Dover Book

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    I was really looking forward to reading this book. I love sci-fi and futuristic novels. But I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, not because it wasn't good. It is awesome. But because it is just a bit too real, and some of the futuristic concepts that Nowlan envisioned for the 25th century are just a little too close to home, I found it rather unsettling. That, and the fact that, I dunno, I think I am just getting sick of war and fighting. It seems that is the theme of 90% of the novels I read.
    This one is truly a classic. Actually, it is two short stories in one book; Armageddon 2419 A.D. originally published in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories in 1928, followed by its sequel, The Airlords of Han, in 1929. But it is not the stories themselves that became so popular, it is what followed. The main character, Anthony Rogers, was renamed "Buck Rogers." Yeah, I'll bet you've heard of him. His comic strip ran for over forty years, and he had also a radio series, a movie serial and two television series. Buck and his beautiful and courageous wife Wilma became quite a familiar couple, as they explored the mysteries of space. These two stories are how it all began. I will provide a (sort of) brief review of both, (and they are both brief stories), and let you know what parts I found so relevant to today, and thus disturbing.

Armageddon 2419 A.D.
    The first one begins in 1927, as WWI vet Anthony Rogers now works for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation and is investigating unusual phenomena at an abandoned coal mine in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). There is a cave in, and the other workers are killed, but Rogers goes into a suspended animation—for 492 years. He awakens in the year 2419, and America is no longer. The Han, a Mongolian Race, has taken over and occupies a number of major cities. Most of the American population had been killed off, but there are still "gangs,"—forest people hiding out, developing their own technology, and awaiting the day when they can kill off the Han and reclaim their country, or what is left of it. Rogers, as he tells the story, is now 81 years old, having spent the first 29 year of his life from 1898 to 1927, and the last 52 from 2419, on.
    There is a lot of "radioactive" technology, and I'm not educated on that sort of stuff, but I wonder if they realized how dangerous radioactivity was back then. Also, the "suspended animation" reminded me of Red Dwarf, an hysterically funny BBC sci-fi comedy series.
    It was on page 2 that my first uncomfortably jarring sentence came along. Nowlan writes, in reference to the invading Mongolian race: "Complete domination of the air rendered communication between these centers a matter of ease and safety." Anyone who is paying attention to what is going on in the skies, now 24/7, with our own government and military dominance would hesitate to explore the future Nowlan has envisioned. This air domination was a big deal even way back then. In H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, it was the air controllers that ruled the world.
    Of course, Rogers has no idea where he is and how many years have passed. He kills game to survive. But after a couple weeks he sees what he thinks is a young boy engaged in a war-like scenario. He kills the one trying to kill him, then rushes to tend to his minor wound. But it isn't a him it is a her, and a very beautiful one at that. Her name is Wilma, and he has saved her from an unfriendly neighboring gang. He tells her his story, and she believes him. She gives him a brief rundown of the history of America since WWI, and it is another case of a scenario hitting too close to home:

It seemed that another war had followed the First World War, in which nearly all the European nations had banded together to break the financial and industrial power of America. They succeeded in their purpose, though they were beaten, for the war was a terrific one, and left America, like themselves, gasping, bleeding and disorganized, with only the hollow shell of victory.

This opportunity had been seized by the Russian Soviets, who had made a coalition with the Chinese, to sweep over all Europe and reduce it to a state of chaos.

    If Trump stays in office much longer . . .

    Anyways, Wilma takes him back to her gang. The others are skeptical of his story. However, they invite him to join their gang, telling him, he may also want to explore other ones. But he joins the Wyoming gang, and Wilma has a bit to do with it. They quickly fall in love and later marry.
    As a WWI vet, Rogers proves to be extremely useful. The gangs have been developing technology over these centuries to one day destroy their invaders. Rogers, however, with his knowledge of war tactics leads them in a new direction using the technology they have developed, plus basic ground combat techniques. Many, or perhaps most of the gangs now get along, though it was not always that way. There are a few who do not, including the Bad Bloods, and another that proved traitorous.
    Each gang is a strictly ruled community in itself. There are factories producing food and weapons and other necessities, all hidden from the Han. Everyone has a role and the people are strong and well-built. Wilma switches between military/scouting roles and factory work.
    The Hans, however, have become effete through their lack of need for physical exertion. They live in cities that are basically one big building and everything is synthetic and mechanized, so after a while, they had no need for agriculture or mining, which is why they have left the surviving Americans alone.

The Han race, devitalized by its vices and luxuries, with machinery and scientific processes to satisfy its every want, with virtually no necessity of labor, began to assume a defensive attitude toward the Americans.

    The Americans have developed technology way beyond the Han. Their long-range communication is excellent, and they can hack into Han communications, but not vice-versa. They have developed ultron and inertron, and I have to admit, I really did not understand his explanations of the electronic and molecular stuff, but the inertron made whatever it was protecting shielded against the Han disintegrator rays, which, like the Martians' rays in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, wiped out everything in its path. That was probably the most threatening aspect of the Han to the Forest People, at least at this point.
    They also had belts, which made them nearly weightless and enabled them to bolt up mountains or leap great distances with little expenditure of energy. They had airships protected with inertron, and ultron wire, strong but invisible, which could allow them to slide down to earth, (wearing their belts, of course) from an airship. And that is how they infiltrated the Han city of Nu-Yok, after which Rogers was proclaimed the New Boss. And the last main event that happens in this story is the destruction of the Sinsing Gang, who sold information to the Han in exchange for gifts.
    Just a couple other points. The first is, what is it with dirigibles? Well, I had to look that up and the reason the word airship is used for them is because that's what they were called. It seems during the early part of the 1900s, people must have thought them to be the wave of future air navigation. Ha! Kipling uses them in his With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D. and I know I have run across them in other stories of this period. Anyways, they were used here, too. A Zeppelin has a rigid outer structural framework, which would have been the variety used in these stories, as they were impermeable to weapons. Sort of. But both sides found ways to get around that.
    And the other, really quite shocking war tactic was the use of "fake news." Yeah, really.

There were gangs which would give the benefit of the doubt to the Bad Bloods, rather than to ourselves, and the issue was now hopelessly beclouded with the clever lies that were being broadcast in an unceasing stream.

The Airlords of Han
    I will make this review much more brief, as it is the conclusion of the previous story. It takes place six months later, in the spring of 2420 A.D.. The gangs are now prepared to rid America of the Han race. They have developed new technology, including batteries of metultron and katultron, greatly improving their abilities to see inside the enemy's buildings with their ultrascopes, and have improved their communications with the other gangs who are all working on the same goal, but not exactly as a unified military.
    The big excitement in this story is that Rogers, while flying in his swooper to spy on a Han airship, goes too close too fast and gets sucked down to it. He manages to break free, but finds himself shooting into a way-too-high altitude and heading out west, to the Rocky Mountains, actually. Unable to get under control, he finally saws off the nose of the swooper, causing it to drop. He bails out, wearing his inertron belt. He lands safely and falls asleep from exhaustion. He tries to contact his gang. Apparently they hear him, but he cannot hear them. All of a sudden he is knocked unconscious. He has been captured by the Han and taken to their luxury headquarters, Lo-Tan, in the Rockies.
    It was pretty easy to tell what city Nowlan was referring to in most cases. Nu-Yok was New York; Clee-lan, Cleveland; Si-ka-ga, Chicago, and so on, but for the life of me, and I even studied maps and looked up lists of cities in the Rockies, I could not figure it out. Maybe it was the only pure fictional one. Anyways, he is held prisoner there for months, but after attempts at "hypnotic torture," to which he did not succumb, he was actually treated quite well. For the time being, although he was warned a painful death was forthcoming. The ruler of the Han, San-Lan the Heaven-Born took an interest in him.
    I will let you read the book to discover how he escapes and how the story ends, but again I want to mention two other prescient elements here. One is that they had extremely efficient underground cities built for escape, as they knew their reign was coming to an end. Hmm. Many people think our government and military have the same thing. But even more creepy was Nowlan's description of the Han, as he looks back:

Latterly, our historians and anthropologists find much support for the theory that the Han sprang from a genus of human-like creatures that may have arrived on this earth with a small planet (or meteor) which is known to have crashed in interior Asia late in the Twentieth Century, causing certain permanent changes in the earth's orbit and climate. . . .

The theory is that these creatures (and certain queer skeletons have been found in the ("Asiatic Bowl") with a mental superdevelopment, but a vacuum in place of that intangible something we call a soul, mated forcibly with the Tibetans, thereby strengthening their physical structure to almost the human normal, adapting themselves to earthly speech and habits, and in some strange manner intensifying even further their mental powers.

    Hmmm, again. Reptilians, anyone? I think that could apply to Trump although I don't think he's all that smart.
    Anyways, even though I was jarred by certain "similarities" that are apparent now, these really are two great stories, and certainly sci-fi classics. Recommended.

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