Thursday, September 14, 2017

Light Swords And Poison Sprays

Light swords? The good guys (and one traitor among the good guys) use light swords. George Lucas admits that ideas used in Star Wars came from many different sources, including pulp science fiction. Maybe lightsabers came from this story?  Enough has been written about the genesis of Star Wars that the answer to this question is out there somewhere, but it is now impossible to read about the light swords without thinking about Jedi Knights and lightsabers.

Anyway, the story we are talking about is "Kaldar: World of Antares," first published in the April 1933 issue of Magic Carpet Magazine. In it we discover that if you are an indigent with no family and an adventurous streak, then there are some very interesting job opportunities out there for you.

This is what Stuart Merrick discovers when he answers an advertisement asking for just those qualifications. He finds out that a group of scientists have discovered a way to transport a person to a planet in another solar system. The trouble is they don't know what he'll find when he gets there--or even if the planet is habitable. It's a dangerous job and the scientists are very upfront about this.

Merrick agrees, asking for sturdy clothes, a knapsack full of food and a pistol. I love this story and I'll be praising it here, but it annoys the heck out of me that no one--either Merrick or the supposedly genius scientists, say "Hey, maybe we should send along a camera and a few rolls of film as well."

Anyway, he'll be automatically teleported home after three days as long as he returns to the same spot on which he arrived.

The experiment is a success. Merrick arrives on the planet Antares in the middle of a vast city and causes quite a stir among the human beings who are living there. They soon have him hooked up to a language-learning machine. He's a little reluctant to go along with this at first, since it involves sticking electrodes directly into his skull. But a pretty girl named Narna convinces him to do this and he is instantly given the ability to speak to everyone.

I don't blame Merrick for this. Pretty girls can wrap me around their little fingers at a moment's notice as well.

Anyway, Merrick arrived just as the people of Kaldar (the city of humans) are deciding on their next leader. It turns out he popped up on a particular spot at just the right moment to convince nearly everyone he should take charge.

This job will entail a little more than speed learning language and (it turns out) getting married to the lovely Narna. Kaldar is surrounded by a variety of non-human races, the most dangerous of which is the spider-people calls the Cosp. The humans actually know very little about the rest of their planet, because they are hemmed in and often attacked by these enemies.

The Cosp use poison sprayers and a device that envelops an area in thick darkness. The good guys have light guns and, for hand-to-hand work, light swords that disintegrate whatever they touch. The Cosp have always had a tactical advantage, primarily from the darkness generator, and frequently raid the city for slaves.

When Kaldar is hit by a raid, Merrick comes up with a new tactic that helps even the odds. But a traitor among them kidnaps Narna and flies away with the Cosp. So Merrick has to lead a small rescue party into the Cosp city--a dwelling hollowed out of a metal mountain--to get Narna back.

It's a fun, exciting story, full of the imagination that Hamilton always brought to his tales. If I had a complaint (other than no one thought he should bring a camera--gee whiz), it's that the two guys who go along with Merrick on the rescue mission are underused. Jurul is a master swordsman and Holk is an incredibly strong warrior. Together, they make a fun team, but they don't get to do much.

But I have discovered that there are two more Kaldar stories out there. I'm reasonably familiar with Hamilton's work, but simply missed ever seeing these particular tales before. I'll have to find them and continuing reading about Merrick's adventures on Antares. I hope Jurul and Holk get more stuff to do, but I'm sure I'll enjoy the visit nonetheless.

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