And The Futuremen!
Part I: Who Is Captain Future?
It is extremely easy, in this age of pastiches, homages, parodies, deconstructions, and reconstructions, to lose sight of the source of things. We are a world of second handers and third handers. This is the age of the mash-up. Quite honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that — the only difference between someone writing Twilight fanfic and William Shakespeare is that Shakespeare occasionally got laid. I have said many times that originality is overrated, in that, ninety nine times out of a hundred, someone’s “original” idea is an idea smarter people long ago thought of and realized was crap.
It’s still important to know what you’re mashing up, plagiarizing, homaging, and deconstructing. There is something vital about the earliest works of any genre, the point in the evolution of creativity where a new style or category of art split from its ancestral roots. One reason I love 1970s RPGs is that they are mostly examples of this era, of what I’ve termed the Burgess Shale — the period of explosive innovation when people still don’t know what works and what doesn’t.
So we come, finally, to Captain Future. My editor at PCWorld would have fits at how much I ramble before getting to the point, but, hey, no one is paying me for this, so I can write it my way, which means, filled with Adderall (I have a prescription, just to be clear) fueled digressions and clarifications. Like that one.
I know what you’re thinking. (You’re thinking, “I wonder if they’ve posted anything new at trannymidgetsinbondage.com since the last time I looked.”) “Wait, Lizard was talking about getting away from parodies and pastiches and going back to the source, and there’s no way something called ‘Captain Future’ was published with a straight face.” You’re wrong, wholly imaginary audience! Not only was it published with a straight face, it was played completely straight, with any humor, or attempts thereof, coming from some banter between an android and a robot that was more forced than Michael Jackson’s wedding night. To judge from the letters page, the audience at the time saw nothing remotely risible about it, either, and took it for exactly what it was. (If you either don’t know what ‘risible’ means, or you can’t glark it from context, this probably isn’t the web page for you, and you probably got here because google saw my line about trannymidgetsinbondage.com. )
So who, or what, is Captain Future?
Here’s where we put the page break!
Meet The Futuremen!
Captain Future is really Curt Newton, the son of brilliant scientists who left him an orphan, so he was raised on the moon by an android, a robot, and a brain in a jar, and he now cruises the solar system fighting evil.
The second chapter of the first novel, “Captain Future And The Space Emperor”, opens with this origin. Well, it opens with this:”The name of Captain Future, the supreme foe of all evil and evil-doers, was known to every inhabitant of the solar system.” Also, “Combining a gay audacity with an unswervable purposefulness and an unparalleled mastery of science, he had blazed a brilliant trail across the nine worlds in defense of the right.”
A few paragraphs later, we get his origin: Roger Newton, a young Earth biologist (meaning he was a young biologist from Earth, not someone who believed the Earth was created 6,000 years ago), was busily creating artificial life (this was in the far future year of 1990, mind you), when an “unscrupulous politician with sinister ambitions” (some things never change) plotted to steal his discoveries, so, he took his wife, and his partner, Simon Wright (who was a brain preserved in a box), to the moon. (He had enough money from his father’s estate to purchase a rocket.) Once there, he set up shop, and soon produced a son, Curtis, and a robot, Grag, who was artificially intelligent and super-strong, but not of a “high enough mentality”. Thus, Roger move on to androids and created Otho, a white-skinned plastic man. Shortly thereafter, the evil politician’s men found them, and managed to kill Roger and Elaine, before being killed in turn by Grag and Otho. Child Protective Services has no jurisdiction on the moon, so Curtis Newton, their infant son, was raised by the Brain, Grag, and Otho. In perhaps the most bizarre form of Lamarckism ever documented, being raised by a super-strong metal robot made him strong, and being raised by a super-fast, super-agile plastic android made him fast and agile. Deciding to embark on a career of protecting the nine worlds from evil, he told the President of Earth to flash a signal light on the north pole if ever he was needed.
It’s important to note that the utter lack of guile, subtext, or camp is what makes these novels great. There’s no smarmy wink-wink, nudge-nudge, if you’re not laughing with us, we’re laughing at you, hipster post-modern irony here. These works are intended to be taken at face value — and if you try to read them through a lens of modernism and drag out all the crap you learned in literary criticism and start plotting your essay on “Captain Future As Imperialist Metaphor For Hegemonic Oppression Of Indigenous Persons” or some such drivel, you will have absolutely no fun. Yes, the universe of Captain Future is one where Straight White Presumably Christian Though It Never Actually Comes Up Males rule everything and no one even thinks to question it. Yes, the one female character with a name spends most of her time being captured, despite her putatively being a police agent of some sort. Yes, when all is said and done, Captain Future has, basically, the personality of balsa wood, with an emotional range that runs from “grim determination” to “determinately grim”.
What matters is that Captain Future blasts through space, fighting bad guys with names like “The Space Emperor” and “The Wrecker” and “Doctor Zarro”. What matters is that Jupiter is a massive world with dozens of continents, that there are “Marching Mountains” on Pluto (actually, super-fast glaciers that can crush you), that Neptune is a super-ocean-world, and that you can live without a space suit on all of the aforementioned planets, provided, of course, you have a gravity equalizer — for any difference in gravity, even a slight one, will quickly cripple and kill you. Much like the old joke about the student who dismissed Shakespeare for his overuse of cliches, it’s important to realize many of the ideas in these books which have long since become trite and overused were completely new, or at least new enough that they still had impact. From the sargasso sea of space, to the rope snakes of Saturn, to atom-guns, there is an endless parade of concepts, ideas, and terms flung out. It’s really best to lose yourself in the moment and just take it all in, uncritically accepting it for what it is. Try to read these stories with the eyes and mind of a 14 year old in 1939.
Soon… ideally, tomorrow, but hopefully no later than next week… I will take a look at the first novel, Captain Future And The Space Emperor!
Dammit I was just about to recommend you review ‘I shall destroy all the civilized planets’ but there it is, you’ve done it already.
What a wonderfully odd book.
I have the sequel (You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!), collecting the rest of Hanks’ work, and, Supermen (http://www.amazon.com/Supermen-First-Comic-Heroes-1936-1941/dp/1560979712/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c). I should review that one here..