When I created my Hugo novel spreadsheet earlier this week – yes, of course there’s a spreadsheet! If I ever start a project without first creating some sort of spreadsheet or database to track it than there is something seriously wrong and someone needs to get me to a doctor, fast! Anyway, when I created my Hugo novel spreadsheet earlier this week, I forgot to scroll down on the Wikipedia page to the “Retro Hugo” nominees and winners. Oops! That meant that I missed several earlier novels so I had to go back and add them. I surprised to find a couple of the oldest (1946) were available for the Kindle and as soon as I saw the cover (and $2.99 price tag) of Red Sun of Danger by Edmund Hamilton (writing as Brett Sterling) I knew it would be the next one I would read. There’s something about ridiculous pop art of the 1940s and 1950s that I love. Despite the whole, damsel-in-distress thing there’s an inherent goofiness that speaks to me. It’s perhaps one of the reasons the sci-fi covers of the 1980s and 1990s turned me off so much, with their wide shots of planets and distant ships; where was the danger? The romance? I mean, look at this thing!
How could you not want to read that?! I mean, really? What could possibly be happening? Some sort of dragon is attacking a robot while Jane of the Jungle cowers in the background. What does any of that have to do with a red sun? And who is Captain Future? I was psyched! I did some quick “research” by looking up Captain Future on Wikipedia (this was #18 after all, I didn’t want to go in blind) and then I started reading.
Captain Future is Curtis Newton, born to a pair of scientists living on the moon. Together with their friend and colleague Simon Wright, they built a giant robot (Grag) and a shape-shifting android (Otho). They also transplanted Simon Wright’s brain from his aging body into a box with lenses to see and magnetic means of locomotion. As with any good hero story, Curtis’ parents are killed and Grag, Otho, and Simon “The Brain” Wright (soon to be known collectively as “The Futuremen”) raise him on the moon. Curtis is super-intelligent, athletic and the all-around perfect human specimen and actually wants to use this surplus of awesome to help people, anonymously. Captain Future is born.
Our story starts when the colonists of the distant planet Roo threaten to secede from the System Government, a problem because the planet provides 90% of the vitron (a substance that provides long life) to the System. Were the secession to succeed, prices for vitron would be driven up and the entire System might collapse. It seems the native Roons, peaceful co-habitants for nearly a decade, have suddenly begun attacking the colonists and the colonists are blaming the government for not being able to stop it. The President calls upon Captain Future and the Futuremen, as well as the scientists who discovered vitron, to go to Roo and discover who’s behind the obvious plot to monopolize vitron.
What follows is the standard series of cliff-hangy chapters and ridiculous adventures you’d expect. There are “atom-gun” shootouts, giant worms, paralyzing spiders, toxic flowers, and the “night-dragons” seen pictured above. (I have to admit, as a huge fan of John Scalzi, the night-dragons gave me a serious case of squee as I imagined them leaving Roo after the events of this book and heading to Skalandarharia!) It’s as predictable and cheesy as you could want. Check out the inflated language and over-use of adverbs endemic of the style and period:
Quord was tearing the weapon away from Newton, and Otho could not shoot because Captain Future was between him and the Venusian.
Newton rallied his dizzied faculties to avert the tragedy. Quord already had the butt of the gun and his finger was tightening on its trigger. Dazedly, Captain Future lunged forward, twisting the Venusian’s arm around at the moment he pulled the trigger. (Kindle location 1876)
At the same time, there’s an obvious parallel to be drawn to the treatment of the Native Americans (indeed any indigenous people) by European settlers and pioneers. The culture clash that can so easily occur when no one bothers to take the time to learn about each other is all there in the “superstition” (involving Kangas, of course) the criminals use to incite the Roons to violence. It’s not subtle. And, thankfully, it’s generally a positive message as the government refuses to even consider genocide (you never know so soon after WWII!) “It’s utterly against System Government policy to massacre the native inhabitants of this world.” (Kindle location 845)
While a surprise that something so obviously pulp was nominated for a Hugo, it’s a good reminder that even the silliest of stories can have something to say. I truly enjoyed my introduction to Captain Future. Wikipedia mentions that a movie was in the works at sometime, and while IMDb lists is simply as “in development” I sincerely hope that it will one day come to fruition. The world could stand to learn a little something from Captain Future and the past.
Bechdel Score: 1 of 3