Thursday, November 9, 2017

Slaves of the Soarers

Read/Watch 'em In Order #86

A few years ago, I had a lot of fun writing a post that gave quick overview of all the stories that appeared in the October 15, 1935 issue of Adventure Magazine. I wanted to do the same thing again with another pulp, but this time make it a part of my In Order series by looking at the stories in the order they appeared in a particular issue of that pulp. Whether this is a proper use of the In Order concept may be debatable--until you remember that its my blog and I'm probably the only person in the world who would be tempted to debate the point.

So I have chosen the August 1939 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. This particular issue was picked in part because it is available electronically both on the Internet Archive and can be purchased at Amazon nicely formatted for a Kindle. Mostly, though, I picked it because it has a really, really cool dinosaur-themed cover.

There are 8 novellas and short stories in this issue. One of them--Race Around the Moon--is listed in the table of contents as a novel, though I think the editors may have been stretching the definition a bit. It's not that long.

So, you've just bought Thrilling Wonder Stories from the newsstand. Eagerly leafing through an annoying 10 pages of advertisements, you come to the first story: "The Man from Xenern," by Stanton A. Coblentz.

This story is narrated by a humanoid (largely human looking, but with a prehensile tail) native of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. A member of a once great civilization, the species had waged global war and bombed themselves back to the Stone Age. Another intelligent species, large flying creatures dubbed Soarers, then swooped down to take over and pick up the pieces. The humanoids, now called Crawlers by their new masters, are used as slaves by the brutal Soarers.

The main character is someone captured by the Soarers and, at first, taken as property by a young female Soarer who is also a spoiled brat. When the protagonist can't take the abuse he endures from her any longer and bites her, he is sent first to work in the hatcheries and then in the mines, where Crawlers are used to mine radioactive materials until the radiation kills them.

He eventually makes a break for it, but has nowhere to go in the maze of tunnels that make up the mines. But when a pair of Soarers finds him, they don't turn him in. Instead, they make him an offer that might not only get him out of slavery, but also get him away from what has become a Hell Planet.

"The Man from Xenern" is a pretty good story, creating an interesting alien world. It does, though, have a couple of flaws. The minor flaw is the protagonist's tendency to compare things to Earth animals: "trapped like rats" or "screeched like a parrot," for instance. Of course, we could assume that, since the story is being presumably translated for us from an alien language, the metaphors are translated into Earth terms. All the same, it puts a small bump in the road to Suspension of Disbelief.

The major flaw is that the protagonist doesn't actually ever do anything significant. He does bite his first owner and make a desperate but quickly futile attempt to escape near the end, but mostly stuff just happens to him. To be fair, you can argue this is the point--the story is a metaphor for people helplessly trapped in slavery or other terrible situations. As drama, though, it makes the story a little disappointing.

But this is just one story out of eight. When we return to Thrilling Wonder Stories, we'll experience some time travel shenanigans in "The Time Twin."

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