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January/February 2017
 
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A Voyage To Purilia, by Elmer Rice (1930)


PLANET Purilia is the goal of a pioneering space flight, riding the ether waves with the "Winstead gravitator." As usual in older sf with a humorous axe to grind, the target is Earthly, and satire begins at home.

Purilia is fraught with the fantastic. Violence, slapstick, melodrama and background music abound. Even before landing, the visitors from Earth witness a typical Purilian scene of a girl murderously attacked while teetering on the wing of a speeding biplane. Swift and heroic rescue follows....

Optical quirks of the planetary atmosphere randomly cause such distant dramas and other landscape features to swell into terrifying close-up. Mysterious voices offer commentary: "Spring comes early to the Purilian hills."

Purilia, in fact, is the world of silent movies, with portentous voiceovers as caption boards. Its weird social dynamics and caste system (heroes, villains, nubile "Pudencians") fascinate the narrator, who happens to be an ethnologist. Local biology is also puzzling:

"…babies are really not born, but merely occur. There is no long and difficult period of gestation. No one, in Purilia, has ever seen a woman who gave outward evidence of approaching maternity."

Thus the sweet innocence of 1920s Hollywood. Nevertheless, peril lurks for the unwary. After many cliché-ridden adventures, our hero finds himself blundering into marriage with a Purilian beauty, although he knows the wedding can only be followed by a fade-out into utter tasteful oblivion.

Talkies were already on the rise when A Voyage to Purilia appeared. Enjoy that special musty charm of a satire whose target long ago vanished.

—David Langford

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