AVENGERS OF THE MOON

by Allen Steele

Tor

978-0-653-8218-4

300pp/$26.99/April 2017

Avengers of the Moon

Thomas Ed Walker

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


At the first Worldcon in 1939, Mort Weisinger imagined the character Captain Future. The following year, Captain Future magazine appeared, mostly filled with Captain Future stories written by Edmond Hamilton. In these stories, Captain Future was really Curtis Newton, orphaned when his parents were killed by Victor Kaslan (later changed to Victor Corvo) and raised by the robot Grag, the android Otho, and the genius scientist Simon Wright, whose brain has been preserved after his body failed. In 1996, Allen Steele used the characters and concepts as the jumping off point for his Hugo Award-winning novella "The Death of Captain Future," about Bo McKinnon who imagines himself to be Captain Future. In Avengers of the Moon, Steele has the opportunity to explore the actual Captain Future and bring him and the Futuremen into the twenty-first century.

Steeleís retelling of Captain Future's story stays pretty close to the original stories, including a flashback origin telling the story of Curtis' parents' interactions with Victor Corvo, introducing the concept of the Denebians who interacted with our solar system in a manner which presaged the monolith builders of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the Venusians are introduced among the many genetically modified versions of humanity, Steeleís focus is on the Lunarians Curtis generally comes into contact with on the Moon, where he lives, and the Martians, the other planet visited in this installment of Captain Futureís story.

In some ways, Steele stays too close to his source material. When reading a Captain Future story written in the 1940s by Edmond Hamilton (or one of the other authors who wrote about the character), a modern reader brings certain expectations to the story. That reader bring a different set of expectations to a story written in the 2010s, even if it shares a setting with those earlier stories. The problem isnít a solar system which can sustain life on various planets and moons, but rather a more basic issue of human interactions. When Joan Randall and Ezra Gurney of the Interplanetary Police Force first observe Curtis, he is acting suspicious and using a pseudonym. His subsequent behavior isnít such to make them trust him, especially when he winds up in the middle of an attempted assassination. Nevertheless, they decide to trust him, to some extent, with a sensitive mission.

Steele has demonstrated that he can write rousing space opera and adventure fiction, in his "Coyote series" and in his juvenile novel Apolloís Outcasts. With titles like The King of Infinite Space, Steele has clearly demonstrated his love for rousing space opera. Avengers of the Moon seems to have a pacing problem. His characters' flamboyance doesn't quite leap off the page and his villains are a little too three dimensional for a space opera (which, admittedly, seems to contradict the idea that he isnít meeting modern expectations). Far from being a moustache, cape-wearing Sindely Whiplash sort, Victor Corvo and the other villains who appear in Avengers of the Moon demonstrate themselves to be quite competent and aware, possible more competent than Captain Future and his team. At the same time, the fact that Curtis has managed to grow up to be so intelligent and well-adjusted despite the isolation and strangeness of his upbringing

One of the things Steele does successfully in his updated version of Captain Future is the use of more more language than Hamilton used. Hamilton's stories included a certain amount of purple prose and a language which can, at times, feel stilted to modern readers. By dispensing with that, Steele can introduce the character to a new generation which can either track down the original stories (currently being reprinted in a very nice series by Haffner Press) or, with luck, follow Captain Future's further adventures should Steele continue to write in the series, perhaps moving it further from the source material.


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