LitStack Review: Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele

by S.B.

Avengers of the Moon
A Captain Future Novel
Allen Steele
Tor Books
Release Date:  April 11, 2017
ISBN 978-0-7653-8218-4

In 1940, a new pulp science-fiction series debuted:  Curt Newton – known as Captain Future – was a young, handsome adventurer as well as a brilliant scientist and intrepid inventor. From 1940 to 1951, Captain Future swashbuckled his way across the solar system, solving problems, righting wrongs and vanquishing foes mainly via the talents of veteran Weird Tales writer Edmond Hamilton.

In 1969, eleven year old Allen Steele came across a paperback featuring Captain Future, and, even though the stories were already outdated scientifically, a lifelong fan was born. Years later, Allen became a prolific science fiction writer, and his award winning 1996 novella (The Death of Captain Future – which actually was about “the way a fan’s devotion can be carried to the extreme”) had him looking to jump start the hero of his childhood.

Finally in April 2017 we will get the first of what will surely be a series of books chronicling the adventures of Captain Future.

Avengers of the Moon introduces readers to Curt Newton as a young man, not yet Captain Future but years past the trauma that came from his parents’ murder and subsequent sequestering on a hidden laboratory on the moon. All of the original players are present in this updated story: the robot Grag, android Othos, and the disembodied brain of Professor Simon Wright (known as, intuitively, as the Brain), who are Curt’s only companions and helpmeets from infancy to adulthood; Marshal Ezra Gurney of the Interplanetary Police Force (IPF) and the beautiful (of course!) yet efficient (of course!) IPF Intelligence officer Joan Randall; politician and bad guy Victor Corvo, and Captain Future’s nemesis Ul Quorn – the Magician of Mars.

While attending  the public dedication of the Straight Wall System Monument, built to protect the moon’s mysterious Denebian petroglyphs, Curt learns that one of the leading proponents of the monument, Lunar Republic Senator Victor Corvo, was responsible for the death of his parents. A vow of justice – or is it revenge? – moves the story forward and introduces us to all the major players, but like with most stories that seem straightforward, complications soon arise that not only muddy the ethical waters, but also unveil a far larger conspiracy that should – but not necessarily will – supersede Curt’s personal vengeance.

Author Allen Steele does a good job of balancing a past-era pulp fiction vibe with today’s expanded knowledge of science and the solar system. While the story moves at the slick pace of an old school space rodeo, and while for the most part, the characters are pretty stock and trade, the action has plenty of twists and turns and reveals, keeping it fresh and interesting. The futuristic gadgets and deus ex machina, especially those that Curt & Co develop internally, may be somewhat simplistic and overtly convenient, but they fit in far better and more cohesively into our modern sensibilities than notions of little green men from Mars. And the way that all the pieces of the puzzle hold together are far more, well, cognitive than with the original series, without sacrificing the naiveté of an earlier time. Mr. Steele indeed has done an admirable job in updating the sensibilities of Captain Future from his laughable 1940s origins.

The only stumbling block I saw in this newly upgraded version of Captain Future was the continued subligation of women, with only four female characters of any note; men continue to hold positions of power and authority in Avengers of the Moon. Additionally, all four of these female characters are specifically noted as being good looking, with the main two – Joan Randal and Ul Quorn’s cohort N’Rala – described as strikingly beautiful.  Like, pull-the-attention-of-the-room-when-they-walk-in beautiful.  Over and over again. Yes, efficient and smart, but gosh darn, mighty good looking gals – and don’t they know how to use it! Sigh.

However, in fairness to Mr. Steele, to deviate from 1940s gender roles would have merited a seismic departure from his source material. I can accept that he might have been unwilling to bridge this gap in this first “origin” novel. I do hope, though, that in any subsequent books, gender and societal “norms” will be given a more enlightened treatment. Much was made in Avengers of the Moon about not judging a robot, an android and an disembodied brain in ignorant, insensitive ways; let’s hope the author includes women in that caveat in future volumes.

Avengers of the Moon will hit bookshelves on April 11.

~ Sharon Browning

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