Space Opera Redux! (The Alien, Galaxy Novel No. 6; 3-24-1959)

Sorry for the long delay, folks!  It’s not for lack of things to talk about, that’s for sure.

As you know, I am an avid fan of Galaxy (formerly Galaxy Science Fiction–retitled, perhaps, for those embarrassed to be science fiction buffs).  I recently discovered that Galaxy, in addition to publishing a monthly (now bi-monthly) digest, also puts out complete novels in digest format.  These are not serials, mind you, but full-length novels.

This month was a little light in the digest department, there only being Astounding and Fantasy & Science Fiction to review, so I went down to a second-hand store and got me a truckload of old Galaxy novels.  I, sensibly, began with the earliest one I was able to get my hands on, The Alien, by Raymond F. Jones, published in 1951.

Raymond Jones has been around since the early 40’s, and you proably recognize his name from having penned This Island Earth, which was turned into a fairly popular movie.  I confess that I don’t recall having read anything of his before The Alien, and I don’t know if this title has made me hungry for more, though this is not meant to be a disparagement.

This is a surprisingly uninspiring cover for a book that is quite bombastic once you get inside.  Written in true Space Opera style, it is a sweeping tale covering millenia and the galaxy, pitting scientist heroes against religious fanatics.

So far so good…

Actually, the set-up is excellent.  A few hundred years in the future, automation has given humanity overmuch leisure time.  With little to do but argue politics and philosophy, the average lifespan of a government is measured in months, and the people are hungry for a strong leader on whom to latch.

Del Underwood is an archaeologist with no taste for modern Earth.  His self-imposed exile takes him to the asteroid belt, where mysterious artifacts of a long-dead race are scattered.  Apparently, Jones subscribed to the now outmoded idea that the asteroids are the remains of a planet that once exploded (it turns out that there is not nearly enough mass in the asteroids to make a proper planet, and the orbits don’t line up properly to have had a common origin). 

The first third of the book is about how Underwood and his team figure out how to gain entry to a seemingly impenetrable vault.  I love stories like this–essentially first contact through artifacts. 

Once inside the vault, the story gets a bit hackneyed.  The team finds the organic remains of a galactic warlord along with instructions on how to revive him.  Though Underwood quickly gets cold feet about the affair, the people of Earth, desperate for novelty and a leader, insist on the overlord’s resurrection.

After a short gestation, Demarzule is born and immediately takes up the reins of power.  This is Underwood’s cue to leave Earth in a scout ship with a small crew (including the one female character, the talented surgeon, Illia) in search of the weapon that had been used to destroy Demarzule’s planet (now the asteroid belt).

The most likely spot where the weapon might be found is the home planet of the Dragborans, the race that had defeated Demarzule’s people.  Unfortunately for Underwood, the mighty Terran fleet, now serving Demarzule with fanatic zeal, gets there first and loots the planet of all valuables before putting a torch to its ancient (abandoned) cities.  Underwood’s team sneaks to the Dragboran planet’s moon, where some Dragborans still live, though in an apparently primitive state (how Demarzule’s Terrans missed that, I couldn’t say.)

Appearances are deceiving, however, as the remnant Dragborans (who look just like people, as does Demarzule), have secret psionic powers that make them quite formidable indeed. 

The third part of the book, detailing Underwood’s return to Earth to take on Demarzule, aided by the Dragboran power, is pure, overwritten, scientific romance.  Which is not to say it’s bad.  In fact, it was fast and enjoyable reading.  The climax is suitably… climactic. 

On a side note, I appreciated the “softness” of the science fiction.  There is little to date the novel (other than the style, of course), and so it will age reasonably well, I imagine.

So if you spot a copy at your local book shop, or if the thing gets reprinted, and if you like this sort of story, you will not likely regret picking up The Alien.

Next time, some rather scary non-fiction.  If you follow the papers, you know the bombshell (literally) that the Air Force dropped on the press last Friday.  But I’ll save that for the 26th…

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)


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