Guest Post | G.W. Thomas on Hawk Carse

Author G.W. Thomas is back with the next in his series of articles looking at the great space pulp characters. Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is www.gwthomas.org. He is also editor of Dark Worlds magazine. Thanks for another great article, G.W.!

The author of “Hawk Carse” was one of the Age of Wonder’s great mysteries. Who was Anthony Gilmore? The answer turned out to be Harry Bates and Desmond W. Hall, the editor and assistant editor of the magazine that published Hawk’s four original adventures, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, what fans now call the Clayton Astounding. This magazine was the first to offer Science Fiction as an adventure medium (not a hobbyist magazine like Amazing or the high-brow of Campbell’s Astounding in 1938) for Pulp readers during the Depression era. And the hero of such a magazine would have to be an amazing adventurer.

Living on the Saturnine moon, Iapetus, Hawk roars around the solar system in The Star Devil, the fastest and most up-to-date cruiser. Amongst Hawk’s allies is Friday, the black man rescued from a Venusian slave-ship by Carse, nick-named ‘Eclipse’. He is a muscular and quick-witted friend. Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow (or M. S.) is the scientific mind behind Carse’s modern gadgetry, working away in his secret laboratory to create new and exciting weapons for Carse to use against his sinister enemies such as Kui Su, the evil puppet-master behind the criminals of the solar system, master to men like Judd the Kite. The model for this dastardly villain isn’t hard to spot: Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Along with Rohmer’s good guys and bad guys, Gilmore also inherited his racial elements, but more on that later.

The first episode in Hawk Carse’s career was the self-titled story “Hawk Carse” (Astounding, November 1931) which details how Carse’s shipment of Phanti horns, harvested from Carse’s ranch on Iapetus, are stolen by Ku Sui’s agent, Judd the Kite. But the theft has a more sinister plot behind it. For when Carse rescues the stolen horns and begins to pursue the ship of villains who attacked his ranch and killed his people, the voice of Judd the Kite announces a special doom is coming. The phanti horn has been infected with a killer fungus that fills the ship with flesh-eating greenery. Judd the Kite wasn’t interested in the valuable horn but in capturing Carse and taking his space ship for his own. The pirates return to Iapetus to celebrate and Carse must do some quick thinking and even quicker shooting to save Friday from a terrible death. This tale sets up the series well with plenty action, reversals and host of baddies, but the over-all feel is more of the range than the spaceways. It isn’t hard to see how Bates and Hall used Western plot elements to create the tale. As Gene Roddenberry would sell Star Trek thirty years later as “Wagon train to the Stars”, so too did Anthony Gilmore begin on the farm then look to the stars.

The Affair of the Brains” (Astounding, March 1932) picks up after the first story with Hawk and Friday going to keep Judd the Kite’s rendezvous with Ku Sui. This proves ill-advised since Ku Sui captures them and takes them to his secret base on an invisible asteroid. Ku Sui uses a weird color machine to ring information out of Carse, namely the location of his friend, Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow. For Ku Sui has taken the brains of the galaxy’s top geniuses and connected them in a special tank. The combined power of these minds gives him a kind of mental conglomerate that he uses to invent new creations and to plot his evil schemes. Capturing Leithgow, Ku Sui forces Carse to watch the operation that will remove his brain. From a seemingly escape-proof cell Carse and Friday manage to get free, capture the operating room and their friend Leithgow. Then using the advice of the brains they escape their barricade, destroy the dome that the asteroid base uses to hold in the atmosphere, and are blown out into space in spacesuits. The scene of Ku Sui torturing Hawk Carse seem to be taken right out of a James Bond movie (something that won’t exist for 30 years) for Bates and Hall were inspired by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, just as Ian Fleming would be years later.

The Bluff of the Hawk” (Astounding, May 1932) is a short interlude in the saga of Carse and Ku Sui. It begins right after the events in “The Affair of the Brains”. Using the prototype spacesuits they escaped in, Hawk, Leithgow and Friday jet back to Satelitte III, landing in a swamp. Hawk is attacked by a tentacled monster while they sleep after the arduous journey, fending it off with a ray gun. Carse sends the other two to an ally nearby while he goes into the city of Porno (unfortunate name choice!) to retrieve papers Leithgow left behind when kidnapped. On these, in a numerical code, is the secret location of Leithgow’s lab. What seems a mere notation to us will be quite clear to a genius like Ku Sui, so Carse desperately needs to get the papers. Unfortunately they have been taken by a Venusian agent of Ku Sui. (Venusians are odiferous and Carse is able to logically deduct who has taken the papers, Lars Tantril, Venuisian drug-dealer and Ku Sui agent). Using the spacesuit, Hawk flies to Tantril’s ranch, flying low and having to evade the large flying monsters of Satelitte III. Hawk attacks the base, knocking out all the guard towers. In the panic he doubles back and finds his way into Tantril’s inner sanctum and the secret papers. Unfortunately, Lars and the boys capture him, knocking out the grav plates on his suit and making flying impossible. Now comes the bluff of the title. While secretly destroying the incriminating numbers from the paper, Carse suggests to Tantril a trade. He will explain the single weakness of the drug-dealer’s base if he’ll let him go free. Neither party is acting in good faith. Tantril agrees but has no intention of freeing his biggest enemy. Hawk leads the Venusians to the lake near the base and slowly works his way deeper and deeper until he finds the drop off. Sealing his suit, he dives to the lake bottom and walks away laughing.

The Passing of Ku Sui” (Astounding, November 1932) is the longest and in many ways the weakest of the series. Hawk knows that Ku Sui will be meeting Tar Lantril at his ranch, giving the Hawk and his friends a chance to find the invisible asteroid and kill the captured brains. Using a scanner invented by MS they go to the asteroid, take it over and lay a trap for the returning Ku Sui. Instead of asking for death the brains want to be placed in new bodies, so Hawk captures Ku Sui and forces him to operate, for only he can return the brains to their bodies. An unfortunate sub-plot hinging on race muddies the story but eventually the brains are placed in new bodies and Ku Sui is being taken to Earth to clear MS’s name. But Ku Sui escapes to his asteroid, which is burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, and Carse follows him in a finale in which the villain dies (but we don’t see it!) and the hero wins. Smell a sequel here? Working in the Fu Manchu style, the authors have built in an escape route to allow the baddy to return. This is one of the structural weaknesses that make the ending unsatisfying.

And so the original adventures of Hawk end with the passing of his arch-enemy. Or does it? – as they like to say in bad films. In 1942 Hawk would appear one last time in “The Return of Hawk Carse” (Amazing Stories, July 1942). Written by Harry Bates alone it appeared in the rival magazine Amazing (because Astounding had morphed into the top SF market under John W. Campbell and such space opera would never appear there.) Amazing Stories was no longer the leader in SF but an entertainment magazine much as the Clayton Astounding had been. Hawk’s return was not significant enough to earn the cover (which went to “Blitzkrieg in the Past” by John York Cabot and its dinosaur fighting a Nazi tank) though the top of the cover bears “THE RETURN OF HAWK CARSE by Anthony Gilmore”. The plot picks up where it left off with the wives of the scientists who had had their brains transferred being shocked and horrified by the gross bodies the men now inhabited. There is madness and suicide and eventually Kui Su shows up to create the Unborn Q, a composite man who ultimately beats his creator and hustles him off stage like a naughty boy.  As Lester del Rey says in The World of Science Fiction (1979): “…But time had dimmed the luster. It was no longer the right atmosphere for Hawk Carse.” The hero of the Great Depression was not the one that a United States at war required.

Issues plague today’s editors of these old stories: racism, sexism, old ideas about politics and people. It may have been acceptable in 1931 (even 1942) to feature Asians as “Yellow Peril” villains and Uncle Tom African-Americans but today these elements cause our teeth to grate and there is a desire to edit them away. I was faced with this temptation while preparing the Clayton Astounding reprint series for RAGE m a c h i n e Books, but with a little thought I paused. Granted Gilmore’s portrayal is not politically correct by today’s standards, but let’s consider the other 99% of space opera from that period. How many of these other stories even contain people of color (except green perhaps)? Very few. If any. The alternative to racism appears to be completely ignoring the existence of other races or creeds altogether. This seems to me to be an even worse form of discrimination. I chose to leave the contents of “Hawk Carse” alone. Readers are not so inept at distinguishing between current and out-moded attitudes that we need to treat them as children. Hawk Carse is one of the great adventure heroes, warts and all. It would be a shame to get only half his story.

Previous entries in G.W. Thomas’ series for the Adventureblog:
Buck Rogers
John Hanson of The Space Patrol Service

Guest Post: GW Thomas on John Hanson of The Space Patrol Service

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.

Guest Post: GW Thomas on Buck Rogers: The First Space Hero

I’ve never had a guest post before, but GW Thomas runs the very excellent Adventure! blog and not only are our blog’s names similar, but our interests are so close that I was thrilled when he agreed to write a series of articles about classic Space Pulp heroes for me. And even more thrilled when he decided to cover them in chronological order, because my particular brand of OCD is all about chronological order. Thanks again, GW, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

People often forget where things begin. Take Buck Rogers for instance. If you asked anyone about Buck you’d probably hear about the new comic book or the old TV show with Gil Gerard or if you were lucky the old newspaper comic strip. But these and other incarnations of Buck were not the first. Buck Rogers began in the Pulps and is really the first true Space Hero. He was the first and because of that, for many years Science Fiction was known as “That Buck Rogers stuff.” (Said with a sneer usually.)

Buck started out in the world as Anthony Rogers. He was featured in two connected stories, “Armageddon 2419” (Amazing Stories, August 1928) and its sequel “Airlords of Han” (Amazing Stories, March 1929) by Philip Francis Nowlan. The magazine these stories ran in was the first all-Science Fiction Pulp, created by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. It shouldn’t really be surprising that the first Space Hero appeared in the first Space magazine. Gernsback was a crusader for Science, believing technology would change the world into a paradise. His background was radio and electronics and his magazines appealed to these kinds of readers, with lots of gadgets and pseudo-scientific speeches about them.

The plot of “Armageddon 2419” concerns the evil Han (yes, this was the era of Yellow Peril and racism is found in these stories) who take over the World. Anthony Rogers is a man from our time who is put to sleep by a mysterious gas in a mine and wakes to find his beloved America under the Han’s cruel thumbs. He joins a group of resistance fighters, who armed with their flying belts, take on the Han and begin to win back their homeland. Wilma Deering is one of these plucky rebels and the two eventually fall in love. In the sequel the rebels win the world back from their oppressors and all is well. Sounds clunky and just a little silly, doesn’t it? But Nowlan’s style was straight forward and the action scenes with flying men fighting the nasty Han ships are exciting and colorful. We all like to cheer for the underdogs.

At this point, Anthony Rogers is not yet Buck. On January 7, 1929, the National Newspaper Syndicate began a comic based on Nowlan’s story and Anthony became Buck, named after the 1920’s cowboy actor, Buck Jones. The strip was written by Nowlan and drawn by Dick Calkins. Beginning as an adaptation of the stories, the comic changed into tales of space and other fantastic adventures. It was in the comics that characters such as Black Barney, Killer Kane and Dr. Huer were added. The sign that Buck was influential far beyond those two original stories was that he was imitated. Flash Gordon began as a comic strip on January 7, 1934. Ironically, the man who played Flash in 1936, Buster Crabbe, would don the silver underwear to play Buck in 1939.

“That Buck Rogers Stuff” was here to stay. Radio, television, comic books, movie serials. All popular signs that Buck Rogers had gone from fighting the Han to becoming an SF icon, a fate some SF writers lamented. Adventure Science Fiction had begun and the pages of the Pulps, from Amazing Stories to Astounding Science Fiction to Thrilling Wonder Stories, would feature brash heroes who fight against fantastic enemies and win. Space adventurers would appeal to fans for generations to come. George Lucas, when he created his Star Wars franchise in the 1970s was thinking back to those Buster Crabbe serials and longing for the color and excitement they had. And all thanks to “That Buck Rogers stuff” and the first hero of space.