Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Planet of No Return" by Howard Browne

"Planet of No Return", a 30,000-word novella, appeared in the May 1951 issue of the venerable Amazing Stories. The novella was written by the magazine's editor, Howard Browne, and appeared under the Amazing house name Lawrence Chandler.

Imagine, if you will, that Edgar Rice Burroughs had decided to write a prequel to his John Carter of Mars stories, telling the tale of a Barsoomian expedition to Earth in the year 20,000 B.C. Imagine that the Barsoomians meet tribes of primitive cavemen, including one caveman who swings effortlessly from tree to tree a la Tarzan. That's "Planet of No Return".

Backstory: Had-Sudol is a dashing young aeronautical engineer from the Empire of Helium Andara on the planet Barsoom Tarvius. Smitten with love for Had-Sudol, Princess Dejah Thoris Ana-Bet secretly aids him as he builds a one-man spaceship. After crash-landing on Earth, Had-Sudol is captured by cavemen and imprisoned. His only human contact is with the aged mother-in-law of the tribe's chief, Ulgo, who brings him his food each day.

Three years go by.

With no word from Had-Sudol, Ana-Bet (now Empress of Andara following the death of her father) orders an expedition organized to travel to Earth and search for him. The expedition is led by Commander Rhon-Dee, chief of the Andaran military and Had-Sudol's main rival for Ana-Bet's hand. Ana-Bet herself accompanies the expedition in order to boss Rhon-Dee around.

As our story opens, the fleet of seven Andaran spaceships lands in a tropical valley that was known to be Had-Sudol's destination. The landing is noticed by Tarzan Valar, Lord of the Jungle, paramount warrior of the tribe of Polex. Valar tries to sneak aboard one of the ships, but is captured by the Andarans. When a mind-probe reveals that Valar knows nothing of Had-Sudol's whereabouts, Rhon-Dee orders him killed, but Ana-Bet intervenes to spare his life. The young empress has taken a shine to the big bruiser, and orders him hooked up to a teaching machine so he can learn to speak Andaran.

Meanwhile, following the death of Chief Ulgo's mother-in-law, Had-Sudol is placed in the care of his beautiful blonde daughter Duleen, and the two fall for each other like a ton of meteorites. Word reaches Ulgo of the arrival of the flying machines of the sky-gods, and he decides that killing Had-Sudol and dumping his body in their midst will teach them to mind their P's and Q's.

The love-struck Duleen helps Had-Sudol escape, and Ulgo sends a huge war party to attack the sky-gods. The attack occurs just as Valar has finished his speed-learning course in conversational Andaran. He grabs Ana-Bet and fights his way through the attacking cavemen and out into the jungle. He comes across Had-Sudol in the jungle, and the two fight, but Ana-Bet persuades him not to kill the Andaran flyboy. When Had-Sudol recovers, he and Duleen follow Valar and Ana-Bet to the Polex encampment. Had-Sudol rescues Ana-Bet, but he and Duleen are killed helping her escape.

Rhon-Dee has driven off the attacking cavemen and led a force of Andaran troops to track down Ana-Bet. He finds her in the jungle and they return to the spaceships. With confirmation of Had-Sudol's death, there is nothing further to keep the Andarans on Earth, and they prepare to leave. Just before take-off, Ana-Bet sees Valar, and rushes out to throw herself into his arms. A jealous and disgusted Rhon-Dee orders the fleet to take off, and Ana-Bet is left behind with her caveman.

Burroughs-style sword-and-planet stories were popular during the World War I-era pulp magazines, but by the time Browne became editor of Amazing Stories in 1949 the Campbell Revolution had relegated such stories to the more action-oriented pulps such as Amazing, Planet Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. (In fact, the last three John Carter stories appeared in Amazing in the early 1940s.) By the time Browne's Burroughs pastiche appeared in Amazing in 1951, mainstream science fiction had moved beyond such unsophisticated fare, and "Planet of No Return" would never have appeared in the leading magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Magazine.

Although Burroughsian sword-and-planet underwent a revival in the 1960s and 1970s, with reprints of the stories of Burroughs and his imitators Otis Adelbert Kline and Ralph Milne Farley, Browne's story did not make the cut, and it has never appeared anywhere but its original issue of Amazing.

1 comment:

Nancy Green said...

sounds like it would make a great comic--i mean, graphic novel