(1954 / 2019) C. L. Moore, Gollancz, £8.99 / Can$17.99 / US$14.99, pbk, 212pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22255-7
This was originally published in 1954 but has recently been re-released as part of Gollancz’s new ‘Golden Age Masterworks’ series.
Broken Your planet? Never mind, move to another one and start again. That is exactly what Earthlings have done in this reissued pulp classic. Having destroyed the Earth in an atomic war, the survivors have emigrated to Venus for a new life.
Most people live in underwater cities as the surface land jungles are deadly in wild-life and vegetation. A few intrepid adventurers are fighting a losing battle to tame the vicious wilderness.
The rich have granted themselves very long lives, up to a thousand years, a luxury not shared with most of the population. The rich call themselves immortals, though they do not live forever. Much of their time is spent in long drawn out Machiavellian schemes against one another, played over centuries. Having so much time on their hands has made the immortals patient as well as cunning.
It is as though the Morlocks and Eloi of Wells’ The Time Machine have swapped rolls. The rich (Eloi) have become the hidden monsters, with the workers and surface dwellers at their mercy. Artefacts and animal skins from the surface become fashion accessories underwater. One woman wears a coat that feels so good from secretions it injects into her that she won’t take it off even knowing it will actually eat her, and make her enjoy it right to the end.
As a result of one power-struggle, Sam Reed is raised up convinced that he is a mere mortal, until he hits eighty and realizes the truth – he is an immortal. An attempted assassination attempt had left him in a forty-year coma. He recovers, poses rather absurdly as his own son, and seeks revenge, seeking to force the undersea dwellers to the surface to have to fight the land reclamation struggle or perish.
Sam is not a hero, or anti-hero, but at times an outright villain. He is as ruthless and embittered as his plot-fixated father, and not without weaknesses, such as his fetish for blue-eyed women.
Venus is a well created World, both on land and with the descriptions of its deep sea cities. Many of the horrors of the jungle would be a big influence on Harry Harrison’s Deathworld series. Sam Reed is acknowledged by Alfred Bester as a key inspiration for Gulley Foyle in The Stars My Destination.
This is a fast moving story, set on a Venus that was already known to be too hot for such settlement, but it is great fun, with very imaginative ideas.
The message is that survival of humanity as a species does not allow us to take our luxuries and comforts or wealth with us. Circumstances will force us back to the primal need to fight and struggle, with Sam pushed largely against his will into serving as a catalyst for that.
Though Kuttner alone has his name on the cover, the book was written in collaboration with his wife, C. L. Moore, as a sequel to their novella story, Clash By Night, from 1943.
The closing two-word epilogue twist to this story is one of the best in SF history.
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