Back in 1940 a pulp magazine publisher was looking around for some inspiration to create an SF offering for the hungry hordes of teenagers (boys usually) chasing something to read. Thus was born “Captain Future”, in a series of short-novel length adventures, mostly by long-time SF stalwart Edmond Hamilton (not always under his own name.)
I first encountered Curt Newton, the Captain’s ‘secret identity’, in Dave Kyle’s classic “A Pictorial History of Science Fiction” (and it’s companion volume) from the 1970s, which covered an immense range of SF up to that point in time – perhaps explaining my love for pre-1950s SF. Recently I’ve discovered that many of the novels are now online…
…the novels online, as PDFs, are available in English and French, a discovery I only made in the last few days. Of course there was the Japanese anime version from the 1970s as well, but I never watched it as a kid and it lacks that kitsch charm of the original 1940s/50s early artwork. However it is really popular in Germany, so who am I to complain.
After reading its associated material – a description of the planets called “Worlds of Tomorrow” – I realised it seemed very familiar. Just about every planet and moon had breathable atmospheres in Edmond Hamilton’s Solar System, even the big planets, and everyone was inhabited by some race of humans adapted a bit to local conditions. Unlike many (dreadful) SF writers before him, Hamilton usually tried to give these aspects plausible (for 1940s ignorance of physics) explanations:
(1) The big planets are warmed to habitability by radioactivity.
(2) A gravity-equaliser worn by everyone made visits to Jupiter feasible for non-natives.
(3) All the varieties of human derive from interstellar colonists, the Denebians, thus explaining their kinship.
…and so on. He even has the occasional correct hit – for example the fictional Pluto has three moons, Charon, Cerebrus and Styx. The real Pluto, of course, has three known moons and the largest is Charon. Hamilton was just following the mythological naming convention associating Pluto with underworld figures, but the fact he imagined moons when none were known (Charon was discovered in 1978) is a plus IMO.
Of course Hamilton needed to propel Captain Future’s ship, “Comet”, around at high-speed and thus he used that favourite of old SF, atomic power, but deriving from copper, and liberated by bombarding the copper with particles from cyclotrons. Oh well, all adventure SF has its share of technobabble…