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Friday, September 12, 2014
THE ASTOUNDING, THE AMAZING, AND THE UNKNOWN—pulp Golden Age SF for today
THE ASTOUNDING, THE AMAZING, AND THE UNKNOWN
Simon & Schuster
$25.99 trade paper, available now
Rating: 3.5* of five
The Publisher Says: Based on an incredible true episode of World War II history, Paul Malmont’s new novel is a rollicking blend of fact and fiction about the men and women who were recruited to defeat the Nazis and ended up creating the future.
In 1943, when the United States learns that Germany is on the verge of a deadly innovation that could tip the balance of the war, the government turns to an unlikely source for help: the nation’s top science fiction writers. Installed at a covert military lab within the Philadelphia Naval Yard are the most brilliant of these young visionaries. The unruly band is led by Robert Heinlein, the dashing and complicated master of the genre. His “Kamikaze Group,” which includes the ambitious genius Isaac Asimov, is tasked with transforming the wonders of science fiction into science fact and unlocking the secrets to invisibility, death rays, force fields, weather control, and other astounding phenomena—and finding it harder than they ever imagined.
When a German spy washes ashore near the abandoned Long Island ruins of a mysterious energy facility, the military begins to fear that the Nazis are a step ahead of Heinlein’s group. Now the oddball team, joined by old friends from the Pulp Era including L. Ron Hubbard (court-martialed for attacking Mexico), must race to catch up. The answers they seek may be locked in the legendary War of Currents, which was fought decades earlier between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. As the threat of an imminent Nazi invasion of America grows more and more possible, events are set in motion that just may revolutionize the future—or destroy it—while forcing the writers to challenge the limits of talent, imagination, love, destiny, and even reality itself.
Blazing at breathtaking speed from forgotten tunnels deep beneath Manhattan to top-secret battles in the North Pacific, and careening from truth to pulp and back again, The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown is a sweeping, romantic epic—a page-turning rocket ship ride through the history of the future.
My Review: The Philadelphia Experiment, a real project that took place during WWII and produced a long-lived tale of a whole ship that *poof* vanished from Philadelphia Navy Yard, was seen in Norfolk, Virginia, then *poof* reappeared in Philadelphia in far less time than it would take to sail there, is the backdrop of this fantabulous beast of a Franken-novel. Facts are here aplenty, stitched to the imaginitive suppositions of the author, and the tale enacted by the great science fiction writers of the First Golden Age: Robert Heinlein, ex-Navy man and scientist; Isaac Asimov, unfit for combat service but a chemist earning his PhD at Columbia when roped into the Philadelphia Experiment; Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, L. Ron Hubbard (blech)...and their wives, their lesser lights, and a seemingly endless cast of characters famous if you know who they are, like Lyman Binch, the only person to work for both Tesla and Edison.
The author propels his cast from pillar to post and back again. He puts them in incredibly perilous situations, he makes it impossible for them to survive, and then rescues them via last-minute coincidences and harum-scarum action. And in the end, after assembling the dramatis personae via the most unsubtle ruse of them all, he actually solves Tunguska, Wardenclyffe, and the Philadelphia Experiment, with a side order of conspiracy theory, in ~30pp.
Fairly happily so, I admit. The dialogue bears down a little much on the side of "As you know, Bob..." and "the reason I've brought you all here tonight is...", but for most people under 60 that really is the only way he can tell his story and make it even faintly believable.
What's most appealing about the novel is its true-to-the-pulps feel. I like the way it honors the genre of the dear, dead pulp science fiction mags of the 30s through the 60s by using--with a wryly arched eyebrow--their every convention, technique, and trope, then with a short coda, bringing the modern sensibility in harmony with the pulpish piffle that has quite enjoyably rollicked on before.
Mr. Malmont sent me a very nicely inscribed ARC of the novel when I won it in a contest on his website. It struck me that he's a lot like the old pulp writers. He's an advertising copywriter who clearly loves popular fiction in the SF genre, and is at home telling tales to entertain you, his reader, as he entertains himself. He's good at evoking mood and atmosphere. He's happiest when busiest, too.
My god...wouldn't surprise me a bit to find out he was a robot. o.0
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