Sunday, December 12, 2021

Harl Vincent's Before the Asteroids

Harl Vincent was a pseudonym used by American engineer and pulp science fiction writer Harold Vincent Schoepflin (1893-1968). His short novel Before the Asteroids was published in Science Wonder Stories in March 1930.

Before the Asteroids takes place in our own solar system, half a million years ago. There were at that time two planets which were home to advanced technological civilisations, Arin (now known as Mars) and Voris (a now-vanished planet orbiting the Sun where the Asteroid Belt now lies). The people of Arin are peace-loving but Voris is ruled by the ambitious and ruthless Olar.

Young Prince Ronal of Arin has been sent to Voris, carrying a false passport. hIs old tutor Antes suspects that Voris is plotting war. Ronal’s job is to find out whether or not this is true. Ronal immediately falls in love with the beautiful Vorisian Princess Ila. Ila wants peace between Arin and Voris and she has reason to hate her cruel father.

The Vorisians are indeed planning war. Ronal escapes just in time, taking Ila with him.

The war involves lots of aerial battles, lots of poison gases and ray projectors and lots of stuff getting blown up. Both sides seem evenly matched until the wise old Antides comes up with a super-weapon. If it works, Arin might be saved.

But there’s another problem. Both planets are about to pass through a gaseous nebula which will freeze every living thing.

Ronal is your typical noble young prince. His father is your typical wise and benevolent king. Olar is a typical villain. Ila is beautiful but also brave and noble.

This is fairly routine 190s pulp science fiction stuff. On the plus side the story moves along quickly.

The prose style is pure pulp.

This is one of those science fiction novels in which it is assumed advanced technological civilisations will be monarchies. Because if you don’t have a monarchy you can’t have beautiful princesses, and where would your story be without a beautiful princess? There’s not much in the way of world-building in this novel. Apart from the fact that they’re the bad guys the Vorisians seem pretty much like the Arinians. Both civilisations have death rays and advanced spacecraft propelled by mysterious rays and protective force fields.

The assumption that Mars half a million years ago was fertile and had an Earth-like atmosphere was still scientifically at least vaguely plausible in 1930. The assumption that the “canals” of Mars were real canals was also fairly plausible. The author was an engineer and he comes up with or two ideas for future technologies (such as the means of interplanetary transportation used by both planets) that are moderately interesting if far-fetched. He doesn’t try to blind us with too much technobabble - he just assumes that ideas like death rays work and gets on with the story.

The story can be seen as an attempt to explain some things about our solar system which seemed puzzling nearly a century ago. The attempted explanations are reasonably ingenious and they’re the most interesting aspects of the novel.

Armchair Fiction have paired this novel with Marius’s The Sixth Glacier in a double-header paperback.

Before the Asteroids isn’t great science fiction but it has plenty of action and it’s maybe worth a look if you’re in the mood for something seriously pulpy with a few good ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment