Monday, May 22, 2017

Heroes, Failures, and The Force Awakens



I wasn't planning on going on another tear against Star Wars NuCanon, but I think I figured out what bothered me the most about The Force Awakens.

Its not the uninspired soft reboot of A New Hope.

Its not the emotionless impact of major, even world-destroying, events or the abysmally small sense of scale of the film.

Its not even Rey's lack of character development and Mary Sue red flags.

Its the fact that it reduces the heroes of the original trilogy to failures in order to prop itself up.

Lando Calrissian goes from shady gambler to respectable business man to baron-administrator to treacherous coward to redemption seeking friend to noble general willing to risk his life for a greater cause. In old Canon he somewhat retires from his military rank to pursue grand financial adventures, but retains close ties to the New Republic. (Yes, I'll be using examples from Legends continuity, deal with it). He's nowhere to be seen in TFA, presumably off doing low-level gambling stuff and business ventures again.

Leia Organa goes from a driven diplomat, senator, warrior and leader, royalty times two: first to Alderaan and to Naboo (as goofy as its executive branch may be). She's a crack shot and a sharp wit who never gives up and would become instrumental in the formation of the New Republic. In Legends she became a mother of three powerful Jedi (hey, Jacen was an adult when he fell to the Dark Side) and was able to successfully juggle between spending time with them and with her duties as Chief of State of the New Republic, and having galaxy-spanning adventures AND training in the use of the Force and got her own lightsaber.

Here? She's in charge of a rag-tag military front called “The Resistance” using cast-off military hardware to not look like a New Republic operation. She's reduced to a crackpot former Senator trying to warn people Ron Paul style about how the Empire wasn't really finished yet, and yet her Resistance is unable to prevent a massive terrorist attack that destroys the solar system that the New Republic government is in. “But she's a General now! That's so much more badass than a Princess!” A) That's debatable, especially since by rights she should be a Queen and B) She failed to steer the New Republic in a better direction and she failed to protect it from an outside threat. Her life's work, the Alliance to Restore the Republic? Failure.

Luke Skywalker goes from a wide-eyed farm boy and bush pilot to military officer to brash Jedi trainee to moody mystic to becoming the big damn hero of the galaxy through his ability to forgive the sins of his father. From there he continues in a military capacity for a while before rediscovering Jedi documents and re-opening the Academy and training a new generation of Jedi Knights. He eventually finds love and starts his own family. Sure there were some bumps along the way, but the New Jedi Order endured as a shining beacon of light in a violent galaxy.

NuCanon? Less than thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star, one of his own students turned on the academy and wiped out the next generation of Jedi. In response, Luke goes off into seclusion, abandoning his friends, family, even droids after a single disaster. This is the man who stared down the Emperor and refused to kill him. This is the man who clung to the bottom of a floating city after having his worldview shattered by the revelation that his nemesis was his father. This is a hero of supreme willpower and perseverance who goes into hiding because wannabe Darth Vader and his Ginyu Force killed his students. His life's work, bringing balance to the Force and restoring the Jedi Knights? Nothing but ashes.

Han Solo probably gets the worst of it (if only because Luke has a grand total of seven seconds on-screen in TFA). He starts as a smuggler, gambler and rogue for hire. Courting danger and the next payday he looks out for himself and Chewbacca because that he has. Then he runs into a crazy old mystic and his apprentice, then a space princess, and then discovers something greater than just getting paid. He discovers friendship, loyalty, love. Good people worth fighting for. A woman worth sacrificing himself to risky carbon freezing for. An evil government worth overthrowing. Out of all the original trilogy characters, Han's easily the most likable thanks to Harrison Ford's raw charisma, but also because he has the strongest character growth out of anyone. There's never any doubt that Luke or Leia will succeed, but Han's always got that cloud of potential failure over him. In Legends, he stays a general longer than Luke. He's still running off on crazy adventures, only this time he's doing it for the New Republic and for his wife, the Chief of State. He's a loving father of three kids. All while still managing to step on the toes of authority whenever he can and rubbing elbows with his old smuggling buddies. He's reached a fulfillment to his life that he never thought possible.

NuCanon has Han regressing back to being a lowlife smuggler bumming around the galaxy as a deadbeat dad. Then he picks up some dumb young kids and gets caught up in their adventure, awakening his long-dormant heroism. He tries to pass some knowledge on, and then gets killed by the son he very obviously never connected with. An Everyman hero without Space Magic getting by on his wits and courage losing every good thing he ever attained (including the Falcon) before one last gasp at heroism and a pathetic death at the hands of his own failure of a son. His failure is the most depressing of all because its the most complete.

I'm sure there's something to be said about cultural mores and so on in regards to the difference between what the Expanded Universe did with the characters in the 90s-00s compared to now. There's also something to be said about how everybody wants to write about a plucky group of rebels overthrowing an evil government to replace it with a good government, but nobody ever seems to write about a plucky group of heroes fighting against incredible odds to protect the good government that the previous rebels installed.

This piece is already long enough, so I'll leave you with this: look at the last shot of Return of the Jedi. Now think about everything that these characters have achieved amounting to nothing.





Leaves a bad taste, doesn't it?

Yeah.







On the bright side, at least they didn't drop a moon on Chewie this time around.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Legends Never Die: Han Solo at Stars' End


Han Solo at Stars' End is the second ever Star Wars novel. Published in 1979 by Del Rey, one year after Splinter of the Mind's Eye and two years after the original movie, this was a book of firsts. The first Han Solo-centric novel (the smuggler doesn't even appear in Splinter for reasons I covered in that review), it takes place before A New Hope and follows Han and Chewie's criminal escapades in a new location, the Corporate Sector.

Brian Daley (1947-1996), was a new author in 1979, having published his first novel, The Doomfarers of Coramonde (a story about US soldiers in Vietnam being transported to a fantasy world, which frankly, sounds like a blast) and its sequel, The Starfollowers of Coramonde in 1979. Daley was young, new, and pulpy, and it shows in Stars' End.

The book starts with Han & Chewie running guns for a group of oppressed laborers. Then they almost get impounded for not having the right kind of registration for the Millennium Falcon to operate in the Corporate Sector, and then they get swept up in a search for a missing outlaw tech named Doc who can help with the registration problem that turns into a murder mystery covering up a totalitarian prison on the edge of the galaxy known as Stars' End.



It may not be pulp in the traditional sense, but its a short book and whips from scene to scene with barely any fat. Han Solo as he is here is a committed rogue, scoundrel, and selfish jerk. When he pays back a loan shark named Ploovo Two-For-One, he adds in a vicious little exotic pet that jumps out of the box and attacks Ploovo. He doesn't accept the missing persons' job for free, doing it because he needs to get the Falcon's registration fixed.

Yet there's flashes of the hero he will become. He gives free advice to the aliens he smuggles guns to in the beginning. It takes some prodding from some of the characters, but he sticks it out with the search for Doc.

The new characters are well handled. Jessa, Doc's outlaw tech daughter is a talented tech and fighter pilot in her own right who can match verbal barbs with Han. Atuarre, the Trianii (cat people) ranger looking for her missing husband is a solid warrior woman kind of character who has very personal stakes in the mission. Rekkon, the academic who's much more capable of adventuring than a mere professor would seem is the only true idealist here, and he's a fantastic mentor for Han as somebody who knows to prod him in the right direction. Also, Rekkon's arguably the first important black character in Star Wars, and he's intelligent, cunning, and heroic.



The real standouts are the droids Bollux and Blue Max. Blue Max is an eager little super computer who's amazing at technical feats but has the personality of a child and can't move around by himself. Enter Bollux: a positively ancient labor droid with a laconic personality and Southern drawl who's chest cavity is transformed into a housing unit for smuggling Max. They're fantastic.

The set pieces work out great too, including a fantastic dogfight that introduced early swing-wing versions of Z-95 Headhunters to Star Wars. The escape from the agriworld of Orron III by stealing and reprogramming a harvester droid is great. The climactic prison break at Stars' End ends up with Han blasting the entire station into low orbit and then having to find a way to escape before it comes crashing back down. Its awesome. What's more impressive is that it manages to capture a strong Star Wars feel without the Force and the Empire (well, there's a reference to the Imperial Entertainers' Guild, but that's it). If there's any real complaint I can think up is that aside from the Corporate Sector Authority's heavy-handed bureaucracy, there's no real meaty villain until they reach Stars' End.

In 1980, comics veteran Archie Goodwin (who helmed much of Marvel's Star Wars ongoing comic) and Filipino artist Alfredo Alcala adapted the story to a newspaper strip, which was later collected and printed by Dark Horse in 1997. The technology doesn't always match up with descriptions (Z-95s are described as having swing-wings and the comic doesn't portray them as such, so continuity wonks will grit their teeth) and the strip excised a LOT of the story, but its still a fun read.



Han Solo at Stars' End is perfectly good space opera adventures. As a Star Wars story, its wickedly fun, fast, and action-packed and perfect for anybody looking for Scum and Villainy adventures. If I was making a chart, this is essential Expanded Universe reading material, smaller-scale than the Thrawn Trilogy, but just as satisfying.

Plus, Han launches a villain out of a space lock.

In hyperspace.

I'd like to see Greedo try and do that first. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Stealing from the Best: Dr. Fate and The Ship of Ishtar



I just finished reading A. Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar, and while there's going to be a review for it soon, I stumbled onto something fascinating about it.

The Ship of Ishtar was first serialized in Argosy starting in 1924. Among the most important facets of the story is Babylonian mythology. Indeed, the main character, John Kenton, is described as being able to read cuneiform as well as English. This is impressive, because cuneiform had only really been reliably deciphered by modern scholars in the 1800s. Roughly less than a hundred years before Ishtar was published. Mesopotamian history and culture was new and fresh in the Western world because scholars were now able to actually study more than architecture, pottery, and what their neighbors said about them.

Kenton's most significant mystical ally is the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and truth, Nabu. In the book, Nabu's color is blue, and Kenton makes good use of a sword blessed by the god once the archaeologist returns to the ship to rescue the red haired priestess of Ishtar, Sharane, from an evil priest of Nergal.



In 1940, DC comics published More Fun Comics #55, in which a blue-clad archaeologist named Kent Nelson, who is a champion of Nabu (revealed in issue 67) equipped with his magical items, rescues an initially red haired woman named Inza (who would eventually become his wife) from an ancient sorcerer. 

That can't be coincidence.

Kent Nelson became Dr. Fate, a prominent 40s super hero, one of the first tights-clad “Super Wizards” (as opposed to mystics like Zatara from 1938 who fought crime in their stage regalia). Fate's crimefighting career expanded greatly from his origins, encountering numerous ancient magical threats, being a founding member of the Justice Society and passing down the Helmet of Nabu first to his wife and then a succession of less memorable pupils. There were even a few times when Nabu himself acted as little more than a cape, gloves, and helmet. The Babylonian heritage of Nabu is eventually lost, instead tying him to ancient Egypt to better synergize with the likes of Hawkman and Black Adam.



Unlike Kenton, who is a two-fisted man of action, all incarnations of Dr. Fate are dedicated magicians who sit among the highest spellcasters of the DC universe. Though Kent Nelson was just as happy to throw some punches around in the 40s as he was to cast spells.

Still, the similarities between the two characters can't be ignored. I don't even think that they're a coincidence, since Dr. Fate's creator, the insanely prolific Gardner Fox (1911-1986) said that he particularly liked Merritt in an early 70s interview. There's your smoking gun. A fan of Merritt couldn't have been ignorant of The Ship of Ishtar. Not with it being Merritt's most popular work.

Fox himself would go on to write for pulp magazines in the 40s and 50s and then novels, though his largest body of work was in comics. Like Merritt, Fox himself would serve as an influence on Dungeons & Dragons, appearing in the Appendix N list of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide in 1979.



Does this cheapen Dr. Fate? I don't think so. For starters, Fate's initial design by Howard Sherman is outstanding, and in the visual medium of comics, that matters a great deal. The two characters also diverge considerably, with Fate getting into some truly weird (not necessarily good) adventures in the 80s and 90s. Its derivative in a good way, taking a nugget of an idea (Nabu, god of wisdom selecting a mortal champion) and running with it in a vastly different direction intended for ongoing adventures.




I actually appreciate Dr. Fate a little more now than just as magical powerhouse who makes cool guest appearances, knowing what kind of a literary heritage he has.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Harry Potter and the READ ANOTHER BOOK

This is going to be brief, since most of my free time right now is absorbed by a fiction writing project, so the following will be a bit disjointed.

One of the most striking things I'm seeing in discussions with the Pulp Revolution/Superversive crowd of Sci-Fi/Fantasy is the the sheer variety of influences that people reference.



Let's create a strawman and call him an “Average Sci-Fi Fan” who checks out a lot of the stuff that gets talked about by the enthusiast press. So he's familiar with Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, the Marvel and DC movies, Star Wars, Doctor Who and Harry Potter. Certainly the Lord of the Rings movies and maybe the books. Occasionally word of mouth will get him into something off the beaten path, like the Dresden Files or John Wick, but by and large, the genre fiction that he consumes is centered around big franchises with a lot of media marketing pull and reputations as “Must-See” because they're happening NOW and this is what's important NOW.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but its very narrow. Television, Film, and Books with ties to the former dominate that fan's attention. Video Games are in there too, nowadays, frequently represented by new editions of long-running franchises. This strawman is by no means indicative of all Average Sci-Fi fans, if such a thing even exists, yet it seems to be all anybody paying attention to enthusiast media (websites, blogs, reviews, etc) seems to talk about. Our strawman might be content with the popular content he has access to, but there's a darker implication: With enough advertising and ideology backing up specific Big Franchises, why would an enthusiast press that profits from stories about these franchises encourage anything else when they can gatekeep people into advertiser-friendly articles?

By contrast, I'm seeing the PulpRev/Superversive crowd being fully aware and involved in all of the above series, but then going off on widely tangent topics. I can guarantee that right now at least two people are arguing about Anime on Twitter. A month or two ago, people were having a serious discussion over whether or not Dune was a good book or not. Old pulp novels, old comics, new comics, mythology, even radio dramas are all mixed into a slurry of ideas sloshing around in people's heads. Yesterday I was talking with people about the Lone Wolf gamebooks from the 80s. I've seen heartfelt theological discussions. There are at least three people I know of who will fight to the death for the honor of Car Wars. There's even a subfaction of Furries who're getting along well with most everybody. Furries. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one, but they're all right.

There's a reason why Harry Potter similes and metaphors are met with “READ ANOTHER BOOK.” There's a near-infinite well of speculative fiction to draw from out there, if you know where to look. There's no need to settle for keeping up with what the popular kids are telling you to read.


The cross-pollination of ideas in the Pulp Revolution and Superversive movement is going to lead to an avalanche of creativity within the next six months. You can bet on that.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Appendix N Review: The Moon Pool



Okay.

So.

A. Merritt is one of several authors who've I've become aware of thanks to Appendix N, and when I saw an 8 Novel, 8 Short Story collection of one Abraham Merritt on Amazon for 99 cents, I figured why not?

And then I read The Moon Pool (1919) and so much of what I assumed about the mechanics of science fiction was challenged.

Here is a story that starts out as a proto-Lovecraftian horror tale that makes a convincing monster out of moonlight that lives in the ruins of the island of Nan-Matal (a real place, I might add). As our scientist narrator learns about this Dweller, he accrues two other adventurers to examine the ruins and find the reason for the disappearances.

Then they find the entrance to a bizarre Hollow Earth situation with super strong dwarfs, cloaks of invisibility, disintegration guns, seashell-shaped hover cars, a seductive evil priestess at war with a heroic good priestess, mysterious extradimensional gods, an undead army, and benevolent warrior frog people called the Akka.

This isn't the kind of story that knocks your teeth out like R.E. Howard could crank out effortlessly. The Moon Pool is a slow burn that admittedly spends too much time on exposition. The last few chapters before the climactic battle are a massive infodump of lore and little else. Merritt was a smart man, and its clear that a lot of time was spent thinking up the theology and prehistory of the underground world.



And yet despite a fair bit of clunking around explaining things (this was Merritt's first novel, after all, and by the end it feels as though he's much more confident as a writer than at the beginning), it wins you over with its action and heroes and the rhythm of the language.

Oh yes, it has heroes. Flawed, sometimes motivated by darker impulses, but unabashedly heroic. Dr. Goodwin, the narrator, operates as a narrator whose function is to bear witness to the events, but he's no simple reactionary. He started off on a quest to find a lost friend and does so, at personal expense.

Then there is Captain Olaf Huldricksson, a brawny Norwegian overcome with grief and revenge for his lost wife and daughter, who were taken from his boat by the Shining One of the Moon Pool. A man of few words, most of them Norwegian, he's a secondary character and a modern author would have killed him off in an early scene for cheap drama or had him turn into a villain. Not so here. Even when he spends significant time off screen, Merritt develops the hell out of Olaf to the point where he gets a suitably Scandinavian fate.

This image will make sense when you read the book



Then there's the O'Keefe. Half American, Half Irish, and Half Mad, Larry O'Keefe survived flying in World War I and is rescued from the sea by Goodwin's ship, and then sensing ADVENTURE, signs on with the expedition in a heartbeat. Recklessly brave and hot-blooded about the supremacy of Ireland, he is an enormous skeptic of the supernatural except regarding any Irish myths. At one point, he tells Goodwin that a leprechaun visited him in a dream with advice with a completely straight face. Part of his impulsiveness comes from surviving the horrors of WWI and wanting to wring as much out of life before the end comes. He's also remarkably loyal and won't even stop to think about rushing into danger to help one of his friends. A Hero like Larry needs a woman worth conquering the world for, and Lakla, the auburn-haired good priestess, is just that. Its a whirlwind romance once they finally meet, but the two compliment each other beautifully.

In a modern world of brooding anti-heroes O'Keefe is a breath of fresh air. For whatever reason (that's not worth dipping into here), we've cast aside the ability to make compelling true-blue, Capital H Heroes in the name of being true to reality or some such nonsense.

Larry O'Keefe in The Moon Pool is a reminder that Capital H Heroes are there to inspire us to make reality out of truth.

Big ideas, chilling horror, frog people, and Big Damn Heroes. Its a 98 year old book that crackles with life. 


Absolutely recommended, and its not even Merritt's magnum opus, The Ship of Ishtar.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Short Fiction: The Peril of Pogo-Pogo Island!

     Might as well throw up another rejected short I wrote a few years back that didn't sell. This one's from 2012 and was submitted to a comedic SF/F...thing. With the only thought running through my head was "hey, this sounds fun, let's go nuts," I ended up writing a pulpy throwback story with absurdly inaccurate "science" and broadly stroked characters. It was a blast to write and, naturally, it was flat-out ignored, probably because I have a character use the word "dames" unironically and other Problematic™ things. It doesn't even discuss any of The Issues™. 

     Re-reading it now, that's probably because I hadn't written a pulp pastiche at all, but stumbled into an ACTUAL pulp story. Sure, its a lighthearted bit of silly fluff, but its also nonstop action, romance and ADVENTURE. 

     (As an aside, I even wrote a green beam weapon into it without having any knowledge of A. Merritt or the ket guns of The Moon Pool. )



The Peril of Pogo-Pogo Island!
By K.P. Kalvaitis



     “Dynamo” Dave Callahan, dashing stunt pilot, marksman and adventurer awakened on the sandy beach of a distant Pacific Island, blinking up at the Sun and wishing he had a mouthful of margaritas instead of sand.

     “Boy am I glad you're awake, boss,” a voice greeted him as he sat up and spat out half the beach.

     “Rick!” Callahan shouted as he recognized his trusty mechanic and sidekick, Rick Santos.

     “Over here, boss,” Rick said, waving Callahan over to a small campfire made near their downed plane. “You took a nasty bump in the landing.”

     “And the Silver Streak? What about my baby?”

     “Also took a nasty bump. I'm doing what I can to get her purring again, but without most of my tools and a five-and-dime, it looks like we're sh-”

    “Language, Rick!” Dave admonished. “Just because we're trapped on a deserted island is no excuse to act uncivilized.”

     “Sorry, boss,” Rick shrugged.

     Callahan patted the shining silver sides of his plane gently in apology. “You know, Rick, I'm beginning to think that this Sharkey character we've come halfway across the world for is more than he seems.”

     “He's probably a spy. One of them Fifth Columnists or something,” Rick said. “You look hungry, boss.”

     “Famished,” Callahan said, sitting down at the campfire. “What'cha got there?”

     Rick handed Dave a stick of grilled meat. “Lizard. Watch out for tiny bones.”

     “Thanks Rick, I don't know what I'd do without you.”

     “Die alone in a fiery plane crash, boss.”

     “Ha! Ain't that the truth,” Callahan said, biting into dinner. “Got anything to wash this down?”

     For an answer, Rick handed Dave a coconut. Dave cracked it in half against a rock and slurped some of the juices.

     After a quick and quiet dinner, the two reclined against the plane and watched the sun go down.

     “Where do you reckon we are, boss?” Rick asked. “Its not on any of the charts.”

     “Oh, its probably some speck of dirt too tiny and insignificant to be caught up in this crazy war the world's got itself messed up in. In a way, I wish there were more islands like it in the world...”

     “I'd prefer Honolulu myself, boss,” Rick said. “And speaking of coconuts, I sure wish we had some dames around to share that spectacular sunset with.”

     “You've got a one-track mind, Rick. Women are just a distraction.”

     A twig snapped nearby and the two men shut up, ears perked. After another twig snapped, they jumped up, ready for a fight.

     They weren't ready for thirty islanders armed with spears surrounding them. In a flash, Dave had his revolver in his hand and was clicking the trigger futilely at their leader.

     “Gun's jammed!” Dave exclaimed the obvious.

     “Sand and the salty sea air must've gotten to it, boss! What now?”

     The leader of the islanders, wearing a giant headdress, shouted at them in his language and his tribesmen silently grabbed the adventurers and tied them up.

     “Guess we do what our hosts tell us to do, chum,” Callahan shrugged.

     They were led through the jungle at spearpoint in eerie silence. Night had fallen and without torches, Dave and Rick had difficulty keeping track of where they were. Obvious landmarks included rivers, a village, and finally a clearing on a mountainside where three rows of giant stone heads stared serenely out over the Pacific.

     The leader approached the biggest idol and pulled a hidden lever. With the mechanical sound of gears and pistons, a passageway opened up, revealing a stairway into the mountain lit with incandescent bulbs.

     “Looks like we're not the only visitors here after all,” Dave said before a storm of words from the leader silenced him. A few spear prods nudged the two down into the entrance.

     After a walk that seemed like an hour, they stepped into a massive control room whirring with machinery. Dominating a wall was a gigantic map of the world with the capitals of the major powers, Axis and Allied, clearly marked.

     “Hey boss, look over there, its-”

     “Sharkey!” Callahan shouted, straining against his restraints.

     The man known as Sharkey turned at the sound of his name. “Callahan? So you really did come all this way to hunt me down? I'm flattered.”

     “Were you flattered that I stopped you from flooding the streets with counterfeit sawbucks?”

     Sharkey's smile hardened. He had an angular face, accentuated by the sharp widow's peak and his slicked back hair. He wore a pinstripe suit and took a cigar out of a pocket.

     “Business is business. You've got yours, I've got mine,” Sharkey said, trying to shrug off his prior failure. “You're persistent, I'll give you that.”

     “Who's your boss, Sharkey?” Callahan demanded. “You're clearly no small-timer. Is it Hitler? Mussolini? Hirohito?”

     The flick of Sharkey's lighter caught the attention of the other occupant in the room. Metallic boots clanked loudly, catching Callahan's voice in his throat.

     “Boss!” Rick shouted. “L-look at his h-head!!”

     Dave and Rick's eyes widened as they saw something they never thought possible, because attached to those metal boots was a metal body, and mounted atop the broad steel shoulders, was a jar with a brain floating within!

     “And again I must remind you not to light an open flame within my facility, Sharkey,” A cold, clipped voice crackled through speakers on the mechanical chest. The accent was clearly German.

     “Sorry sir,” Sharkey said and closed the lighter.

     “My God! He's some kind of robut!” Callahan shouted.

     “RoBOT is the word you are looking for, Mr. Callahan. And I assure you I am no such thing, for the brain you see before you is the transcendentally brilliant mind of Dr. Gerhard Klein!” the speaker corrected.

     “Hitler's top scientist! Sharkey, I knew you were scum but selling out to the Ratzis is a new low!”

     “What can I say Callahan? I'm a sucker for gold bars. Besides, the Doc here is paving the way for the future, and I intend to profit from it.”

     “The only thing in your future, buster is my fist smashing your dirty traitor nose!” Rick screamed and tried to run forward.

     “Easy Rick, we'll get our chance,” Dave said, calming the youth down.

     “Amusing, but I have no time for this right now.” Dr. Klein snapped his metal fingers. “Take them to...the pit.”

     The tribal chief shouted more commands, and the islanders silently dragged Dave and Rick away from the room.

     “I don't like this boss,” Rick said as they were led to the rim of a ledge.

     “Neither do I. But we've been through tougher scrapes.”

     “Did any of them have a Nazi brain in a jar?”

     “Point taken, Riiiiiiiiiiiiick!”

     Callahan's voice echoed across the abyss as he and Rick were finally pushed over the edge into darkness.

     The drop was a surprisingly brief one. Dave landed roughly on the hard stone floor in a pool of light created by the single light bulb hanging above. When he managed to suck air back into his lungs, he called out to his sidekick.

     “You okay buddy?”

     “I think so,” was Rick's reply. “I landed on something soft.”

     A third voice groaned. Dave heard Rick yelp and there was a brief struggle before Rick was flung over to Dave's side.

     “Blazes! I don't know what that is, but it's got a kick like a mule!”

     “Steady, Rick,” Dave said. “It could be anything. A wild animal, one of Dr. Klein's mad experiments, or even-”

     “A blonde!” the startled Rick said as their neighbor shifted into the light. Like them, her arms were bound behind her back.

     “My name's Dr. Amanda Knoxville, you heel,” she snapped.

     “Oh good, I think I dislocated my shoulder in the fall,” Rick said.

     “I'm a doctor of anthropology,” she corrected.

     “Anthro-what?” Dave asked.

     “Anthropology. I study primitive cultures of the past.”

     “At least you're not a reporter like last time,” Dave said. “A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Knoxville. I'm Dynamo Dave Callahan and the bundle of hormones is my trusty mechanic Rick Santos.”

     “We've met,” Rick smiled wistfully. Amanda made a face that said “yuk” in any language.

     “I don't suppose you've got a way out of here?” she asked.

     “Our plane's on the beach, but needs some more work before it can get airborne again.”

     “Well that's a start.”

     “How'd a looker like you end up on an island like this?” Rick asked.

     “I was studying the culture and habits of the South Pacific islands. I've been on Pogo-Pogo for a month studying the native Pogos when that maniac arrived.”

     Dave whistled. “He built all this in a month?”

     “No. He's already been here before. Some of the natives worshiped him like a god. The rest were just afraid of his power. One of their hunters, Manu, saw an opportunity to take control of the tribe and sided with Klein and led them to the clearing where one of the statues was modified with Klein's Hypno-Ray. Manu sold his people out and now rules over a tribe of mindless slaves!”

     Rick tensed up. “The fiend! Is there a way to reverse the Hypno-Ray?”

     Amanda shook her head sadly. “No. I'm afraid the greed of one man has utterly destroyed a culture that has existed for centuries.”

     Tied behind his back, the clenching of Rick's fist lost its visual impact. “What kind of monster does that to his own people?”

     “Steady Rick,” Dave said. “We need a calm head to get out of this.”

     “I'm open to suggestions.”

     “The pit isn't too deep,” Amanda said. “Working together three people could probably climb out of it with some effort. Only problem is these ropes.”

     “If only we had something to cut through them...” Dave grunted.

     “Wait, that's it!” Rick's eyes lit up. “They didn't take my pocketknife out of my back pocket!”

     “Rick, that's perfect!” Dave said. “Let me see if I can...”

     After a few minutes of awkward fumbling, cutting, and climbing, the three were rubbing their sore, but free, wrists and looking down the darkened corridor leading back to Dr. Klein's command room.

     A spear clanged into the metal wall next to Dr. Knoxville and clattered to the floor.

     “The Pogos!” she shouted.

     Down the hallway, Manu and his headdress were waving another spear and furiously pointing at the group.

     “Keep the lady safe and find us a ticket out of here, Rick!” Dynamo Dave Callahan said, barreling down the hallway at Manu. “I've got a plan!”

     “What? Are you crazy?” Amanda shouted after him.

     Rick grabbed her by the arm and ran in the opposite direction. “Trust me lady, you don't want to be in the radius when the boss has a plan. Let's go!”

     Ten minutes later the sound of alarms and running feet died down behind them, and Rick opened a door to an unoccupied room and slammed it shut behind them. The two leaned up against it, catching their breath.

     “First woman to graduate in my program,” Dr. Knoxville groaned. “I should not be running for my life from angry natives!”

     Rick pounded the door in frustration before turning away from it. “Really? Because that happens to me a lot and I barely finished high school.”

     “You know what I mean. Where are we?”

     Rick squinted into the darkness and found a light switch. “From all the guns I'd say this was an armory,” he said as shelf after shelf of advanced weapons stretched out before them.

     Dr. Knoxville went to a wall and drew back some blinds, spilling more light on the armory. “Looks like there's an airfield out there.”

     “Well that's a relief,” Rick said, examining a pistol covered in glass tubes with a green liquid sloshing around inside. “But it would be even better if there was something we could fly out on.”

     “There's a plane.”

     “Hmm?” Rick strolled over to the window. His eyes lit up when he saw what she was talking about. “That's my baby out there!” He handed Amanda the pistol and put both hands on the window.

     “What?”

     “The Silver Streak!”

     “You came in that thing?”

     Rick ignored the insult. “They must've dragged her up from the beach. Everything looks like its still there.”

     A burst of incoherent and angry shouting came from the doorway.

     “Get down!” Dr. Knoxville shouted as she shoved Rick to the ground. A spear crashed through the window where the mechanic had been standing.

     Manu was in the doorway, waving another spear and shouting furiously in his language. Amanda brought the gun up and pulled the trigger.

     Instead of a bang and a bullet flying out, the gun went “Vmmmmmmuuuuuuuuu” and a steady green beam shot out, striking Manu's chest. At first there was no effect, but then the henchman started shaking and foam spat out of his mouth before he collapsed into a twitching pile that slowly stopped moving.

     Amanda and Rick stared at the gun in a mix of wonder and horror. A mechanical sqwawk made them jump.

     “Rick! Rick are you there!” Dave's voice came in through the static.

     Rick raised his wrist and spoke into the two-way radio on it. “Found the armory, Dave. It's...different. Where are you?”

     “Almost in position. I can see my baby on the airfield from here and-”

     “We can see it too Dave.”

     “Get to the plane and get her ready, this island's about to go sky-” Dave grunted and Rick could hear fists, shouts, and the distinctive “vmmmmuuuu” sounds the guns made.

     “Dave? Dave!” Rick shouted into his wrist but there was no answer. He looked at Amanda and grabbed her arm. “Come on, we've got to go! Its about a six-foot drop from the window. After that its a clear shot to the plane. Watch out for broken glass.”

     “Wait, slow down!”

     “You heard the man, this island's about to become another Krakatoa!”

     The two dropped down onto the sandy ground outside the window, each carrying one of Dr. Klein's beam guns. Rick let out a sharp “Ahh!” and continued dropping.

     “What? What's wrong?” Amanda asked.

     “My ankle! I think I sprained it.”

     “You've got to be kidding me,” she said, helping him back up. “Can you run?”

     Rick winced in pain. “Maybe if you kiss it and make it better.”

     “So no.”

     “Then kiss me instead.”

     “What? No.”

     “We could die at any moment, and I saved your life.”

     “I saved yours! Twice!”

     “Then I should be kissing you.” Rick puckered up and theatrically kissed her cheek. “I'm sorry.”

     “For being a jerk?”

     “No, for not landing on you sooner. You're very pretty.”

     Dr. Knoxville rolled her eyes and they limped across the tarmac. “What about your boss?”

     “Dave? Nah, he wouldn't know what to do if he landed on you.”

     “What?”

     “You're not his type,” Rick said as they reached the plane. “He's a good man, but he's, ah, what was the word Sharkey used?”

     “Gunsel?”

     “Yeah, that. Wait, who said that?”

     Sharkey stepped around the plane holding a gun. “For a sidekick you sure like to talk a lot.”

     “Ah!” Dr. Knoxville shouted and fired a beam at the gangster.

     “That won't work on me, toots,” Sharkey laughed and pounded on his chest with a metallic clang. “I'm wearing armor designed to absorb those beams harmlessly.” He aimed an identical pistol. “You on the other hand, probably aren't.”

     An explosion rocked the island, sending the three of them reeling.

     “What the-?” Sharkey managed before Rick got the jump on him, punching him twice before wrestling for the gun.

     A giant plume of black smoke rose from the volcano, and sprinting headlong over the tarmac was Dynamo Dave Callahan, clothing and hair singed around the edges. “We've got to go! We've got to go!” he repeated constantly as he neared the plane.

     Amanda kicked the pistol away from Sharkey's reach as Dave arrived. Sharkey kicked Rick off of him. There was a loud rip as Rick tore off whatever he was holding on to. The mechanic blinked in alarm as he found himself holding not only Sharkey's jacket, but also what had been his face.

     “What in the...?” Dave asked, staring at Sharkey.

     The gangster felt his face and snarled. “So you blew my cover, huh?” He had dark green skin covered with scales and pointed teeth. He grabbed a small box out of a pocket and pushed a few buttons. “But don't think you've seen the last of me, or the Space Mafia!”

     There was a flash of light and Sharkey was gone.

     Dave was the first to recover. “Everybody into the plane! We've got to go! NOW!”

     The three leaped into the Silver Streak, with Dave jumping behind the controls and flicking switches.

     “She's ready to go, right Rick?”

     “Looks like,” Rick said before receiving a slap in the face.

     “You said you sprained your ankle!” she fumed.

     “And I saved your life!” Rick protested as Dave brought to a roaring start.

     “So you expect me to kiss you for it?”

     “That IS the custom we've established!”

     Dave had no idea what they were arguing about, and didn't care. Another tremor rocked the island and navigating the airfield was starting to get dangerous. He opened the throttle and with a triumphant shout, they were in the air again.

     Dynamo Dave looked back at his passengers. They hadn't strapped into their seats and were in a jumbled pile near the back of the plane.

     “See? This is the second time I saved your life,” Rick said from the pile.

     “By landing on me again!”

     “Well you're just so comfortable.”

     “Mister, you owe me a lot more than a stupid kiss for what you've put me through!”

     “Fine, then I'll pay it back with interest when we reach the mainland.”

     “I didn't say I wouldn't take the kissing as a down payment!”


     As Pogo-Pogo Island sank slowly in the west, Dynamo Dave Callahan sighed and turned back to the controls as Rick and Amanda's argument came to a sudden stop. He patted the plane lovingly. 

     “I'm glad you and I don't have those kind of problems, baby,” he said, and settled in for the flight ahead.