Presented in roughly the order I read them in.
Birthplace of Creation
This is a short story/novella starring the cast of the Captain Future cycle, but it’s got more of a serious tone, more space-opera sensibility, and less comic-bookish wackiness than the next example reviewed below.
Only four men make their homes on the lifeless and motionless surface of Earth’s Moon–Curtis Newton (née Captain Future), Grag the robot, Otho the android, and Simon Wright, the brain in a jar. They have just returned from repairing the great machines–which they also designed and built–that replenish the waning Venusian atmosphere when Grag notices that a chair has been moved three full inches from where he had left it.
Further investigations of this alarming happenstance then reveal that the tape record of the Birthplace has been disturbed. Moved, handled–copied–which all four know means risks utter disaster.
What is the Birthplace of Creation? What is the still center to the hideous power of the galaxy-spanning storm, shrouded by cosmic dust that veils the light of the whirling suns? And what was the warning left by the long-gone Watchers–the creatures whose powers to resist temptation was beyond that of men?
Rated: Sensawunda and square-jawed space heroes never go out of style.
Calling Captain Future
….this one, on the other hand, is right up there with Doc Savage and The Spider–pure pulp. It’s okay in its time and place, but at the moment, slightly too much for me.
Earthmen No More
ENM is a Captain Future story, but fortunately it’s one told in the space-opera genre, rather than the pulp-fiction. John Carey was lost in space–in 1931, pioneering flight towards Jupiter–but has been rescued and revived by Curtis Newton and the Futuremen, at a time so far ahead that dates aren’t really relevant and the frontiers of space have expanded to the stars themselves.
It’s a bit of a shock to him.
Meanwhile, the one called Captain Future is angry, and it is no mere passing rage: the low-down stock trader Lowther has established a monopoly on fuel production–and raised prices to the point where spacers on Pluto are irrevocably stranded. There is nothing to be done on Earth about it–legally–so what is the trick that Curtis Newton has up his sleeve for the trip he and Lowther are both taking to Pluto….?
– This is a solid adventure story of the type Talbot Mundy would write, with spaceships taking the place of camels or horses, and the voyage to Pluto in place of a caravan or convoy to Samarkand–or Shangri-la.
– Having a pretty-okay-himself protagonist describing the totally-awesome pulp hero from the outside is a time-honored and useful tradition.
– As mentioned, the genre and style are space-opera: laconic and evocative, with a sense of wonder and plenty of adventure, and the subdued but still deep emotional sensibilty of Tall Spacemen Heroes(TM).
– The fish out of water protagonist is interesting in and of himself, and his dissociation from Earth echoes the dissatisfaction of the readers, the people who may not be in Curtis Newton’s league, but who still long for other skies and far horizons.
– Rated: Calling Captain Future!
How exactly did multicellular life evolve from the original protoplasmic blobs that first appeared on Earth? How did the awesome changes that brought us, men, the pinnacle of the long march throughout time, spiraling ever higher and higher from one evolutionary branch to another, occur? And where did the original blobs come from, anyway? And what is the fate of the men to whom the awful truths are revealed…?
It’s all a great and awe-inspiring mystery, really. One for the ages. Science can only explain so much. The truth may never be known.
This is a short and clever little story which begins when the narrator, observing his SF-writing friends a-socializing, remarks: “How hard we work at the business of acting like ordinary good guys!”–which is a remark that could be uttered to any group of SFfians ever, really.
Rated: Well….I kind of resemble resent that remark.
Moon of the Unforgotten
I’m going to have to study up on Captain Future, aren’t I? This is another CF story, and despite my not hugely loving Captain Future or the Futuremen cycle, it’s a darned good story. This is a short story, and it’s fast moving, sketched out in stark black and white–yet a simplistic plot and fairly simplistic characters still can’t detract from sheer sober skill of Hamilton at drawing the lines.
We get throwaway descriptors such as:
They walked swiftly toward the slope of the low ridge beyond which lay the city. The thin dust blew beneath their feet and the old wind sang of danger out of its long, long memories of blood and death.
-And in just a few words, we know of the world Europa, which has stolen the aged of Earthsystem, stolen the friend of the Futuremen, knows now of the Futuremen’s presence and is prepared for their coming!
Rated: Youth is wasted on the dumb.
– foreshadows or repeats the device used in his Starwolf second book: what need of spaceships when your mind can range the stars–the galaxy–the universe–freely? What need of bodies?
– The titular godlike men are the Vorn, and they are, as seen in their brief appearance, quite something.
– The villains are again quite weak.
– The hero is the Competent Everyman, but nothing special, and after he’s bamboozled by the villains, he’s overshadowed by the Vorn without being able to really redeem himself against a worthy foe. That’s a tad disappointing.
– Pulp romances are usually kind of flat, but this one takes the underwhelming cake.
Rated: Starwolf did it better.
Monster-God of Mamurth
– Below-average camelpunk.
– It’s a giant spider in an invisible temple.
– And it ends with the narrators deciding that they are not going to investigate themselves, not them, no way, no sir. Which kind of undermines the whole point of the genre.
The Monsters of Jotunheim / A Yank in Valhalla
This story is so cheesy it’s probably banned in California as a health hazard.
Rated: I’m a Loki fan myself…