Thursday, May 21, 2015

Robot Cities and Fungus Forests

Read/Watch 'em in Order #55

Captain Future's fourth adventure (cover dated Fall 1940)  has a different vibe to it from the previous three. This time, the bad guy isn't trying to overtly conquer the Solar System. Instead, he's just trying to make a ton of money.

The villain--known as the Life-Lord--has found a Fountain of Youth on one of the worlds in our system. If you drink some of the water from it, you become young again. But its highly addictive, so you have to keep drinking it or you'll abruptly re-age and die. The Life-Lord gets people hooked, then drains them of all their wealth to keep them supplied.

The novel was given the generic title Galaxy
Mission when republished as a paperback.
The set-up seems like a deliberate metaphor for drug addiction. That seems just a little bit odd for a story from 1940--certainly drug addiction existed, but it wasn't in the public eye anywhere near to the degree it would be a decade or two later. So the metaphor might be accidental.

In either case, the story is a good one, playing out like a police procedural. Captain Future and gang start on Venus, setting up a sting operation to catch one of the Life-Lord's pushers. This goes awry and Grag the Robot is captured.

Grag's escape involves blowing himself into space, then getting rescued by a passing space liner. Circumstances require him to pose as a nearly-mindless automaton and he's claimed by a guy who runs a traveling freak show, which is performing on Mars. Grag's exit from the freak show is truly hilarious.

By this time, Captain Future is also on Mars, following a clue that takes him to the Machine City--a city run by robots whose organic masters died off millennia ago. From here, the next clue takes him to Saturn, where the villain at one point releases various creatures from a zoo in an attempt to kill the hero. There is more investigation, a couple of murders and a nice twist at the end involving the Life-Lord's true identity. Future finds one hide-out in the poisonous Fungus Forest, then eventually finds the location of the source of the drug in yet another supposedly inaccessible area of the ringed planet.

I really like the balance Hamilton strikes with this story. It is indeed a police procedural, but Space Opera elements are still there to fire up our imaginations as the story progresses.

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