Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: The Solar Invasion

Rounding out my reviews of SUPER SCIENCE POWERED pulp scifi novels is The Solar Invasion.

Out of these books, it is interesting to note that The Solar Invasion is far and away in the worst shape. While the others are in very good condition (all things considered), The Solar Invasion has a number of loose pages held in by only friction and good intentions. This is probably, however, more a function of previous owners being rougher with this one than with the other two.

Anyway, on to the meat. The Solar Invasion is (I'm guessing a bit) the twentieth story in the Captain Future series. Here, even though The Solar Invasion was written by Manly Wade Wellman, we are treading familiar territory for Greatly Belated Book Review readers (all two of you)-Captain Future was originally created by Edmond Hamilton, author of The Star Kings. (If this your first time here, The Star Kings was reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, and I linked my review of it in the above paragraph.) Why are there so many Captain Future stories (there were seven after this one)? Partly because, like much early science fiction (and quite a lot of older novels), it was serialized in magazines before being published as novels, and it had its own regular magazine.

Moving on. Captain Future is explicitly aimed at a younger audience, specifically young boys, and thus is light on real continuity and, quite frankly, reads a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon... were it possible to read such. This is not inappropriate, as it was adapted into an anime.

That theme song is so '70s. Anyway, it is almost certainly not a coincidence that the spaceship takes so long to get across the screen-the series came out one year after Star Wars and its famous opening scene. (Incidentally, this is one of those series that is rather obscure to English speakers and very popular in other countries. The German intro is rather better than this one, IMHO.) The existence of this anime is just another thing that this series ends up having in common with Lensman.

Lots of people don't like Saturday morning cartoons. I for one say "more for me." (Wait, watching cartoons doesn't exclude others from the experience. Phooey.) Anyway, The Solar Invasion is just a single episodic event from a long series of episodic events in the Captain Future series. Thus, reading any of the rest of the series is totally unnecessary, and I won't bother dwelling on the existence of such any longer. I promise. (Not really.)

Rather than give a lengthy synopsis of the very basic sort of plot (INVADERS FROM THE FIFTH DIMENSION STEAL THE MOON TO USE FOR INVASION!!!), I'll go into some stuff on the characters. Why? Because like many Saturday morning cartoons, the characters are more interesting than the stories surrounding them.

The central character is (obviously) Captain Future. It's not a wonder he goes with this handle, for his real name is Curtis Newton. Poor boy. Li'l Captain Future didn't have to worry about schoolyard bullying, though, because he was orphaned and then raised by an android, a robot, and a brain in a jar. On the Moon. With no one else on the Moon, because the Moon was only previously inhabited by him, his now-deceased parents, and an android, a robot, and a brain in a jar. Captain Future is the smartest, quickest, and best-trained of all space police or whatever. He was rapidly able to deduce that the Moon had been stolen rather than destroyed, because there was no debris. (Too bad for you if the Legion of Space's keeper of the peace had used AKKA, huh?)

The android is named Otho, and is exceedingly flexible and malleable (think Mr. Fantastic lite). He is a master of disguise, able to, on a moment's notice, disguise himself as almost anyone, using only the wigs and makeup in his utility belt. He also has a fighting style which relies on being hard to punch... and wrapping his legs around people. He sounds kinda gay, actually. (Not in the pejorative sense, although some would say so.) Anyway, as befits such a trickster, he has a pet named Oog, which is a "meteor mimic"-some kind of magic animal that apparently inhabits... meteors. Yes, they inhabit only space debris that is burning up in the atmosphere. (Sorry, my inner science dweeb was just asserting himself.) Oog has the psychic power to track any entity it has ever met, and can also perfectly mimic anything it can imagine or sense in someone else's mind. It frequently turns into things that people are thinking about, which has vast, nigh-untold potential for embarrassing situations. Sadly, as this book is aimed at childrens, this potential is unexploited.

The robot is named Grag, and is massive, dumb, and strong (he is frequently compared to dynamos and tractors). He's so dumb, at one point he fought his reflection. I am not making this up. He has a "moon-pup" named Eek. Moon-pups eat metal. Okay, whose bright idea was it to give the robot a metal-eating pet? Probably Otho's, as he and Grag have a bickering dynamic. (Speaking of eating metal, Grag ate metal too. Hmm...) Hilariously, although Grag is dim-witted, at one point he is monitoring experiments that others set in motion. Also not a good idea.

The brain in a jar, known ever-so-creatively as the Brain (no, not that Brain), was originally Simon Wright, a scientist who worked with Captain Future's parents. He apparently had a terminal illness, and was saved by Cap's scientist parents. (Oyah, they're the ones who built Grag and Otho. Did I not mention that?) In his jar, he is surprisingly not useless, for the jar can fly and is armed with tractor beams-i.e., he has minor telekinesis. He's smart, and amusingly the book seesaws back and forth between him and Captain Future being the smartest in this or that situation.

Then, there is the character who is my favorite female character out of all three of these books I've reviewed-Joan Randall. She's some kind of liason between Captain Future and the law department. She is described as being the equal of any man but Captain Future. And she is really fun, as is demonstrated by this passage:

"Why worry? [N'Rala] flung at him. "You'll not survive the conquest, so it won't make any difference to you."
"I wish that N'Rala would try to escape," said Joan rather dreamily. The gun stirred in her hand, and N'Rala lost her smile.

(She isn't killing her, just intimidating her. Just thought I'd clear that up.) This one moment makes Joan Randall stand out from the other female characters from these books.

Anyway, this stalwart team is arrayed against various enemies, such as Ul Quorn, "magician of Mars," and N'Rala, who are both recurring characters, and are so boring and typical of this kind of fiction I won't really go into them. There was also an emperor guy, who N'Rala and Ul Quorn were allied with, and whom N'Rala accidentally shot.

The invaders, by the way, were invading because their sun was dying, and Captain Future saved the day by crashing their giant superdreadnaught craft into it, causing it to reignite. Awesome.

This book has more of a bunch of random, fun ideas that were violently smashed together than an actual plot. This is not a bad thing-this kind of fiction can be very fun. I know I like it. I think it compares somewhat favorably to the other books, not tremendously better or worse. Its writing, in and of itself, is a tad more basic and "youth-oriented," which is to be expected. It's amusing to note that it has a very not youth-oriented cover for my copy.

Signing off, because I've said enough, though I could say more, and I need to get the heck off now.

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