I loved pulp science fiction when I was younger. I read Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930’s, edited by Isaac Asimov, as well as several other anthologies from that and subsequent eras in High School. They had everything a young kid could want, space ships, atomic guns, little green men, monsters with one eye and fifty arms, brave men and women who needed saving.
Nowadays, for the most part, it has changed a lot. The technology is much more advanced, and it seems more reality based. Alien cultures are much more varied and nuanced and in many cases much more frightening than early authors ever imagined. Women are increasingly being portrayed as the star, saving the day for everyone, and for that matter women have become noted authors as well. Reading modern space novels often makes older books seem childish by comparison.
However a few days ago I was looking at a list of eagerly awaited science fiction books for April on The Verge and came across an interesting entry. It was about a book entitled Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele. It said it was based on a series of pulp Sci-Fi novels focused on a character named Captain Future primarily authored by Edmond Hamilton, and written with the permission of the Hamilton estate. I had no idea who Edmond Hamilton was, even after reading his bio and with the strong possibility that I could have very well have read him years ago. I went and made my favorite Amazon purchases, a 99 cent MegaPack, this time of his writing.
Naturally the stories had a very dated feel to them, but some worked and some did not.
In a couple of his stories such as Door into Infinity and The Legion of Lazarus he uses odd phrasing, as the stories went along his writing seemed to get stronger but he still had the odd turn of phrase. A person that is knocked unconscious is in ‘stygian obscurity” and another person’s hands are “lax in their lap”, another’s eyes were like “burnished crumbs.”
Some of them read like 1950’s sci-fi movie scripts. The City at World’s End about the town sent millions of years into the future due to a super atomic blast certainly did. Afraid of the people from the future (the present really) the simple townspeople are willing to take up weapons in order to protect their way of life, one that is over and the only reason they are alive is because of advanced technology. This is one that did not age well.
Some did, when taken in context. Blasters firing, odd alien parasites, space pirates and ulterior motives in The Stars, My Brothers was good fun although the thought that an heiress would fall for the man that just put her life in deadly peril seems a bit farfetched. But the hero always seems to get the woman in these stories.
I am not sure if the stories in the MegaPack are in the same order in which they were written, but they felt like it. I found the early ones to be far inferior to the later. The early space stories particularly seemed dated even for the time in which they were written.
The later stories including The Man who Evolved, and Devolution, about where mankind came from, all were very good and I could really seeing them as being forward thinking in their day. He seemed to find his stride in later stories and they were much more readable and interesting, and cover more than just Sci-Fi, such as his The Monster-God of Mamurth that takes place in Africa and The Man who saw the Future that takes place in France and are more fantasy than Sci-Fi.
One thing that stand out, and not in a positive way, is how women are portrayed. Just like in movies where they fall when fleeing a slow moving mummy, woman are frail sorts, with the possible exception of the one in Corridors of the Stars. While she is capable of knocking a man out with a single blow, she is also referred to as a ‘piece’ and other derogatory descriptions. That is the one real standout example, but in the rest of the stories the woman always fall for the man, who is always right.
The odd thing is that one of the reasons that I read the book was to get an idea about the Captain Future books. I guess I should have looked at the synopsis better because there were no short stories in which that character stared. I am always a sucker for serial books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and Pellucidar series, or even Doc Savage by Lester Dent et al, I always like them as late night comfort reading when I really do not want to think. After the first few stories I enjoyed the stories and will look for a Captain Future book to see what that is like.