Thursday, March 6, 2014

Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante

Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante is a slim collection of three short stories by Richard Tooker published in the pulp magazine Mystery Adventure Magazine between June and October 1936. They’re science fiction adventure stories, or perhaps it would be more accurate to classify them as what would later come to be called Sword and Planet fiction.

The publication of Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante by Black Dog Books marks the first appearance of these stories in book form.

Richard Tooker (1902-1988) was an American whose work appeared sporadically in pulp magazines during the 1920s and 1930s. He continued to write in a number of different genres throughout his life.

Zenith Rand is a space pilot of the Terran Star Patrol in the fiftieth century. He’s a Buck Rogers type hero although the stories seem to revolve as much around sex as adventure. The first story, Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante, sets up his relationship with Sandra Yates. She figures in all three stories as both the love interest and a daring heroine in her own right. She is a Valkyr, a female space pilot, and she is as adept at blasting monsters with her pyradine pistol as any man. In the fiftieth century women have achieved equality with men, which means they get to fly spaceships and blow stuff up although they do not allow this to interfere with their femininity. They also get to wear skimpy uniforms that reveal more than they conceal.

This is not, however, a future of free love. Monogamy is the rule.

Zenith and Sandra start out as antagonists but that’s only because they haven’t admitted to themselves that they’re madly in love. 

Zenith’s first adventure takes place on Camia, the moon of the planet Orthos. Zenith is battling bloodthirsty hordes of the dreaded and implacable, and sex-crazed, Camian goat-women. He is running low on ammunition for his pyradine pistol and things are looking grim. His only hope of survival is that a Terran Star Patrol ship will come to his rescue. He is relieved when one appears, although he’s not so pleased when he discovers it’s piloted by Sandra Yates, the woman who corned him. However he’s in no position to refuse her help. Unfortunately our intrepid hero and heroine get themselves captured by the ravening and lust-crazed goat-women.

The goat-women completely dominate the small numbers of males of their species that they have allowed to survive, strictly for breeding purposes. Having captured Zenith and Sandra they have decide that the most entertaining use to which they can be put is to force Zenith and one of their own males to fight for Sandra. Sandra is imprisoned in a cage. The winner of the fight will get to join her in the cage to enjoy the spoils of victory. Zenith and Sandra having finally realised they are in love Zenith is determined that he will be the winner.

The second adventure, Revenge on Scylla, takes Zenith and another space pilot named (appropriately as we will learn) Death Lamson to the slime seas of the planet Scylla where they must do battle with the serpent-men to rescue Sandra. The serpent-men are bad enough but Zenith soon finds that he has an even bigger problem on his hands with Death Lamson, who had been a rival for Sandra’s affections. Lamson wants to rescue Sandra, but he intends to have her for himself.

The third story, Angels of Oorn, sees Zenith facing his most dangerous enemy yet, the ethereal inhabitants of the planet who look like angels but have the souls of devils. One look from these creatures transforms the victim into a lust-crazed madman. Or madwoman. A second glance is even worse, and a third results in complete psychosis and death. Zenith’s mission is to rescue the three members of a scientific expedition but he soon discovers that one of them, the beautiful Valkyr Sibyl Striker, has already had her first taste of the erotic madness induced by the inhabitants and Sibyl now has only one thought - she wants Zenith! Resisting the advances of a lust-maddened Valkyr is almost impossible and Zenith has the misfortune to get a glimpse into the eyes of one of the angel creatures. He is determined to resist the effects, but the only way he can do so is if Sandra turns up.

Now you might think this all sounds rather trashy. And you’d be dead right. These stories are incredibly trashy. They are however so unashamedly trashy that you can’t help admiring their sheer brazenness. And although there’s a lot of titillation the stories also have a great deal of action. There’s the kind of manic energy that makes even trashy pulp stories rather exhilarating.

There’s not the slightest regard for scientific accuracy but Tooker did have a knack for creating interesting imaginary worlds peopled by fascinatingly bizarre creatures. Angels of Oorn is the best of the three stories, largely because the angelic erotic mind vampires are a genuinely inventive idea.

The stories in Zenith Rand, Planet Vigilante are very trashy indeed but if you don’t mind this they’re enjoyably exuberant fun. Recommended for fans of sword and planet adventures liberally laced with sleaze.

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