Thursday, July 14, 2016
Take a 500 Year Nap, Then Save the World
Last week, I wrote about what I felt to be the single best story from the Summer 1945 issue of Planet Stories (available to read online HERE).
Declaring that one the best was a close call, though. The issue also contains a novella--"Spider Men of Gharr," by Wilbur S. Peacock--which is also a lot of fun.
The basic premise is similar to the classic 1929 tale Armageddon 2419, in which Anthony Rogers (later known at Buck Rogers) is in suspended animation for 500 years, waking up to discover Earth has been conquered by aliens.
In "Spider Men," a guy named Kimbrell Trent is frozen when a pipe containing super-cold fluid burst. He was located inside a secret base--something recently built to defend against the invading Gharr.
The Gharr are great villains--big four-armed bipedal cyclopian aliens who never make a sound, but are implacable and apparently unstoppable. No weapons can hurt them and humanity is steadily being enslaved.
When Trent wakes up after his 500-year nap, he discovers the Gharr are still in charge, with many surviving humans kept in camps where they are forced to breed and produce slaves for work off-planet.
The first person Buck Rogers met after waking up was the beautiful Wilma Deering, who was a member of a band of freedom fighters. Trent doesn't buck tradition here--the first person he meets is the beautiful Lura, who is a member of a band of freedom fighters.
Actually, the comparisons I'm making are a bit unfair. "Spider Men" does initially parallel the first Buck Rogers story in several ways, but it has its own feel to it. I have no idea if Wilbur Peacock was familiar with the original story and consciously modeled aspects of his story after it. But if he did, we can forgive him. He manages to come up with something good.
Trent has a rifle that fires explosive bullets and a pistol that is essentially a powerful flame-thrower. The Gharr threatening Lura is impervious to both these weapons, of course, but Trent uses a clever tactic that allows he and the girl to escape.
He hooks up with her group, using his knowledge to repair some old equipment--another parallel to the earlier story in which Buck used his knowledge of World War 1 military tactics to beat the aliens
Later, he accompanies Lura and a few others on a raid to free some human slaves. His weaponry comes in handy here--the Gharr might be immune to them, but the robot guards and the big six-legged carnivores they use has "guard dogs" can be destroyed.
Things go awry when Trent and Lura are captured. But this actually provides them with a chance to learn the real nature of the Gharr and just maybe give them a chance to destroy the invaders.
The Gharr really are a great creation. Their invulnerability; their bizarre appearance; their apparent inability to communicate directly with humans; and the creepy twist regarding their true nature--all of this adds up to move them to the top of the list of scary alien races. It is the Gharr as well as the differences in detail that help give this story a different ambiance than Armageddon 2419, with several intense action sequences spicing things up considerably.
So though "Raiders of the Second Moon" is the best in this issue, "Spider Men of Gharr" is indeed a close second. Though I am a little confused about one aspect of the story. If the Gharrians never speak, how the heck did mankind find out they are called "Gharrians?"