Dark Worlds Magazine‘s GW Thomas is back with the next in his series of articles looking at the great space pulp characters. If you’re not familiar with Dark Worlds you should check it out. It’s full of great, fascinating, and educational stuff like this. Thanks again, GW! –Michael
Buck Rogers may have been the first recognizable hero in Science Fiction, so much so that his name became synonymous with the genre, but his fictional adventures were quite earthbound. Only once in the comic strips did he take off for the stars, quite often with little or no scientific basis. (For example, the classic Frank Frazetta cover from Famous Funnies #212 shows Buck and his beautiful damsel as well as some troll-like aliens, all flying about space without oxygen. Buster Crabbe did similar things in his serial appearances too.)
The next series hero after Buck is not a household name but anyone reading his adventures will immediately associate them with Science Fiction TV shows like Star Trek. The space patrol recollections of Captain John Hanson read today like the adventures of Captain Kirk. Appearing over thirty years earlier, the ten stories about Hanson and his crew of dependable spacemen, helped to establish the nautical feel of space opera. The stories contain the military ranks, submarine-style stations and the all-too-familiar military man who is not understood by civilians motifs.
The series creator was Sewell Peaslee Wright (1897-1970) a journalist, advertising writer, radio operator and Pulp writer who penned westerns, horror, mystery as well as Science Fiction. Wright published the entire series in Clayton’s Astounding Stories under editor Harry Bates, who would in turn create the next great hero (but more about that later). Bates’ attitude as editor was quite different from Hugo Gernsback’s, who believed Science Fiction and inventions could save the world. Bates offered his tales as entertainment and nothing more. Because of this, the John Hanson stories are not mired in lengthy description of gadgets but have a speed of pace similar to other Pulps.
Wright begins with an ancient device in adventure writing, the old man recounting his memoirs, in this case to young punk spacers who don’t know how hard it used to be out there. “It must be remembered that I am an old, old man, writing of things that happened before most of the present population of the Universe was born— that I am writing of men who, for the larger part, have long since embarked upon the Greatest Adventure.”
His recollections of his old ships, first the Tamon and later the Ertak, feature a familiar crew as well known as McCoy, Spock and Scotty. These are the impetuous and scrappy First Officer Correy who “loved a fight more than any man I ever knew”, the staid and trustworthy Kincaide “a cool-headed, quick-witted fighting man, and as fine an officer as ever wore the blue-and-silver uniform of the Service” and the third officer Hendricks “while young and rather too impulsive, was a good rough-and-ready scientist, as well as a courageous and dependable officer.” The great screw-shaped door on its gimbals and the television disc which allows the men to see out of their ship are familiar devices while the menore was a clever invention of the author’s.
Unlike the aliens on Star Trek, Space 1999 or Doctor Who who all speak English, Wright, back in 1930, addresses the inability of Earthmen to speak alien languages. The Menore allows them to do this using telepathy. This kind of logical working out of such problems is one of the reasons Wright was a good SF writer and not just a run-of-the-mill hack.
Some of the Star Trek parallels, which are unavoidable for a ST fan reading today, include: getting stranded on an asteroid and having to fix the ship, killer trees, a world with a hidden dark culture working against the other, time travel, a scene in which an officer tells the captain he is too valuable to go on an away mission, nostalgia for Earth, a piece of Earth technology being confused for a god, laser weapons, and giant space amoebas.
The ten stories were:
“The Forgotten Planet” (Astounding, July 1930)
“The Terrible Tentacles of L-472” (Astounding, September 1930)
“The Dark Side of Antri” (Astounding, January 1931)
“The Ghost World” (Astounding, April 1931)
“The Man from 2071” (Astounding, June 1931)
“The God in the Box” (Astounding, September 1931)
“The Terror from the Depths” (Astounding, November 1931)
“Vampires of Space” (Astounding, March 1932)
“Priestess of the Flame” (Astounding, June 1932)
“The Death-Traps of FX-31” (Astounding, March 1933)
John Hanson and his tales are not well-remembered after eighty years. The Golden Age of Science Fiction would eclipse much of what came before it but Hanson did go before the Space Opera heroes to come from Hawk Carse to Captain Future and beyond into television with Captain Video, Tom Corbett to Star Trek, and beyond. Sewell Peaslee Wright went ahead of many of them, and his work still stands as enjoyable entertainment.