I thought it was high time I read a cheesy, old school, space opera novel so I just pulled the first musty smelling pulp off my shelves which was Edmond Hamilton’s The Comet Kings and give it a whirl.
Set in a future where man has conquered space and spaceships seem to be a dime a dozen zipping throughout the solar system, the story begins with authorities receiving reports of ships mysteriously disappearing in a area between the planets Jupiter and Uranus. The government officials are perplexed and at their wit’s end as scouts sent to investigate also disappear without a trace.
When Captain Future (real name Curt Newton), hears that the last such ship that disappeared had as passengers Joan, the woman he loves and Ezra, an old friend, he dutifully volunteers his rag tag team of the Futuremen to head out and solve the mystery. Lead by Captain Future, The Futuremen consists of Otho the synthetic android, Grag the robot with superhuman strength, and Simon who is just a highly intelligent human brain encased in a floating protective enclosure.
As it so happens, the area in question is also where Halley’s Comet is sauntering during one of it’s cyclical visits. With space barren of any other ships the Futuremen approach the comet only to be sucked into it’s coma (or nucleus if you will). Incredulously the Futuremen discover an entire civilization within. They soon learn that the residents, some of which include the missing personnel from all the lost ships, are now aglow with electric energy. But the Futuremen also determine that the other inhabitants, called the Cometae, were responsible for modify the abductees with the energy force which also makes them immortal, also hold now hold them as de facto prisoners, Joan being one of them, as they are bound to the energy source within the comet. But those who refuse to join the Cometae are thrown into prison where the Futuremen soon find themselves. They then learn that the Cometai are themselves ruled by the Allus, a mysterious unseen alien force who are really the ones responsible for the energy forces.
The Allus who come from the 4th dimension have nefarious plans to suck out all the energy from one conquered planetary system to another and will soon be draining our own. I comes down to the Futuremen to save everyone, but complex questions remain. Why, for instance did Joan agree to undergo the transition? Will Captain Future be able to reverse the process even if he rescues her? Will she even want to revert to being mortal again or has she has she embraced her newfound immortality?
It’s all good swashbuckling space opera fare, none too deep in character development but with enough of a zany plot and action to keep one amused. The Allus use mind control to keep a tight leash on their captives, but they also use it in more interesting ways such as leaving doors wide open and then embedding mental blocks so that captives cannot escape despite no barrier. The effect of the electrical lifeforce that the Allus accord to the Cometae also means that the Futuremen effectively cannot touch them and since they wield weapons that emit electrical discharges, getting ahold of those weapons would still be useless to use on the Cometae. These are all obstacles that the Futuremen have to circumvent in their efforts to combat the Allus.
There are also a number of secondary cardboard characters that have a few scant lines of dialog and hardly figure into the story. These include Cometae king, queen and evil wizard who forms the alliance with the Allus, a few helpful guards that form the seed of a Cometae revolution, and a helpful martian scientist. Even Joan has but a few lines and honestly hardly serves a purpose other than to be Curt’s driving force. Paint by the Numbers space opera.
I’ve since found out that The Futuremen was a fairly renowned series of books to which Hamilton was the most prolific contributor and the person largely associate with the series although he was not the originator. Also of note to those who may be interested, I learned that there was a Japanese anime made based on the characters and it was also translated into French as “Capitaine Flam”.
My only regret is that I was deceived by the fabulous cover art (artist anyone?) in that there was no creature as the one depicted to be found anywhere in the story.