Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guest Post | G.W. Thomas on Hawk Carse

Author G.W. Thomas is back with the next in his series of articles looking at the great space pulp characters. Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is www.gwthomas.org. He is also editor of Dark Worlds magazine. Thanks for another great article, G.W.!

The author of “Hawk Carse” was one of the Age of Wonder’s great mysteries. Who was Anthony Gilmore? The answer turned out to be Harry Bates and Desmond W. Hall, the editor and assistant editor of the magazine that published Hawk’s four original adventures, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, what fans now call the Clayton Astounding. This magazine was the first to offer Science Fiction as an adventure medium (not a hobbyist magazine like Amazing or the high-brow of Campbell’s Astounding in 1938) for Pulp readers during the Depression era. And the hero of such a magazine would have to be an amazing adventurer.

Living on the Saturnine moon, Iapetus, Hawk roars around the solar system in The Star Devil, the fastest and most up-to-date cruiser. Amongst Hawk’s allies is Friday, the black man rescued from a Venusian slave-ship by Carse, nick-named ‘Eclipse’. He is a muscular and quick-witted friend. Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow (or M. S.) is the scientific mind behind Carse’s modern gadgetry, working away in his secret laboratory to create new and exciting weapons for Carse to use against his sinister enemies such as Kui Su, the evil puppet-master behind the criminals of the solar system, master to men like Judd the Kite. The model for this dastardly villain isn’t hard to spot: Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Along with Rohmer’s good guys and bad guys, Gilmore also inherited his racial elements, but more on that later.

The first episode in Hawk Carse’s career was the self-titled story “Hawk Carse” (Astounding, November 1931) which details how Carse’s shipment of Phanti horns, harvested from Carse’s ranch on Iapetus, are stolen by Ku Sui’s agent, Judd the Kite. But the theft has a more sinister plot behind it. For when Carse rescues the stolen horns and begins to pursue the ship of villains who attacked his ranch and killed his people, the voice of Judd the Kite announces a special doom is coming. The phanti horn has been infected with a killer fungus that fills the ship with flesh-eating greenery. Judd the Kite wasn’t interested in the valuable horn but in capturing Carse and taking his space ship for his own. The pirates return to Iapetus to celebrate and Carse must do some quick thinking and even quicker shooting to save Friday from a terrible death. This tale sets up the series well with plenty action, reversals and host of baddies, but the over-all feel is more of the range than the spaceways. It isn’t hard to see how Bates and Hall used Western plot elements to create the tale. As Gene Roddenberry would sell Star Trek thirty years later as “Wagon train to the Stars”, so too did Anthony Gilmore begin on the farm then look to the stars.

"The Affair of the Brains" (Astounding, March 1932) picks up after the first story with Hawk and Friday going to keep Judd the Kite’s rendezvous with Ku Sui. This proves ill-advised since Ku Sui captures them and takes them to his secret base on an invisible asteroid. Ku Sui uses a weird color machine to ring information out of Carse, namely the location of his friend, Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow. For Ku Sui has taken the brains of the galaxy’s top geniuses and connected them in a special tank. The combined power of these minds gives him a kind of mental conglomerate that he uses to invent new creations and to plot his evil schemes. Capturing Leithgow, Ku Sui forces Carse to watch the operation that will remove his brain. From a seemingly escape-proof cell Carse and Friday manage to get free, capture the operating room and their friend Leithgow. Then using the advice of the brains they escape their barricade, destroy the dome that the asteroid base uses to hold in the atmosphere, and are blown out into space in spacesuits. The scene of Ku Sui torturing Hawk Carse seem to be taken right out of a James Bond movie (something that won’t exist for 30 years) for Bates and Hall were inspired by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, just as Ian Fleming would be years later.

"The Bluff of the Hawk" (Astounding, May 1932) is a short interlude in the saga of Carse and Ku Sui. It begins right after the events in “The Affair of the Brains”. Using the prototype spacesuits they escaped in, Hawk, Leithgow and Friday jet back to Satelitte III, landing in a swamp. Hawk is attacked by a tentacled monster while they sleep after the arduous journey, fending it off with a ray gun. Carse sends the other two to an ally nearby while he goes into the city of Porno (unfortunate name choice!) to retrieve papers Leithgow left behind when kidnapped. On these, in a numerical code, is the secret location of Leithgow’s lab. What seems a mere notation to us will be quite clear to a genius like Ku Sui, so Carse desperately needs to get the papers. Unfortunately they have been taken by a Venusian agent of Ku Sui. (Venusians are odiferous and Carse is able to logically deduct who has taken the papers, Lars Tantril, Venuisian drug-dealer and Ku Sui agent). Using the spacesuit, Hawk flies to Tantril’s ranch, flying low and having to evade the large flying monsters of Satelitte III. Hawk attacks the base, knocking out all the guard towers. In the panic he doubles back and finds his way into Tantril’s inner sanctum and the secret papers. Unfortunately, Lars and the boys capture him, knocking out the grav plates on his suit and making flying impossible. Now comes the bluff of the title. While secretly destroying the incriminating numbers from the paper, Carse suggests to Tantril a trade. He will explain the single weakness of the drug-dealer’s base if he’ll let him go free. Neither party is acting in good faith. Tantril agrees but has no intention of freeing his biggest enemy. Hawk leads the Venusians to the lake near the base and slowly works his way deeper and deeper until he finds the drop off. Sealing his suit, he dives to the lake bottom and walks away laughing.

"The Passing of Ku Sui" (Astounding, November 1932) is the longest and in many ways the weakest of the series. Hawk knows that Ku Sui will be meeting Tar Lantril at his ranch, giving the Hawk and his friends a chance to find the invisible asteroid and kill the captured brains. Using a scanner invented by MS they go to the asteroid, take it over and lay a trap for the returning Ku Sui. Instead of asking for death the brains want to be placed in new bodies, so Hawk captures Ku Sui and forces him to operate, for only he can return the brains to their bodies. An unfortunate sub-plot hinging on race muddies the story but eventually the brains are placed in new bodies and Ku Sui is being taken to Earth to clear MS’s name. But Ku Sui escapes to his asteroid, which is burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, and Carse follows him in a finale in which the villain dies (but we don’t see it!) and the hero wins. Smell a sequel here? Working in the Fu Manchu style, the authors have built in an escape route to allow the baddy to return. This is one of the structural weaknesses that make the ending unsatisfying.

And so the original adventures of Hawk end with the passing of his arch-enemy. Or does it? - as they like to say in bad films. In 1942 Hawk would appear one last time in “The Return of Hawk Carse” (Amazing Stories, July 1942). Written by Harry Bates alone it appeared in the rival magazine Amazing (because Astounding had morphed into the top SF market under John W. Campbell and such space opera would never appear there.) Amazing Stories was no longer the leader in SF but an entertainment magazine much as the Clayton Astounding had been. Hawk’s return was not significant enough to earn the cover (which went to "Blitzkrieg in the Past" by John York Cabot and its dinosaur fighting a Nazi tank) though the top of the cover bears "THE RETURN OF HAWK CARSE by Anthony Gilmore". The plot picks up where it left off with the wives of the scientists who had had their brains transferred being shocked and horrified by the gross bodies the men now inhabited. There is madness and suicide and eventually Kui Su shows up to create the Unborn Q, a composite man who ultimately beats his creator and hustles him off stage like a naughty boy.  As Lester del Rey says in The World of Science Fiction (1979): “…But time had dimmed the luster. It was no longer the right atmosphere for Hawk Carse.” The hero of the Great Depression was not the one that a United States at war required.

Issues plague today’s editors of these old stories: racism, sexism, old ideas about politics and people. It may have been acceptable in 1931 (even 1942) to feature Asians as “Yellow Peril” villains and Uncle Tom African-Americans but today these elements cause our teeth to grate and there is a desire to edit them away. I was faced with this temptation while preparing the Clayton Astounding reprint series for RAGE m a c h i n e Books, but with a little thought I paused. Granted Gilmore’s portrayal is not politically correct by today’s standards, but let’s consider the other 99% of space opera from that period. How many of these other stories even contain people of color (except green perhaps)? Very few. If any. The alternative to racism appears to be completely ignoring the existence of other races or creeds altogether. This seems to me to be an even worse form of discrimination. I chose to leave the contents of “Hawk Carse” alone. Readers are not so inept at distinguishing between current and out-moded attitudes that we need to treat them as children. Hawk Carse is one of the great adventure heroes, warts and all. It would be a shame to get only half his story.

Previous entries in G.W. Thomas' series for the Adventureblog:
Buck Rogers
John Hanson of The Space Patrol Service

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