.  Going by what some of fandom was saying in the subsequent issue’s Vizigraph, the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories was damning evidence of how far the publication has fallen.  If this is the bad, how great the golden age must have been!

Red Witch of Mercury is a story of intrigue, crime and corruption.  It’s a solid thriller, through and through.  Mercury may be on the brink or civil war. A handful of Earthnoid interests control over half of the resources on the small world, including the lucrative wine trade.  There is some resentment among the Mercurian populace, but the Earth government has just granted the Mercurian people a new degree of freedom and self-governance.  Though revolution could wreck the advancements the Mercurians have made towards independence, rumors are circulating that the Mercurian Patriot movement may still consider violent insurrection to drive the trusts off once and for all.  With the coming of the Festival of Rains, a celebration of the union of the rain god Nemi and his bride the soil which “would make a Roman Orgy look like a Sunday School picnic”, there’s fear that the streets could explode in riots at a moment’s notice.

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Retro Fandom Friday (On A Monday!)

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Science fiction fans are a cantankerous lot, and it seems perhaps they always have been.  Or maybe Peacock & Payne simply enjoyed publishing some of the grousier letters they received.  But one thing is certain: even the perplexed and frustrated who’d write in to complain just how far science fiction had gone downhill by the mid-40s still loved their Planet Stories enough to plop down 2 bits for the current issue, drag out their typewriter to fill up a page or two, mail it off in hopes of being published in the Vizigraph (Planet Stories’ letters section) and possibly win a coveted piece of interior art-work by being voted best fan-writer of the issue.

The Fall 1945 Vizigraph opens with a reminder from the editor to buy war bonds (“A bond is a bazooka; help blow the hell out those Nazis and Nips.”) before the delightful parade of those coming to either praise or bury the previous issue.  Summer 1945 is next on my list, so I can’t wait to find out just how much I agree or disagree with the various commenters.

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Short Reviews, Formula for Conquest, by James R. Adams

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Formula for Conquest by James R. Adams appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

James R. Adams is not very good at writing dialogue.  By the third page, narrator Tod Mulhane had thrice referred to himself as a “soldier of fortune”, and when he gave his background speech that spent a paragraph more or less saying ‘I had it hard, and I could bore you with the details, but I won’t’, I could not help but think of Home Movies spoofing detective/crime noir.  It’s a shame, really, because Adams does a decent job with everything BUT dialogue, so once you get past the clunky and almost cartoonish way everyone in this talks, you’re left with a pretty fun story with some really wild elements.

In “Formula for Conquest”, most of the Solar worlds are inhabited.  A race of pink-haired Jovians who can’t pronounce the letter T are at the head of an evil coalition of worlds – Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus – led by Xan VIII against the allied worlds of Earth, Mars and Neptune.  The story unfolds with scientist August “Augie” Q. Twilken approaching our “soldier of fortune” (it’s never clear what Tod’s actual job is) in a seedy drug-filled bar; he has a formula that will speed up the evolution of the Venusians so they will be able to throw in with the allied worlds against the Jovian coalition.  Augie’s plan is thwarted when Mon Pordo, the head of Xan VIII’s secret police who looks like walrus-camel Jabba the “Hut“, captures the duo and takes them and the evolution formula back to Jupiter.

The Jovians plan on using the evolution formula on the Plutonians to create allies of their own.  Mon Pordo has arranged to use the formula on Pluto’s emissaries, the best and brightest, to Jupiter and will present the hyper-evolved Plutonians to a formal gathering of the potentates and generals from the three evil gas planets. Continue reading

Short Reviews – The Bubble Dwellers by Ross Rocklynne

[Originally posted here at Castalia House]

The Bubble Dwellers by Ross Rocklynne appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories and was one of two ‘novels’ in this issue.

The Bubble Dwellers was definitely one of those fantastic stories that makes the pulps worth checking out.  An evil hypnotist, strange humanoids with a mystic connection to their once glorious past, and bad-ass beauty worth risking life and limb for are all to be found on a hostile alien world of mystery.

Sidney Hallmeyer and Will Carrist are having a smoke, drinking coffee and waiting to die.  The heat shielding on their ship just isn’t strong enough, and they’re going to burn up just like the previous two missions sent to research magnetic fields on Mercury and emanating from the sun.  Just as they’re about to shut off their life support and cooling systems, Sid and Will receive an SOS through the solar static coming from a hitherto unknown planet Vulcan.

Doctor Roberto Zondat, a notorious criminal who had to flee earth after hypnotizing several millionaires to write him into their wills then commit suicide, has holed up on the tiny fiery world of Vulcan.  Zondat intends to establish an empire in the hollowed out magma chambers with the help of enslaved natives.  Edith Dupre, a space-racer who had gone missing a few months before and been stranded on Vulcan ever since, managed to escape the grubby mitts of Zondat and his henchmen to put out the call for help.

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Short Reviews – Battlefield in Black, by George A. Whittington

[originally posted here at Castalia House]

Battlefield in Black by George A. Whittington appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.

Captain Jon McPartland has problems.  His girlfriend Almira is the daughter of Marshal Denton, “Supreme Commander of all Solar System forces”.  The peoples of Earth and her solar colonies are governed by a “Congress of Specialists”, which is sort of like a cross between a PhD review board and a Senate.  Academics are running everything and the worlds have been disarmed.  Only the “Space Patrol” remains to enforce law in the Solar System.  Almira is trying to get into Congress as a head shrink by putting together a presentation psychoanalyzing Jon; as the daughter of a military bigshot who’s presenting on a bona fide war hero, why she’s a shoe-in to be welcomed into the ranks of the ruling class!  Jon doesn’t want to have his head served up on a platter to a bunch of egg heads who’d probably like to put him out of a job, and the couple has a big fight right on the eve of disaster.

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