Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Half Read Review 1: Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt

I have a thing for Sci-Fi from the innocent years - the time before spaceships, TVs, computers and even better phones. The stuff from around that time has a real sense of adventure and awakens in me a belief that anything is possible. I still like a modern sci-fi book but when I'm reading them I find myself thinking how close-fetched they are and am prone to judging their knowledge of science a bit too harshly. With some of these old gems it was all off the cuff and you get a sense of how little we really knew about things. From taking a hot air balloon to the moon to eating sausages made out of charcoal to building spaceships in the woods out of mercury, a ray gun and some good old space man ingenuity the limits really were their own imaginations. Which brings us to Alien Planet by Fletcher Pratt, which very nearly has two out of those three crazy things.

A naked green hot chick on the cover is what got me to pick it up. A brief apology in the forward about some of the scientific analysis quoted in the footnotes being from the original 1932 publication and not really being up to snuff, sold it. This isn't a readily available book but there are still plenty in circulation as Ace seems to have bound this copy to last. I had to scan my own copy in since most of the copies on Amazon didn't have covers attached. If you click on it you'll get a bigger version that shows my copy made it through at least the Goodwill and bookwagon.com before I bought it, furthermore markings on the inside suggest it's been through at least three more used book stores throughout the years.

First off before we go any further I have to say that there have not been any green people in the book nor any females come to think of it, and damn sure no naked green hot chicks. What's worse at the half way point we've just flown past Jupiter so I probably wont get any either. Secondly, after reading the Prologue by the author (in 1932) that is after the Forward by the publisher (in 1963 or 1973, it's unclear) I can see that this was a bit of an inside joke as the book is supposed be skeptically transcribed by the author from some increasingly illegible metal disks that were found in the jungle and may or may not be based on true events and in his own opinion deal with scientific things that are highly unlikely.

The story itself is very simple; a thing falls out of space, two slightly stuffy dudes, on vacation together, duck as it narrowly misses them on it's way down. (I should add that no question of sexual orientation is ever implied, but as stated, no female characters have reared their faces let alone their firm green buttocks so I chose to think of them as a couple.) Eventually a dude crawls out of it and the stuffy dudes nurse him back to health as he learns to speak Shakespearean English and tries to explain interplanetary exploration with only the words that can be found in "The Merchant of Venice". Once that's accomplished he begins trying to get enough mercury to build another space ship to fly back to his planet and save it. These fine chaps help and eventually one gets stuck on board and has to come with him.

Fletcher Pratt's alien "Ashembe" is a success, he looks enough like us that the main characters aren't freaked out but he thinks in an honestly alien way. I'd go so far as to say that if it were written 20 years later he would have had to change it because the alien says things that would have suggested he was a favorable image of a Commie. This is something that is found quite often in early sci-fi aliens and I think reveals a lot about the state of mind the average American had in a time when so much was owned by so few. So far, Ashembe has yet to lose his wonder at our weird ways and I have yet to lose my interest in his weird ways as they continue to slip into view.

The writing is clear and easy to follow, there are no long alien words you have to remember or strange rambling passages with political undertones. I'm just starting to wonder if the stuffy human will make it back to Earth and I've almost given up on the hot naked green chick but I don't mind because this is a fun read and I've got a way to go before I have to say bye to these fools in space.

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