Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Crashing Suns

Mine at last!
Crashing Suns, by Edmond Hamilton


Well, hello again and fancy seeing you here, assuming anybody is left to read Howling Frog.  It's been a little while, I guess.  But I've been reading some great stuff in the meantime.  I hope to be back for reals now.  I didn't even finish my January event properly!

Well, I've always loved the poster for the Vintage Sci-Fi event so I was all excited to get a chance to read the actual book, Crashing Suns, which is a collection of five short stories.  It's a 1965 paperback, but the stories are much older; they were published in the magazine Weird Tales from 1926 - 1931, as far as I can tell from the inner blurb, which isn't really all that informative.  Hamilton had written a serial novel featuring the Interstellar Patrol, Outside the Universe, and it was popular enough that he wrote these stories to follow up. 

Here is the funny part: all five of these stories have exactly the same plot.  Maybe people didn't notice, or didn't care, at the time?  But reading one after the other is a fairly surreal experience, as the details vary, but the plot is the same every time. 

"Crashing Suns" features a rogue sun speeding towards our own Sol.  If the Interstellar Patrol doesn't figure out a way to stop it, it will crash right into our own sun, killing everybody!  When they get there, they realize that the star is dragging a single planet along, and the inhabitants are steering towards our sun on purpose to revitalize their dying one.  How to avert the awful fate?

And this happens every time:
  1.  A dangerous space phenomenon threatens our solar system or, later, entire galaxy.
  2.  Explorers realize that malevolent aliens are steering the phenomenon and have every intention of destroying everybody else, rather like Krikkit's reaction to the rest of the universe's existence  ("It'll have to go.").
  3. The good guys get captured and all hope seems lost.
  4. Good guys manage to avert disaster at the last second, killing all the malevolent aliens in the process.
At first, the story is set within our solar system, in the Eight Worlds, and it's all humans.  (Remember, in 1930 we didn't know about Pluto!)   Later stories take in the entire Milky Way galaxy and the Patrol works for the Federated Suns, which gives the human narrators the chance to work with alien partners, which is very fun and also sounds exactly like that scene in the Star Wars prequel where the Galactic Senate is assembled.  The characters all have pretty much the same names, though -- Sarto Sen, Jor Dahat, Korus Kan, and so on.

Federated Suns or Galactic Senate?  You decide.
There are some fun side effects of the stories being so old.  Hamilton plays very fast and loose with the definitions of galaxy and universe in a way that a modern person never would.  They are practically interchangeable, along with the solar system in the first couple of stories, so that our own sun's destruction is described as the destruction of the universe.  Later on, Hamilton does know that other galaxies exist, but the imminent obliteration of the Milky Way is still described as the death of the universe.  Early stories imply the existence of aether rather than a vacuum in space, and phenomena we know to be fairly boring clouds of dust and gas (nebulae) or ice/rock combinations (comets) are imagined as huge, fiery things that can wipe out a star.  Which does make the cold vacuum of outer space a good deal more exciting!

And his writing is something else!  Everything is very flowery and thrilling.  Spaceships do not travel or fly, they flash.  Stars blaze with a sullen crimson fire.  Here's a sample of some dialogue and it's utterly average for the tone of the story:
"As you know, all nebulae contract with the passage of time, their fiery gases condensing to form great blazing stars, the eon-old cycle of stellar evolution, from fiery nebula to flaming sun.  In this cycle the great nebula followed..."
I had fun reading this collection, but it was also kind of hard going because it was so repetitive.  I kept wondering if I would hit a story that was not about evil aliens planning to kill everybody else so they could keep their star/comet/whatever going.  Nope.

1 comment:

Mudpuddle said...

i've read Hamilton a bit and enjoyed his operatic productions; haven't read these, tho... i'll look for them: interesting premises... great post, tx....