Thursday, October 31, 2013

If you get eaten by a giant scorpion's babies, it's your own darn fault!

Read/Watch ‘em in Order #40

No, no, no, NO! For gosh sake, woman, if you being pursued by evil-doers and are lost in a monster-filled wilderness, you do NOT tell your husband that while he searches for your missing riding beasts in one direction, “I’ll take a look in [another] direction.” You just don’t do that. You are a warrior princess, not a member of the Scooby Doo gang.

I suppose I should explain what I’m ranting about, shouldn’t I?

Otis Adelbert Kline’s last volume in his history of Ancient Venus was first serialized as “The Buccaneers of Venus,” beginning in the November 1932 issue of Weird Tales. When reprinted in book form, it was given the title Port of Peril. In this, Kline gives us his last recorded adventure of former Earthman Robert Grandon and his wife Vernia.

When we last saw these two at the end of Planet of Peril, they were married and getting ready to rule over the powerful nation of Reabon and live happily ever after.

But if you live on an Adventure Planet, you don’t get to live happily ever after—at least not without doing a lot of work first. During their honeymoon, Vernia is kidnapped by pirates.

The pirates are Huitsenni, a race that has kept the location of their home port a secret for generations while capturing the ships of other nations for loot and slaves. This means that Grandon can’t just lead his large navy to capture the port and rescue Vernia—he doesn’t know where the darn place is. So, though he orders his forces to mobilize, he opts to chase them in a small ship with just one companion.

His companion is Kantar the Gunner—the best shot on Venus. Grandon is, of course, the best swordsman, so the two actually make a pretty nifty team.

What follows is a well-constructed adventure story that uses a trick Edgar Rice Burroughs often employed. We get a chapter from Vernia’s point-of-view, ending with a cliffhanger. Then we get a chapter from Grandon’s point-of-view, ending with its own cliffhanger. Then back to Vernia and so on. It’s a very effective narrative technique that both keeps the story moving rapidly and generates quite a bit of suspense.

Anyways, Grandon and Kantar are soon also captured by the pirates. They escape, but discover Vernia’s been taken by a pirate to a remote island. Here, she’s captured by a race of toad people who want to sacrifice her to the giant snake they worship as a god.

Then they get recaptured by the pirates. An attempt by Grandon and Kantar to rescue Vernia from the pirate emperor goes awry when Kantar inadvertently rescues the wrong princess. (Though to be fair to him, Kantar didn’t know the pirates had a spare princess lying about.)

Vernia ends up in the hands of a tribe of Antarctic ape men who ride zandars—three-horned riding beasts they often sell to the pirates. Kantar is now busy rescuing Princess #2 from various dangers (and rather perfunctorily falling in love with her), so Grandon has to get Vernia back on his own.

He succeeds, but when they need to find their lost zandars, Vernia suggests splitting up. Grandon foolishly allows this and the girl ends up being CAPTURED BY A GIANT SCORPION WHO
WANTS TO FEED HER TO ITS BABIES!  Seriously, how could she not see that coming?

Sword-and-Planet novels depend heavily on the Rule of Cool. If the adventures, monsters, villains and escapes are cool enough, we can accept the stories as real and ignore (or happily explain away) any lapses in logic. Port of Peril succeeds because it is pretty darn cool. Previous novels in the series had great stuff such as cavalry riding giant ants or a villain who mind-transfers into a new robot body if his current one is destroyed. Port doesn’t quite match this level of coolness, but a hidden pirate city, toad people, giant snakes and giant scorpions go a long way all the same.

But Vernia is a little disappointing. In Planet of Peril, she was awesome—a brave and intelligent warrior queen who contributes as much as Grandon does in foiling the various bad guys they encounter. Here, she’s just a Damsel in Distress. Even setting aside her mind-numbingly stupid decision to go off on her own and get captured by a scorpion, she just doesn’t get to do much. Heroes should be rescuing their princesses, but a some point during the five different times Vernia needs to be rescued, it would have been nice to have her contribute something.

Oh, well, taken as a whole, Kline’s Mars and Venus novels are great reads.

We still have one more Thin Man movie to look at. For the literary side of the “Read/Watch ‘em in Order” series, I think we’ll examine the three Captain Zero novels—pulp stories about a hero who turned invisible (whether he wants to or not) at certain times of the day.

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