Friday, May 21, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Sun Smasher - Edmond Hamilton

The opening of this novel reminded me a bit of the sort of set-up that Cornell Woolrich used in many of his stories. A young man named Neal Banning, who works as a publisher’s rep in New York City, pays a visit to his Norman Rockwell-esque hometown in Nebraska – but when he gets there, he finds a vacant lot where the house he grew up in should be. Not only that, but the neighbors are different and insist that there was never a house on the lot, that they don’t know Neal, and that the aunt and uncle who raised him never existed. Naturally, with his world upended like this, Neal goes to the police and tries to get to the bottom of what he thinks is a conspiracy, only to be locked up because everybody thinks he’s crazy.

Of course, in the hands of the master of space opera, Edmond Hamilton, things play out a lot differently from there than they would in a Cornell Woolrich story. Veteran readers won’t be surprised when a mysterious man shows up, breaks Neal out of jail, and tells him an incredible story about how he’s really the Valkar, the former leader of a galactic empire whose enemies captured him, had his brain wiped clean, and implanted false memories of his life as Neal Banning. Neal’s rescuer is one of his former followers who has finally tracked him down and now wants to return him to his home planet so his memory can be restored and he can lead a rebellion against the New Empire and restore the Old Empire to power. How’s he going to do that, you ask? Simple. Even though he can’t remember it at the moment, Neal is the only one in the cosmos who knows the location of a super-weapon called the Hammer of the Valkar, which will give whoever possesses it the power to rule the galaxy.

If all that doesn’t get your heart pounding . . . well, then, you probably didn’t grow up reading and loving this kind of stuff like I did. There were few authors better at it than Edmond Hamilton. Super-weapons, beautiful haughty empresses, spaceships with fins . . . sure, there’s a certain degree of silliness to it all, but I don’t care. I hadn’t read this novel before, and I found it highly entertaining. Hamilton was never much of a stylist. His prose is simple and direct and very fast-moving, although there are definite touches of poetry here and there, especially when he’s describing things like the vastness of space. This novel rockets (no pun intended) along to a twist ending that probably won’t surprise very many readers but is still quite satisfying.

The thing is, they still write stories like this, only now it would be a 500,000 word trilogy stuffed to the gills with back-story, angst, political intrigue, sex, and realistic-sounding science. Hamilton spins his yarn in less than a tenth of that wordage. You pays your money and you takes your choice, and I know that many modern readers would rather have the fat trilogy than the 110-page Ace Double. As for me, I’m gonna go smash some suns with Ed Hamilton.

18 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm gonna go have a look for this one right now. I'd rather the 110 page Ace Double.

Randy Johnson said...

This is one by Hamilton I've missed. I'm going to fix that.

Bill Crider said...

As you know, I'm with you on this one. I've read a couple of those ten-pound space operas, and I prefer the Good Old Stuff.

George said...

I loved Edmond Hamilton's SF and I loved the cover on this ACE DOUBLE. A true classic!

Richard R. said...

Sounds like a good one, for sure, and I agree with you on the 110 page vs. trilogy preference. That Sun Smasher sounds a little bit like, dare I say it, the Death Star, even if it's pictured on the cover as a big cannon.

beb said...

You did mean 500 page *per* book trilogies, right? All that angst, crossing and double-crossing.... And the so-called Real Politicks always struck me as no more knowledgiable about politics as an 8 year olds' first fan fiction. I like my stories short, sweet and too the point.

And speaking of Woolrich-ish openings, how about "Ninme Princes in Amber?" amnesiac breaking out of a psych-ward, being chased by hell-hounds.... That'a a classic.

Todd Mason said...

I was going to say...breaking out isn't so non-Woolrich, and the delusions and which are not is also CWian...I've read so much more of Brackett than Hamilton that I probably should move toward some parity. But it's hard for me to believe most of the latter-day opera composers are trumping Brackett and Charles Harness..to say nothing of Jack Vance...

Evan Lewis said...

I have a couple of Captain Future novels in Startling Stories. Did Hamilton really write all of those?

Todd Mason said...

No. Birthday man Manly Wade Wellman wrote at least one, as I recall, and others took a crack.

Todd Mason said...

I'm almost wrong...Jerry Page's article here:
http://wwwcapitaineflam.free.fr/The_writers_of_Captain_Future.pdf

suggests that the only two not by Hamilton, aside from one by Wellman, were by Joseph "William Morrison" Samachson:

In CAPTAIN FUTURE magazine:

CAPTAIN FUTURE AND THE SPACE EMPEROR Win 40 Edmond Hamilton
CALLING CAPTAIN FUTURE Spr 40 Edmond Hamilton
CAPTAIN FUTURE'S CHALLENGE Sum 40 Edmond Hamilton
THE TRIUMPH OF CAPTAIN FUTURE Fall 40 Edmond Hamilton
CAPTAIN FUTURE AND THE SEVEN SPACE STONES Win 41 Edmond Hamilton
STAR TRAIL TO GLORY Spr 41 Edmond Hamilton
THE MAGICIAN OF MARS Sum 41 Edmond Hamilton
THE LOST WORLD OF TIME Fall 41 Edmond Hamilton
THE QUEST BEYOND THE STARS Win 42 Edmond Hamilton
OUTLAWS OF THE MOON Spr 42 Edmond Hamilton
THE COMET KINGS Sum 42 Edmond Hamilton
PLANETS IN PERIL Fall 42 Edmond Hamilton
THE FACE OF THE DEEP Win 43 Edmond Hamilton
(The remainder of the novels in Captain Future were published under the house name
"Brett Sterling." The name given is the actual name of the author of the story.)
WORLDS TO COME Spr 43 Joseph Samachson
THE STAR OF DREAD Sum 43 Edmond Hamilton
(There was no Fall 1943 issue.)
MAGIC MOON Win 44 Edmond Hamilton
DAYS OF CREATION Spr 44 Joseph Samachson


(At this point Captain Future ceased publication.
The remainder of the series was published in Startling Stories.)

RED SUN OF DANGER Spr 45 Edmond Hamilton
(At this point the "Brett Sterling" name was dropped and authors' real names were used henceforth.)
OUTLAW WORLD Win 46 Edmond Hamilton
THE SOLAR INVASION Fall 46 Manly Wade Wellman
(This was the final novel in the series and the last of the Futuremen for three
years, at which point the series resumed in Startling, in novelet length.)
THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN FUTURE Jan 50 Edmond Hamilton
CHILDREN OF THE SUN May 50 Edmond Hamilton
THE HARPERS OF TITAN Sep 50 Edmond Hamilton
PARDON MY IRON NERVES Nov 50 Edmond Hamilton
MOON OF THE UNFORGOTTEN Jan 51 Edmond Hamilton
EARTHMEN NO MORE Mar 51 Edmond Hamilton
BIRTHPLACE OF CREATION May 51 Edmond Hamilton

James Reasoner said...

Wellman wrote one Captain Future novel, "The Solar Invasion", which appeared in the Fall 1946 issue of STARTLING STORIES, where the series migrated when the Captain's own pulp ended. It was reprinted in paperback by Popular Library in the Sixties. Joseph Samachson wrote two, "Worlds to Come" from the Spring 1943 issue of CAPTAIN FUTURE, and "Days of Creation" from the Spring '44 issue of CF. Both appeared under the house-name Brett Sterling. "Days of Creation" was reprinted in paperback as THE TENTH PLANET, also as by Sterling. Hamilton wrote the other 24 novels in the series. I've read most of them and thought they were pretty good, if not quite up to the level of his other work.

James Reasoner said...

Ah, I see Todd beat me to the punch. Great minds, etc . . .

Todd Mason said...

Well, any opportunity to push both Wellman and Gerald Page can't be passed up lightly.

Ed Gorman said...

Hamilton was one of the first sf writers I read thanks to Imagination and Imaginative Tales. He actually wrote present time realism as well as he did space opera. I sure do agree, James, his books are a lot more fun than those door stoppers popular today. He was a much better writer than he's ever gotten credit for. The conventional wisdom is that writing those Captain Futures dropped his cred from the first rank to the second or third, which I've never understood. He was just making a living and ole Cap Future was no sillier than a lot of the "serious" stuff of that time.

Ed Gorman said...

Hamilton was one of the first sf writers I read thanks to Imagination and Imaginative Tales. He actually wrote present time realism as well as he did space opera. I sure do agree, James, his books are a lot more fun than those door stoppers popular today. He was a much better writer than he's ever gotten credit for. The conventional wisdom is that writing those Captain Futures dropped his cred from the first rank to the second or third, which I've never understood. He was just making a living and ole Cap Future was no sillier than a lot of the "serious" stuff of that time.

Nadeem1414 said...

http://www.stories.pk i have visited to this site and found to get the interested and entertaining site.

Anonymous said...

Haffner Press is reprinting many (all?) of the Capture Future stories in big, thick HCs (multiple volumes).

~ Ron C.

Coeurl said...

I read this as a kid in the '50's among so many other sf novels. It must have made an impression because I remembered it well enough to look up. The title itself is unforgettable and amazingly evocative. Those wonderful flippable Ace Doubles!

I'm now rereading the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series which is available for free download at the Gutenberg project.