Short Reviews – The Pursuit of the Pankera, by R.A. Heinlein [Guest Post from J. Comer]

We’re really busy this week with the day job and with plugging the Mongoose & Meerkat crowdfund and weren’t able to get the next Amazing Story review in the queue. Also, trying to wrangle advertisements for the Summer Special, which are due today! Fortunately, friend of the magazine and sometimes contributor J. Comer is filling in this week with a short review of Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera.

Love him? Hate him? What’s impossible is to ignore Robert Heinlein(1907-1988).  Not only did Heinlein pioneer publication of SF/F stories in “the slicks”, such as The Saturday Evening Post, he originated multiple ideas now standard, such as the ‘generation ship lost in space’ (Universe  and Common Sense, collected as Orphans of the Sky). While his work varied from excellent (Citizen of the Galaxy, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress) through badly dated or mediocre (“Gulf”, Podkayne of Mars) to disgusting(To Sail Beyond The Sunset[1]), his narrative authority never waned.

Heinlein’s work is grouped into four or five periods, the last of which began with his illnesses in 1970- peritonitis and a blocked carotid artery, among others.  During this difficult period he wrote two novels: I Will Fear No Evil, a plotless sexual novel[2], and an unpublished work which his wife Virginia dismissed as “yard goods”.  This second work has had more than one name[3] and after Heinlein’s death remained among his papers, archived at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  The present reviewer looked at the fragments of the novel in the 2000s.  They were reminiscent of the later The Number of the Beast, which came out in 1980.[4]  There the matter rested for some time.

In 2019, Phoenix Pick announced that they would publish a ‘new’ Heinlein novel consisting of these fragments. This novel, titled The Pursuit Of The Pankera, as well as a new edition of The Number Of The Beast, came out in March 2020.

The plot of Pankera is that of the published Number of the Beast through about p. 185. Two couples, Zeb and Deety and Hilda and Jake(Deety’s father), meet at a party at Hilda’s home. The two couples marry that night as an unknown foe attacks.  While in hiding, Jake installs his ‘time machine’ (which jumps between alternate universes) in Zeb’s flying car.  The four then flee Earth and visit many universes, some based on famous novels. (At this point the two novels’ plots diverge).  The two longest such visits are to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and to E.E. Smith’s Lensman series.  In Number of the Beast there is endless bickering among the four crew as to who will lead, and with a visit to a steam-era (“Space: 1889”) British colony on Mars; the plot of Number of the Beast then goes on to include Lazarus Long and his polyamorous family of immortals amidst many allusions to classic SF.

The plot of Pankera is more coherent. The four main characters leave Barsoom, as the two women are pregnant and need an obstetrician, and they visit the Land of Oz, where Glinda installs two bathrooms in the back of their car by magic.  The future space-opera world of the Lensman books has doctors, of course, but is at war with Boskone.  So the characters befriend the Lensman of Prime Base, and make plans to fight the Panki, the Barsoomian name for the dimension-hopping enemies who forced them off Earth.  Then they find a world (“Beulahland”) where there are doctors and there is enough nudism that the unhuman Panki cannot wear human disguises (as they do once on Barsoom and once on Earth). The end of the novel has the four main characters, the Lensmen, and others unite to wipe out the Panki with an ending reminiscent of The Puppet Masters, published in 1951.

So what can we make of these two novels, which ultimately are one novel?  First of all, the publisher’s claim that they’re an experiment by Heinlein has little foundation.  Heinlein would never have been able to publish two novels which were identical for more than two hundred pages[5]; as it stood, he did not get the advance he wanted for Number of the Beast, possibly because of its quality.  So what are these books, one of which has a coherent plot and appealing action, and one of which is rambling and full of sexual references?[6]

Larry Niven, friend and colleague of Robert Heinlein, offers an answer in his Scatterbrain (2003).  Niven remarks:

A writer’s best friend is his editor…many good writers don’t understand [this], and those included Robert Heinlein…the generation of writers ahead of mine came out of an era of censorship…Robert Heinlein was the first science fiction writer to become too powerful to be censored…Heinlein should not have used that power…his earlier novels were lean and dense with ideas… But his later novels sprawl all over the place. They needed an editor!

The fact of the matter is that Number of the Beast fell victim to the no-edit clause, and that I Will Fear No Evil is the same.  Niven’s critique here was written before Pankera was published, but still stands.  Pankera is simply the best fragments of Number of the Beast, worked over by a competent editor.  The fact that the Burroughs and Smith estates acquiesced to their characters appearing also helped Pankera to work as an homage to classic SF.

Is this worth reading? For Heinlein completists, it’s a don’t-miss.  For those who’ve read some of his work, these two books are optional.  If you’ve read no Heinlein, these are not the place to start.  Of the two, Pankera is the more coherent novel by far, thanks to Heinlein’s posthumous “best friend”. For aspiring writers these two works could serve as a sort of example of how much difference a competent editor can make.  All in all, we’re better for the experience.

 

[1] Reviewed here by Jo Walton.  https://www.tor.com/2011/07/06/heinleins-worst-novel/

[2] A review is here: https://inverarity.livejournal.com/175890.html

[3] Names recorded for this manuscript include Six-Six-Six and The Panki-Barsoom Number Of The Beast.

[4] A negative review is here: https://ansible.uk/writing/numbeast.html

[5] The Dictionary of the Khazars is a counterexample but is one book whose two texts differ by one word.

[6] David Potter’s interpretation of Number of the Beast is inconsistent with reading either the Heinlein papers or Pankera but is presented here for completeness.  https://heinleinsociety.org/rah/numberbeast.html

 

 

Short Reviews – Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams

Terror Out of Zanadu, by Robert Moore Williams, appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org

Terror Out of Zanadu

The February issue continues with another adventure on Mars.

A small band is on a quest to find the strange Martian city of Zanadu. Hidden near an oasis in the harsh Martian deserts, Zanadu is said to have riches beyond imagination. The small band has reason to believe that the rumors of Zanadu’s wealth are true because one of their number has been there!

One of the party had been in the deserts, near death, when he was found by the Martians of Zanadu and nursed back to health. He has returned for his own reasons, but some of the ruffians he’s brought with him are only out for the wealth beyond imagination.

After an arduous trek, the band reaches Zanadu and is brought in by the Martians, but something is wrong. Zanadu is haunted by a force or presence, something that was not there before on the man’s first visit to the city. Why? And will they manage to escape Zanadu with their lives?

While there wasn’t a lot of story meat to this one, it was brilliantly atmospheric. There were a few places where the characters could’ve been fleshed out a bit better, and a longer story, encompassing the man’s original visit, the son’s disappearance, and the dame’s effort to find him, would’ve been great, but as it was, this was another solid hit for this issue.

Be sure to back the Kickstarter for Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking, out soon from Cirsova Publishing!

Short Reviews – The Man Who Forgot, by Charles Creighton

The Man Who Forgot by Charles Creighton appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It can be read hereat Archive.org.

The Man Who Forgot

This issue offers up yet another thriller with Charles Creighton’s The Man Who Forgot.

A man wakes up amnesiac on Mars; all he remembers is that he was from earth. Right away, he gets sucked into intrigue when he meets Clara, a beautiful martian woman and loyalist, and Karn, her shifty brother who is a secessionist and member of the Martian Secret Police.

The woman introduces the man to her family as Rand Beecher, a chess historian, with the hopes that it will buy him some cover and keep her brother from taking too much an interest in him.

Turns out that the opposite is true: Karn takes “Rand” to meet a fellow secessionist, to reveal the plot that’s afoot. In fact, whomever “Rand” is, he bears a striking resemblance to the real Rand Beecher and is familiar with his works. Karn and his ally Aaron have a proposition for Rand–as a brilliant chessmaster, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to dispassionately plan out an actual war. A war of Martian secession.

Trying to unravel the mystery of his identity, Rand concludes a number of possibilities. The most likely is that he is an earth sleeper agent, either the real Rand, or someone who resembled him, programmed by hypnosis to infiltrate the secession movement. He would either give them bad strategy or good strategy, and either harm the Martian rebel effort by misdirection or the sheer fact that whomever had set him up on earth already knew whatever gambits he had to offer the Martians. In all likelihood, he was set up with Clara’s family because of the easy contact with Karn or because the loyalists in the family were in on the operation… Or are they?

This was a pretty exciting little spy-fi adventure with a lot of twists and turns as the mystery of Rand’s real identity unravels. I don’t want to go into it too much, lest I spoil it too badly. This one’s worth reading, for sure.

Enjoy exciting pulpy adventures? Be sure to check out the new issue of Cirsova out now!

Also, don’t forget to click Notify me on Launch for our upcoming Mongoose & Meerkat Kickstarter launching next week!

Review of Jim Breyfogle’s The Golden Pearl

Nathan Housley over at Castalia House has reviewed the latest Mongoose & Meerkat story from Jim Breyfogle, The Golden Pearl.

With this aquatic adventure, Mangos and Kat cement themselves as Cirsova’s answer to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

You can read the whole review here.

The Golden Pearl, by Jim Breyfogle, appears in Cirsova #3, Out Now.

Catch up on all of Mangos and Kat’s adventures in Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking, coming soon from Cirsova Publishing!

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Short Reviews – Vanguard of the Doomed, by ???? as Gerald Vance

Vanguard of the Doomed is credited as by Gerald Vance, an Amazing Stories house name shared by several authors. The actual author of Vanguard of the Doomed is unknown. It appeared in the February 1951 issue of Amazing Stories and can be read here at Archive.org.

Vanguard of the Doomed

A short-wave radio enthusiast and electronics engineer meets a girl over the air-waves. While she’s short and coy, the guy ends up absolutely head over heels for her, and she seems to like him. So when she cryptically signs off, telling him she’ll get in contact with him later if she can, then doesn’t show up for over a week, he worries begins to worry and decides to investigate.

What ensues is a tense, fairly action-packed post-war sci-fi thriller. Turns out the dame is the secretary of a mad scientist… who is actually an ex-Nazi posing as the mad scientist he’s done away with and using the mad scientist’s mad science to strike a blow for a resurrected Reich. Anyway, she’s stumbled on his secret plan to draw a planetoid referred to by astronomers and the media as “The Celestial Hammer”.

Remember the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon, where the astronomer has a magnet ray that he uses to get a better look at asteroids and meteors by directing them closer to earth and disaster ensues? Basically that, but the guy is doing it on purpose because he’s a Nazi and he’s gonna hold the world for ransom Cobra Commander style.

One interesting tidbit is that the Nazi villain is named Max Borzeny. Now, Borzney isn’t a real German name, but a thinly disguised spin on Skorzeny. Otto Skorzeny’s exploits in the war brought his profile much higher than his rank and responsibilities–he was larger-than-life boogeyman both feared and admired by Allies. The Borzeny in the story bears little resemblance to Skorzeny, but it is indicative of some of the mystique of SS Commando who, only a few years later, would be turned into ‘a real life pulp hero’ in Charles Foley’s hagiography Commando Extraordinary. Also worth noting, that despite being a relatively minor figure in the Reich, Skorzeny would go on after the war to basically become the real life Red Skull.

 

Early Review of Some New Cirsova Stories, NJACC Postponed, and Looking for Summer Advertisers

2-3 Spring Cover 0.03 Front Cover Only JPGReviews – One early, and though partial, positive review is in for the new Cirsova from Jesse Abraham Lucas at PulpRev.com. Jesse offers pretty thorough, and glowing, reviews of both Alpdruck! by Michael Reyes and Pour Down Like Silver by Cynthia Ward.

If you have a review of the new issue, let us know!

Be sure to check out the new issue from one of these retailers!

Amazon [eBook and Print]

Barnes & Noble [Print Only]

Lulu [Hardcover Only]

AerBooks [Print Only]

NJACC – With the current Corona Virus scare, large events are shutting down right and left. Now that the first cases are showing up in Arkansas, my state is ready to get in on the panic, with toilet paper and hand sanitizer disappearing from shelves and price gouging laws going into effect.

So, Not Just Another Comic Con has been postponed to August 29 & 30. Probably a good thing, since if any of the headliners canceled, I’d be one of the most famous people there, and I can’t rely on that dismal level of foot traffic at my table.

That means that the next con we’ll be at will be Saline County Comic Expo, which is cool cuz we’ll be there with Tim Lim, who’s done some Wild Stars art for us, and Mark Pellegrini, whose story Just Don’t Open the Door is in our Summer Special.

Summer Special 2 2020 cover 0.03 Front Only

Looking For Summer Advertisers – We’re looking for advertisers for our Summer Special. This one really snuck up on us, in part because I’ve been so sick the last few weeks, but we’re trying to line up advertisers for the May 23rd Summer issue. This one is gonna be a biggie!

Sky Hernstrom is back, plus both Paul Lucas and J. Manfred Weichsel. Not to mention Donald Uitvlugt has an all new Eldritch Earth story. Plus several excellent writers who are new to the pages of Cirsova Magazine!

Mongoose and Meerkat – Lastly, this is just a reminder, be sure to hit “Notify me on Launch” for the Mongoose and Meerkat Kickstarter!  We want to be able to hit our goal on the first day or so of the Kickstarter. So, uh… be ready with your credit card and be sure you have your parent’s permission!

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Steve DuBois’ New Pulp Faves of 2019

Pulp Author Steve DuBois recently posted his top New Pulp stories of 2019, and two of them were Cirsova yarns! This means a lot, because Steve is an excellent author himself.

Included in Steve’s picks are Barbara Doran’s The Book Hunter’s Apprentice and Xavier Lastra’s The Elephant Idol.

Check out the reasons behind, and the rest of, his picks here.

Both The Book Hunter’s Apprentice and The Elephant Idol can be found here in the Spring 2019 issue of Cirsova.