fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Cometeers by Jack Williamson science fiction book reviewsThe Cometeers by Jack Williamson

The sequel to The Legion of Space (one of the most popular serialized sci-fi novels of the 1930s), The Cometeers, to author Jack Williamson’s credit, is not only a better-written book, but does what all good sequels should: enlarge on the themes of the earlier piece and deepen the characterizations. First appearing in the May-August 1936 issues of Astounding Stories magazine (two years after The Legion of Space made its first appearance therein, and two years before Astounding Stories would morph into the renowned Astounding Science-Fiction), The Cometeers finally appeared in hardcover book form in 1950. Anyone familiar with the earlier novel (in what was to become a tetralogy of Legion books), which featured space battles, jellyfishlike aliens, nebula storms, assorted alien flora and fauna, and nonstop swashbuckling derring-do, will probably wonder if Williamson was capable of topping it in a sequel. After all, when a novel contains everything but the proverbial galactic kitchen sink, what else is left for the continuation? The answer, as it turns out, is plenty.

In The Cometeers, we make further association with our old friends from the previous volume, only two decades later on. Jay Kalam, forever cool and resourceful, is now commander of the Legion; Hal Samdu, the redheaded giant, is still basically a rumbling nonentity; and Giles Habibula, the Falstaffian picklock, is still eating, guzzling and lovably complaining. John Star and Aladoree Anthar only make brief appearances in this book, but their son Bob, a recent graduate of the Legion Academy, takes a very central part in the action. The story this time concerns a 12,000,000-mile-long comet that has entered our solar system, behaving like no typical celestial body and pulling asteroids and even whole planets into its center. What is at the heart of this comet, and how our boys manage to fight their way to it, are surprises that this reader would never dream of revealing, but I can say that Williamson throws in some truly remarkable aliens, a very nicely executed fray at the south pole of Neptune, a visit to a very unusual asteroid, and a mind-bending conclusion.

The character of Stephen Orco — a genius of unknown origin who was responsible for a psychologically damaging hazing of Bob Star back at the Academy, and who later betrays mankind to aid “the Cometeers” — is a fascinating one, and the final revelation of his background is one that not many will anticipate.

As in the first book, the action is relentless, and most readers will likely feel compelled to ingest the entire novel in a sitting or two (an easy-to-accomplish feat, as the book comes in at a compact 150 pages). The difference here is in the quality of the writing. Though still penned in the best pulp style, The Cometeers seems more polished than The Legion of Space; deeper and more concise. Despite the fantastical situations and way-out scenario, the action this time seems more plausible, more credible. Our returning characters appear wiser and more thoughtful after the 20-year gap between the incidents of the two books, and Bob Star, with his psychological problems and self-doubts, is a well-drawn and fully realized creation.

As in the first book, however, some problems in the writing DO become evident. Thus, Williamson, who had at this point only been a published author for eight years, is still capable of giving us such an unfortunate sentence as “The white floor was hard white metal,” and of making a few goofs in his story. For example, Bob Star, at one point late in the tale, hears the noises of an opening hatch in the Cometeers’ ship, and reflects that he had heard these same noises before. In truth, though, he never had; Giles had heard those strange noises, some 60 pages earlier, and had told the tale TO Bob Star. Still, these are minor matters. The Cometeers really is a smashing sequel, and one that all fans of Golden Age sci-fi should just love. It will surely make them want to seek out book 3 of the series, One Against the Legion, which this reader also highly recommends.

The Legion of Space — (1934-1982) Publisher: They were the greatest trio of swashbuckling adventurers ever to ship out to the stars! There was giant Hal Samdu, rocklike Jay Kalam and the incomparably shrewd and knavish Giles Habibula. Here is their first thrilling adventure – the peril – packed attempt to rescue the most important person in the galaxy, keeper of the vital secret essential to humanity’s survival in the deadly struggle against the incredibly evil Medusae… The Legion of Space is the first self-contained novel in Jack Williamson’s epic Legion of Space series, an all-time classic of adventurous science fiction to rank with ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman saga and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

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  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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