Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ralph Milne Farley's The Radio Man

Roger Sherman Hoar (1887-1963) was a prominent Massachusetts politician who wrote a considerable amount of science fiction under the name Ralph Milne Farley. His biggest success was the Radio Man series. The first novel in this series, The Radio Man, was written in 1924 (it was later re-issued in paperback by Avon as An Earthman on Venus).

The Radio Man starts off in a manner rather reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs, with the narrator receiving a very surprising message from outer space. The message purports to come from a certain Myles Cabot, a radio engineer who vanished several years earlier. The narrator is convinced that the message is genuine. The message from Cabot tells his story since his disappearance.

Cabot has been experimenting with the use of radio for the purposes of matter transference. The experiment goes wrong and Cabot is transported to Venus.

Venus is partly habitable. Civilisation is confined to the central continent which is surrounded by the Boiling Sea, a quite impassable obstacle. Cabot awakens to find himself in a civilisation of human-sized ant-men. He recognises them as being obvious intelligent and they come to the conclusion that he is also a creature possessed of intelligence and reason but initially there seems to be no possibility of communication.

Cabot’s scientific background and his work in radio now proves to be crucial, allowing him to save the communication problem.

There are two intelligent species on Venus, the ant-men (the Formians) and a human-like but not quite human species known as the Cupians. The Formians are the dominant civilisation. The Cupians are not exactly slaves but they politically subject to the Formians.

Cabot is caught up in various political intrigues involving a beautiful Cupian princess. Cabot makes enemies among both Formians and Cupians but he finds allies among both sides as well.

Given that the Formians are an ant society and the book was written in 1924 you might be forgiven for thinking that they represent the Bolsheviks but The Radio Man doesn’t really seem to have any particular political axe to grind. The Formians are somewhat socialistic and militaristic and they do oppress the Cupians but they’re not evil by any means. In some ways they’re quite enlightened and humane while in other respects their society is rigid and mechanical. Their political oppression of the Cupians is exceptionally mild.

The Cupians are a monarchy and their society has both strengths and weaknesses as well. There are noble and kindly Formians and villainous ones as well, and there are Cupians who are treacherous and cruel and others who display nobility and kindness.

There’s an obvious Edgar Rice Burroughs feel but there’s a definite Mark Twain influence as well (the Mark Twain of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). There’s also a touch of The Prisoner of Zenda with Cabot getting mixed up in Cupian palace intrigues.

Farley does not quite succeed in making the Formians convincingly alien. Despite having a society based on ant society they’re a bit too human in their thinking and their emotions. Farley misses the obvious opportunity to examine the nature of the hive mind of an insect society. Farley also seems uninterested in using his story as the basis for a political satire.

On the plus side this is quite an entertaining adventure tale and the ways that Cabot uses his expertise in radio technology to extricate himself from the many scrapes he gets himself into are quite clever.

Apart from being a politician the author was a noted patents attorney and his interests in both inventions and the law are put to good use.

This is a fairly light-hearted adventure romance romp. It’s certainly not in the same class as the planetary romances of Burroughs but it’s quite enjoyable. It’s worth a look.

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