Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown by Paul Malmont (234) & The Revenge of Kali-Ra by K. K. Beck (235)

Malmont, PaulThe Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Beck, K. K.  The Revenge of Kali-Ra.

Paul Malmont clearly loves pulps. The Chinatown Cloud Peril is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.  He revisits this territory in The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown.

Astounding places fictional versions of science fiction authors in a scientific mystery adventure some of them might have been glad to write.  Some of the characters are pulp authors who appeared in Peril (Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Walter Gibson, and Lester Dent, a fellow Missourian).  Others are authors of the era when the old pulps gave way to comics and sci-fi magazines (Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, and editor John Campbell).

A group of science fiction writers, most of them scientist and engineers as well, are working for the Navy to turn crazy ideas into reality in a proto-DARPA.  They’re not producing a lot of results and their leader, former Naval officer Heinlein, is feeling the pressure.  They stumble upon the suggestion that inventor Nikola Tesla accidentally created a superweapon at Wardenclyffe, which is why the tower he built there came down.  Their search for answers leads them on a twisting trail from the underground rivers of New York to the heights of the General Electric hierarchy.  Red herrings about and these clever authors don’t catch on to the biggest one in the book.

The character development is interesting, too.  Heinlein is feeling left out of opportunities to make a real difference, but eventually gets an inkling that his stories can make a difference.  The seeds of Scientology are planted in Hubbard.  I think the strongest character development occurs in the fictional Asimov.  He goes through something like a conventional coming-of-age story.  He starts as a frightened youth, faces his fears and becomes a man.  In addition, is a loner struggling in his marriage who finds a way to bring his wife into partnership with him, having a passion for her that matched the passion he had for his work.  That is good stuff; it adds depth to a story that is mostly and-then-and-then suspense.

For the geeks (that includes me), there are appearances by fictional versions of many other people.  Authors include Nowell Page of The Spider, Hugh Cave, aka Justin Case, and Kurt Vonnegut as an Easter egg.  Actor Jimmy Stewart lends his skill as a pilot.  Mystic and rocket scientist Jack Parsons could spin off a weird tale of his own.  Even Manhattan Project physicists Robert Oppenheimer, Julian Schwinger, and Richard Feynman make an appearance.

While I’m writing about an homage to pulps, I’d like to mention The Revenge of Kali-Ra by K. K. Beck.  I wrote a review of it that got lost in a hard drive crash (even so, I named it one of the best books I read in 2010).  The story focuses on fictional pulp stories featuring the villainous vixen of the title, which may no longer be public domain and may be valuable because of a proposed movie base on them.  The scent of money is in the air, bad characters pick up the scent, decent people are caught up in the events, and mayhem ensues.  Kali-Ra isn’t as good as Astounding, but it’s a fun read.  Beck includes clips from ersatz Kali-Ra tales that are full of the type of florid language one might expect, even hope for, in pulp.

Paul Malmont also wrote The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.

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