Thursday, August 29, 2013

Battleships and Dinosaurs

In recent posts, I've mentioned that one of the nifty side effects of ereaders is the increasing availability of fiction from the Golden Age of Pulps. In fact, you don't necessarily have to go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to buy classic fiction. A lot of it is available for free from sites such as Project Gutenberg or

For instance, the pulp story "The Lost Warship," by Robin Moore Williams, was published in the January 1943 issue of Amazing Stories, but has since fallen into the public domain. So you can find it at Project Gutenberg.

The warship that gets lost is the battleship Idaho. And, boy, does it ever get lost! During an air attack on the ship by some Japanese planes, a freak accident sends it and its crew a million years into the past.

Fortunately, when the main character (ex-Navy man Winston Craig) was earlier rescued from a drifting life boat, one of his fellow castaways was a world-renowned physicist. This scientist--who apparently has a PhD in Plot Exposition-- figures out what has happened to the ship.

Unfortunately, he soon figures out that there's no way to return to 1943. The Idaho and its crew are stuck in the distant past.

The ship is menaced by pterodactyls, but the anti-aircraft guns take care of that. Not long after that, though, the Idaho is being followed by high-altitude jet aircraft.

Well, dinosaurs and futuristic aircraft (futuristic from a 1943 perspective) don't normally go together. Not even the scientist can explain this. Nor can he explain the acid that is coated over the sea by the airplane guys, eating away at the Idaho's hull.

The Idaho has to be beached, never to sail again. While Winston Craig, the scientist and a landing party are scouting a jungle, the aircraft attack and zap the bulk of the crew with sleep gas. The villains then haul their prisoners off to an unknown location.

The landing party gets some new information from a cave man they save from a dinosaur--his language is so simple the scientist learns it almost instantly. The bad guys are a not-quite-human race called the Orgums, who capture humans and sacrifice them to the "monster who is always hungry." The Orgums are largely primitive, but inexplicably have some elements of advanced technology.

Now Craig has to quickly plan a way to rescue the crew. This basically means overthrowing an entire civilization with a few men, some tommy guns and a supply of hand grenades. But it just might be possible to turn some of the local dinosaurs into weapons of mass destruction, thus making the odds a bit more even.

"The Lost Warship" is a fun, fast-moving story with a lot of great action. Also, its got dinosaurs in it--something that automatically kicks it up two full points on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale.

It's not without its flaws, of course. There's a few contrived moments that exist merely to move the plot along. The scientist being able to learn the cave man language in something under a minute is the most notable. And the eventual explanation for why the Ogrums have such a bizarre mixture of primitive culture and advanced technology doesn't quite hold up under its own logic.

But the story does have dinosaurs and the action scenes are exciting, so we can afford to be forgiving. Also, one of the biggest "problems" with the story is something I don't consider a problem at all.

Remember that the Idaho has been sent one million years into the past. There they find dinosaurs co-existing with humans. No matter what one's views of how the Earth got started (evolution, creationism or a mixture of the two), this makes no sense at all.

It's something that probably violates the suspension of disbelief for many readers, thus spoiling the story. But it doesn't bother me at all.

Because a few decades later, the great Ray Harryhausen would give us a movie set in one million BC and also populate the world of that time with both dinosaurs and humans.

So I maintain that "The Lost Warship" is simply set in the same universe as 1966's One Million Years BC. While the Ogrums were terrorizing mankind in one part of the world, humans were developing a stronger tribal culture in another part of the world. (Also, judging by Raquel Welch, humans untouched by the Ogrums were developing advanced hair styling techniques.)

For me, that solves any suspension of disbelief problems I might otherwise have had. A connection with a Ray Harryhausen movie, no matter how tenuous (and no matter that I just made that connection up out of mist and moon beams), makes "The Lost Warship" all the more cool.

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