Thursday, September 16, 2004

Milton Lesser

I got around to starting SECRET OF THE BLACK PLANET by Milton Lesser, a Sixties paperback reprint of a couple of novellas originally published in AMAZING STORIES in 1952. I've read about half of the first one, and it's already obvious that this is a science fiction version of a Gold Medal crime novel. We've got an amnesiac hero who evidently is supposed to be in possession of some valuable secret, a couple of rival gangs (Martians and Venusians, in this case), seedy spaceport bars, and a beautiful girl who may well be the key to the hero finding out who he really is and staying alive. Lesser went on to become Stephen Marlowe, one of the better authors of private eye novels for Gold Medal with his Chester Drum series, and you can sure see the roots of that later work here, with his two-fisted hero hopping around the solar system just like Drum globetrotting in the later books.

Recently there's been some discussion on several blogs I read about a generation gap among readers of mystery fiction. I'm sure it's there among science fiction readers, too. If you gave SECRET OF THE BLACK PLANET to most SF readers under the age of thirty, I suspect they would sneer at the scientific gaffes, the pulp-like plotting, and the admittedly shallow characterization. But I grew up reading SF where most of the planets in the solar system were populated by their own native races, and I can put myself back in that mindset with no trouble at all and enjoy a book like this for the swift pace, the colorful writing, and the sense of fun to be found in it. The same thing is true of most of the old mystery and Western fiction I read.

But there's no getting around it. My name is James, and I'm an old fart.


Unknown said...

Allow me to quote from Roger Ebert's review of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, since old Roger always says stuff better than I can: "Before I got into serious science fiction, I went through a period when my fantasies were fed by a now-forgotten series of books about Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. There was a gee-whiz vigor to those adventures, a naive faith in science and pluck, evoking a world in which evil existed primarily as an opportunity for Tom to have fun vanquishing it. 'Sky Captain' has that kind of innocence."

So what's wrong with liking that kind of SF? Let 'em sneer, I say. I'll continue to enjoy it. (But I'm still in denial on the Old Fart thing.)

Mystery Dawg said...

At what age do you become 'an old fart'? If it is based upon what type of books you read, then I might be in trouble. I hope that there are mutiple criteria for this category.

James Reasoner said...

The good thing is, you can be an old fart one day but not the next, as long as you don't make too many assumptions. "This can't be any good, it's old" and "This can't be any good, it's new" are equally invalid, in my opinion. I've always considered myself blessed that I can read stuff from just about any era and find something to enjoy in it.