As I mentioned recently in my review of Edmond Hamilton’s 1930 novel The Universe Wreckers, this Ohio-born author was just one of three writers who helped to popularize the genre now known as “space opera,” the other two being E.E. “Doc” Smith and Jack Williamson. I’d recently experienced Smith’s seminal six-book LENSMAN series, written between 1934 and ’48, but it had been a good number of years since I’d read anything by Williamson, one of my all-time favorite sci-fi practitioners. Feeling in need lately of some good old-fashioned pulp thrills, Williamson style, I chose at random one of his earliest novels, The Stone From the Green Star, and wow, am I ever glad I did! This novel originally appeared as a two-part serial in the October and November 1931 issues of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine, the very first publication to dedicate itself solely to science fiction. It would then sadly go OOPs (out of prints) for a good 68 years, till, in 1999, both Haffner Press and Gryphon Books, oddly enough, chose to resurrect it for a new generation. My edition is the 2014 one from the fine folks at Armchair Fiction, which cops the cover of that October ’31 issue, by artist Leo Morey, as its own front cover.
Now, at this point in his career, Williamson had only been a professional writer for three years, since selling his first short story, “The Metal Man,” to Amazing for its December ’28 issue. A remarkably prolific author, in the less than three years until The Stone From the Green Star would appear after that first sale, Williamson would come out with a dozen short stories as well as two novels. That first novel, The Green Girl, appeared in the March and April 1930 issues of Amazing; the second, The Birth of a New Republic, cowritten with Miles J. Breuer, M.D., in the Winter 1931 issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly. So yes, this was only Williamson’s third novel, out of an ultimate 45 or so, and written in the third year of a career that would ultimately last a remarkable 77 years, culminating with the author’s final novel, 2005’s The Stonehenge Gate, which Williamson released when he was 97 (!), one year before his passing. I tell you all this so that you will know that this is a book written by a relative beginner; one who had just barely begun to hone his craft. The author would grow proficient surprisingly quickly, however, and indeed, his 1932 novella “Wolves of Darkness” is hugely impressive, as is his 1933 novel Golden Blood. Still, if Williamson’s third novel exhibits a certain crudity of technique, it is more than compensated for by the gusto and imagination that the author displays here. A hugely likeable affair featuring amazing futuristic gadgetry, hissable villains, some truly original and monstrous aliens, several hair-raising sequences and a healthy dollop of romance, The Stone From the Green Star ultimately reveals itself to be a fairly memorable exercise in the then-nascent field of space opera, written by a 23-year-old who here demonstrates much more than a scintilla of promise.
Williamson, in his introduction, tells us that his book is actually a condensation of the hundreds of pages of text that he’d discovered in his home library one morning. Written on some kind of indestructible paper and enclosed in a black case of some unknown substance, the text had been penned by Williamson’s old college acquaintance, Dick Smith, who had, several years earlier, gone missing while working on an oil tanker; presumably washed overboard. But Smith’s manuscript went far in explaining what had actually occurred. While standing on the deck at night, he reveals, he’d seen an odd assortment of swirling lights in the sky, had blacked out, and later awoken on a laboratory table. What had happened is that he’d been accidentally yanked far into Earth’s future … around 2,025,080 years into the future, actually! The blind scientist Midos Ken, assisted by his beautiful and equally brilliant daughter Thon Ahrora, had been searching all of space and time for the catalytic substance that was essential in their quest to concoct a youth elixir — a possible boon to mankind if they could but find the necessary missing ingredient — and had inadvertently scooped Smith temporally away. With no way of returning this man from the distant past, the father and daughter had welcomed him into their home, and shown him the manifold wonders of this advanced age.
And then things had really started to get interesting, when brawny space explorer Don Galeen reported to Midos Ken that he had located a source of the elusive catalyst, on a sunless world beyond the galaxy’s rim; a world that glowed greenly in space by dint of its underground radiations. Galeen was soon kidnapped, however, by the piratical hordes led by Garo Nark, who ruled over another sunless world, strangely called the Dark Star, and whose spies had reported back to him concerning Midos Ken’s ambitions. And so, the stage was set. Dick, Midos and Ahrora resolved to fly to the Dark Star, rescue Don Galeen from that pirate world, and then, with Galeen as their guide, proceed on to the so-called Green Star, to somehow procure the catalyst. But, as Galeen had told them, that last part might not be so simple, as his instruments had previously revealed that the catalyst lay in a mile-high conical city built of blue light, and peopled by the wormlike beings who called this frozen world home: yards-long, winged, tentacled, translucent, green crystalline entities that flew through the dark sky of the planet and, as was later shown, were able to shoot purple bolts of energy from their bodies and drain the vitality from a living being! Truly, a two-part campaign to daunt the courage of even the hardiest adventurer!
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, three attributes most valued by readers of these Radium Age science fiction affairs were incredible gizmos of futuristic superscience, an imparting of a sense of cosmic awe and wonder, and, of course, fast-moving and exciting action set pieces, and in these three areas, Williamson’s novel hugely excels. Let’s take those marvels of superscience first. I’ve already mentioned that indestructible paper, and the temporal device that lands Dick Smith in his new home, but then there are the K-rays, which allow for not only instantaneous televised communication anywhere in the galaxy, but also space travel at a speed of 500 light-years a day, and, astoundingly enough, the ability to turn the Dark Star into a spaceship itself! On the other hand, the L-ray can instantly vaporize any material, and is used as a weapon by both the pirates, in the form of six-foot-long tubes, and Midos, in the form of a pocket device. We witness a spaceport of the far future, where ships are shot into space by K-ray cannons. Perhaps most flabbergasting of all is the enormous stage on which Ahrora is able to manipulate electrons and so construct and materialize anything desired … such as a spaceship and all its fittings and equipment, that ship covered with an indestructible substance called neutronium! We see the weather-control towers of future Earth, and learn that Garo Nark’s men and ships are protected by shields of invisibility (perfect for in-home spying and space battles). We learn about the tian drug, which Don Galeen is addicted to, and which induces opiumlike dreams … and more. And OMG, those devices that the blind Midos Ken carries on his person! Ether-exhaust bombs, which bring about a complete darkness in which no mechanical devices will function. An atomic pistol, which he has Ahrora construct for Smith. A bracelet to neutralize the disintegrating effects of the L-rays. An actinic ray weapon that alters the victim’s body chemistry, resulting in instant death. A roseate electronic shield, making him untouchable. Disc-shaped, handheld audiovisual communicators. And on and on. So many marvelous devices, indeed, that the old blind man often strikes the reader as more of a wizard than a scientific genius!
As for those instances of cosmic awe and wonder, there are any number of such sequences, including our first glimpse of the wormlike Green Star denizens; the desperate chase through space between our heroes’ ship and the K-ray-driven Dark Star; our protagonists’ infiltration of that Green Star city; and the incredible spectacle of two worlds colliding, as Williamson borrows a page from his good friend, Edmond “The World Wrecker” Hamilton. And as for standout action scenes, we have a monstrous storm and resultant flood created by Garo Nark’s destruction of a weather-control tower; an escape by our heroes from a space liner that has been hijacked by pirates; the liberation of Don Galeen from the Dark Star; Dick’s mano-a-mano dustup with one of the worm thingies (which monstrosities he calls The Things of Frozen Flame); and the penultimate sequence, in which our four heroes do battle with both Garo Nark’s pirates and the worm creatures while attempting to acquire that catalyst. So yes, for thrills and imaginative wonders, Williamson manages to prove himself remarkably adept, even at this early stage of his career.
Similar to Hamilton’s Universe Wreckers book, which was also penned early in his career, The Stone From the Green Star is a hugely pleasing, exciting thrill ride that nobody, of course, would ever mistake for great literature. As The Science Fiction Encyclopedia says, it is a “rough but vigorous” work, written by a future Grand Master. Williamson’s writing style here is hardly a developed one, and his novel may justly be accused of shying away from the wealth of detail that is necessary to make it fully credible. Time and again, he tells us that the full version of Smith’s manuscript, all 300,000 words of it, will soon be released under the title A Vision of Futurity, which I suppose is meant to be some sort of an excuse for not revealing more about the Earth of 2+ million years hence, as well as more about all those seemingly magical gadgets; “Space does not permit me to go into this interesting question,” he tells us several times. Williamson makes up his own words on occasion (such as “bitterfully”), and is guilty of a number of grammatical gaffes, such as using the word “farther” instead of “further.” (In all fairness, though, perhaps that last is merely a typo, of which this Armchair edition — like so many of their other volumes — contains many. Hell, they even get the title of the book wrong on the furshluginner front cover!!!)
But in the end, this crudeness of style is far overshadowed by the book’s abundant color, sweep and drive. Characterizations may be minimal, but trust me, you won’t be bored. As Dick ponders at one point, “Any man … who can aid or amuse a great many people, if only slightly, has done more good and is paid more highly than he who does much for a few.” And as Williamson himself tells us in his introduction, “Even the reader, who feels that a hoax has been perpetrated upon me [by Dick’s manuscript], may get some pleasure out of this … I think it a glorious vision of the future of humanity.” I could not agree with both men more…