Book Review: The Mystery Men of Mars by Carl H. Claudy
Dr. Isaac Lutyens, Professor of Physics and Higher Mathematics, has created what amounts to a gravitic engine. His first thought was to create a spaceship in his attic and orbit the moon. This being successful, Dr. Lutyens decides that the next step is to visit Mars. Brilliant but not in the best of health, the professor decides that he needs some assistants for the journey.
Dr. Lutyens’ vaguely worded jobs advertisement to the students nets 137 applications (college students needing spare cash then as now) from which he selects two. Alan Kane is nearly as smart as Dr. Lutyen’s, holds three undergraduate degrees in science, and is currently pursuing his doctorate. Theodore Dolliver is strong as an ox, can cook, and has come to University City to finish his education after several years of wandering the globe. They also just happen to be orphans with no current romantic attachments.
Dr. Lutyens nicknames Alan and Ted “Brains” and “Brawn” respectively and fills them in on his plans. Though the younger pair are skeptical of the viability of the journey, both of them are eager to take part in the adventure of being the first men on Mars.
This is the first book in the “Adventures in the Unknown” series by Carl H. Claudy (1879-1957), first published as a serial in The American Boy magazine in 1931. In addition to his science fiction in what we would now call the young adult field, Mr. Claudy was also a noted Freemason author and worked for DC Comics for a short period.
The author clearly did a bit of actual research for the story, as the characters discuss when the Earth and Mars will be closest, making their voyage shorter and thus more convenient. Constant acceleration and the effects of increased/decreased gravity are also discussed. On the other hand, it’s a good thing the mission didn’t require extra-vehicular operations, because the protective gear described would have been woefully inadequate.
Our protagonists are not on Mars more than an hour when they are captured by the local inhabitants, who they at first mistake for robots. Most of the Martians are in fact full-body cyborgs, whose brains have been cloned from either a Lesser Brain or the Master Brain, and infused with the information needed to fulfill their role in Martian society. The non-cyborged Martians are of the insect-like race that inhabited Mars’ surface eons ago.
The Martians have long since abandoned most fleshly emotions, with their highest calling being “the good of all.” The humans soon grasp that their one advantage over their captors is that they are violent and have guns, giving them long-range killing capability. While the Martians certainly have no qualms about killing, there has not been war or murder on their planet for millenia, so they don’t grasp what the Earthlings are willing to do to escape.
Indeed, the Martians are quite unable to understand that when they tell the humans that their brains will be placed in cyborg bodies to serve the good of all, this horrifies the humans and makes them even more determined to escape.
The professor, whose health has been failing, does not survive the escape attempt, forcing Alan and Ted to leave the planet on their own. Something goes wrong with the ship upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, and the young men are forced to ditch it in the sea.
As it happens, Dr. Lutyens left no records of his research or plans for the gravitic engine anywhere that anyone can find. Nor did he tell anyone but his assistants about the spaceship or his plan to visit Mars. And the men brought back no proof of their story, so the world disbelieves and mocks their eyewitness testimony. And that’s where the book ends.
There’s some interesting ideas here, especially the cloned brains in robotic bodies with both strengths and weaknesses. But the characterization is of the thinnest, and priority is given to exciting adventure and gosh-wow technology. There’s also short shrift given to the morality of killing aliens; they don’t mind, why should our heroes?
If the concepts mentioned are up your alley, or you just enjoy fiction set on Mars, this might be worth looking up. For others, there are much better early science fiction works to look up.
Magazine Review: Astounding Science-Fiction January 1946 edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Before Analog (see previous reviews), there was Astounding, the science fiction magazine that led the field for many years. Having gotten a copy of an issue from the pulp days, let’s take a look at what wonders lie within. Despite the cover date, the ads indicate it came out in early December 1945.
The lead and cover story is part one (of two) of “The Fairy Chessmen” by Lewis Padgett (a pseudonym for Henry Kuttner working with C.L. Moore.) It is roughly a century into the future, and the world is at war…again. After World War Two, the governments of Eurasia had crumbled, and reformed as the Falangists. They and America are the two superpowers and implacable enemies. Thanks to atom-bomb-proof shields and robot warfare, the war has stalemated for years.
Most Americans live deceptively peaceful lives in scattered communities on the surface, while the warmen toil in vast underground cities whose actual locations are closely guarded secrets. Low Chicago might be below the ruins of Old Chicago, or anywhere in the Midwest. Of course, in such conditions claustrophobia and other mental illnesses are a continuing concern, and it’s up to the Department of Psychometrics to keep the warmen in good mental health.
Which is why it’s concerning that Cameron, the head of the department, has been having hallucinations of eyeball doorknobs and talking clocks. He’s trying to keep it a secret, but his help is desperately needed by the War Department. It seems they have captured a scientific formula from the enemy, one that drives anyone who studies it mad (sometimes giving them strange powers in the process. For example, the levitating man who thinks he’s Muhammad’s corpse.)
There are time travel shenanigans involved, and one character seems determined to produce a specific future. The title comes from “fairy chess”, variants of the strategy game that use changed rules, such as a knight that can only capture backwards, or a 10×10 board. The formula changes the rules of physics, sometimes in mid-equation, and scientifically trained minds crack under the strain.
A nifty throwaway (probably) bit is the existence of “fairylands”, miniature cities with tiny robots that people play with ala the Sims. There’s also an amusing typo when one character claims he’s “half misogynist” when he means “misanthrope.”
Unfortunately, this novel is long out of print, so I have no idea how it ends. The cliffhanger is neat: “The edges of the spoon thickened, curled, spread into cold metallic lips. And kissed him.”
“N Day” by Philip Latham (pen name of R.S. Richardson) concerns an astronomer who discovers the sun is about to go nova. He tells the world, but is dismissed as a crackpot. (Had there been more time, someone would have checked his math and found him correct.) As a result, he finds his spine for the first time in decades.
“Veiled Island” by Emmett McDowell takes place on Venus (the pulp Venus of swamps and jungles.) A three-person anthropological team goes in search of the title island to investigate reports of a new variant of human. Apparently, unlike Earth, Venus just keeps producing new human variants out of the swamps which then climb up the ladder of civilization as they travel to the other side of the planet.
The Earthlings promptly crash-land, losing their clothing and supplies–they themselves have to start from scratch. While struggling to survive, they run into the new variant of humans they were looking for. A variant that seems destined to replace homo sapiens.
The sexism is pretty thick here, the action guy protagonist denigrates his female colleague for wanting to be treated as an equal, calling her a “tomboy” and the type who would have been a suffragette back in the day. (Apparently something like feminism happened in this future, but he’s not too keen on the results.) Over the course of the story, she comes to realize how awesome he is, and they are planning to get married (in the now considered barbaric Twentieth Century fashion) at the end.
The evolutionary science is suspect–emotionlessness is viewed as a huge evolutionary advantage that will allow the new species to outcompete other humans and replace them.
“A Matter of Length” by Ross Rocklynn (pen name of Ross Louis Rocklin) takes place in a far future with galactic travel. A stable mutation has created a new kind of human, the “double-brained” Hypnos, who have the ability to hypnotize ordinary humans. They are not physically distinguishable from other humans, but can be detected by “Sensitives.” Hypnos face severe prejudice, and there’s a war going on between societies that want to exterminate them and those that tolerate them.
All that is background. A Hypno named Joe has been captured by anti-Hypno forces, and was being shipped back to their planet for a show trial and execution when the ship went off-course and landed on a planet where time has gone wonky. There’s a paranoid belief among some of the crew that Joe somehow caused this, or is making them hallucinate this, despite the anti-mind control forcefield surrounding his cell. Eventually, the time wonkiness allows Joe to escape, and he rescues the two people on the ship who are not entirely anti-Hypno.
It turns out that Hypno powers have been vastly exaggerated as propaganda by the anti-Hypno forces; Joe never actually uses his mind control abilities during the course of the story. It’s the holding cell force field that gives him the temporary advantage he needs as it shields him from the time wonkiness for a while. Keitha, the Sensitive woman who tracked him down, is dismayed to learn that she’s next on the extermination list after all the Hypnos have been eliminated (as Sensitives are Hypno/ordinary human crossbreeds.)
Apparently, there are also longevity treatments in this future, as the captain of the anti-Hypno ship holds a grudge against the Hypnos for the death of his daughter nearly a century before, with the war starting later. (It’s a “failure to save” instance–a doctor who was secretly a Hypno couldn’t cure the daughter from a fatal disease, and when his secret was revealed, he was lynched for deliberately killing a human girl.)
“The Plants” by Murray Leinster takes place on a planet with only one form of life. Plants with flowers that follow the sun…or anything unusual that happens. Four men whose spaceship was sabotaged crash-land on the planet. Are they more in danger from the pirates that sabotaged the ship for its precious cargo…or from the plants? A story that has some creepy moments, and could have gone full on horror if the author wanted.
“Fine Feathers” by George O. Smith is the final fiction piece. It’s a science fiction retelling of the fable “The Bird with Borrowed Feathers” usually ascribed to Aesop. A ruthless businessman discovers a way to artificially boost his intelligence by energizing his brain. The process renders the user sterile (somehow) but since he wasn’t interested in having children, Wanniston considers that a small price.
Being superhumanly intelligent gives Wanniston a huge advantage over his fellow Earthmen, and he is soon the most powerful businessman on the planet. But he yearns for more, and when a suicide trap makes it untenable for Wanniston to stay on Earth, he decides to join Galactic civilization, where dwell people who have come to super-intelligence by eons of evolutionary processes. He keeps using the brain energizer, and is soon even more intelligent than the Galactic Ones.
Being logical beings, the Galactic Ones recognize Wan Nes Stan’s (as he now calls himself) superior intellect, and are willing to install him as their leader…as soon as his experience catches up to his intelligence in a few centuries. Wan Nes Stan tries to shortcut the process, only to discover his true limitations and destroy himself.
The story bookends with identical dialogue at the beginning and end, which would be effective if the language in those conversations wasn’t so stilted. It also uses the 10% of your brain gimmick (which admittedly was less debunked back then.)
John W. Campbell’s editorial “–but are we?” is prescient on the subject of nuclear proliferation though thankfully humanity has survived so far.
There are two science fact articles. “Hearing Aid” by George O. Smith is a very short piece on radio proximity fuses. “Electrical Yardsticks” by Earl Welch is about the international standards for the volt, ampere and ohm; how they were decided, and how they are maintained. Lots of math here, and possibly the technology is dated, but likely fascinating reading if you want to know more about electrical engineering.
I liked the Leinster piece best because of the thin line it walks between horror and SF; “The Fairy Chessmen” has some great imagery, but with only part one I can’t judge its full effectiveness.
Overall, an average issue, but well worth looking up for old-time science fiction fans.
Manga Review: My Hero Academia, Vol. 2 by Kohei Horikoshi
I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, or at least a nice Thursday! In keeping with the holiday spirit, let’s have a second helping.
Brief recap: Izuku Midoriya always wanted to be a superhero, but was born without a “quirk”, unlike 80% of the world’s population, and stuck with the nickname “Deku” (no good qualities). After he proves himself to All-Might, the world’s greatest superhero, Midoriya is given the chance to inherit One for All, a unique quirk passed from one hero to another. Midoriya is accepted to the prestigious superhero magnet school Yuuei High, and has changed the meaning of “Deku” to “never gives up.”
There are two main plot arcs in this volume. First up is battle training, with all the students in costume for the first time. Paired into teams and then set up as “heroes vs. villains”, Deku finds himself teamed with likable girl Ochako against his childhood bully Bakugou and the no-nonsense Iida. Bakugou’s grudge against Deku may cause all of them to fail the class if he doesn’t rein it in!
This is the climax of the bullying storyline, and while Bakugou doesn’t become a better person, the bullying stops.
Then the kids get to go to a remote location to learn about rescue work in various environments. But the Villain Alliance rears its ugly head for the first time, putting the students in danger to lure out All-Might. Yes, he’s the greatest superhero alive, but they’ve got Artificial Human Noumu, a being specifically designed to defeat All-Might. And since Deku has the same powers as his mentor…
In between is a chapter about the election for class president, which reveals some background on Iida, who turns out to come from an entire family of prestigious superheroes.
The writing and art continue to be impressive, and there are extra pages of artist’s notes on the various characters. (Perhaps the funniest is of Toru Hagakure, whose power is invisibility. The portrait is a blank page entitled “complete nude.”)
The Villain Alliance is filled with scary-looking characters, and feel like a real danger to the trainee heroes.