THE STOLEN PLANET (1906) – Written by John Mastin. Jervis Meredith, a wealthy young British man and his equally wealthy friend Fraser Burnley are so brilliant they invent anti-gravity. Next the young tycoons have a spaceship built so they can use their anti-gravity device to tour outer space.
The battleship-sized craft is named The Regina and combines propellers with Meredith and Burnley’s anti-gravity invention. The friends set off with a ten-man crew and – oddly enough – they are so paranoid about people stealing their secrets they have rigged an elaborate bugging system throughout the Regina so they can know what the crew members talk about.
The explorers make the eccentric decision to explore the region around Sirius first, rather than our own solar system. Enroute the Regina accidentally pulls an uncharted planet out of its orbit (?) and causes it to collide with another uncharted planet. This collision causes a new sun to be born. (Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that this was apparently a big idea for a time since a lot of these old stories feature suns forming from colliding planets.)
Eventually our heroes decide to explore some planets on their way to the star Sirius. On the first planet they visit the explorers find enormous ruins obviously built by a gigantic race that is now extinct. The structures were beautiful from what can be made out and are made of materials unknown on Earth.
Jervis and Fraser – British to the core – “annex” the planet in the name of the King of England. They name the world Silens and soon find the atmosphere to be so radioactive they must leave before they suffer permanent damage.
Next the Regina survives an encounter with a comet, then lands on another planet. This one is many times the size of Earth and with gravity thousands of times greater. All the animals of this planet (Inimicus Ingens) are gigantic compared to Earth animals. Even germs are so large they are visible to the naked eye.
The explorers are captured by the world’s enormous humanoids but manage to escape the beings with a spunky alien sea creature as their new mascot. A guided missile that the aliens shoot at the Regina fails to hit it.
The seemingly “cute” mascot turns out to be not so cute after all. It begins devouring huge portions of the ship’s supplies and keeps growing to the point where it may fill the entire spaceship, then burst it open. Jervis and Fraser are forced to kill the creature.
Journeying on the ship gets lost in a gigantic gas cloud where the ship stalls and seems marooned forever. Luckily the drifting ship at last approaches a planet within the gas cloud and uses it to “bounce” their ship out of the cloud.
Hopelessly off-course now our heroes eventually find themselves on Venus in our own solar system. Everything is idyllic on Venus, where even lions are strict vegetarians and the people are serene and peaceful. Venusians are in contact with many other planets but consider Earthlings too undeveloped yet to be worth communicating with.
All is perfection on the planet but eventually that perfection drives our explorers to distraction and they set off again for Sirius. After all this trouble they only visit one of the planets that revolve around Sirius. That world is inhabited by small winged humanoids who communicate purely through music.
Before getting ready to return to the Earth, Jervis and Fraser establish radio contact with British news outlets, but are dismissed as hoaxers. Our heroes decide that the only way to prove what they’ve done is to steal a small, uninhabited planet on their way back home.
They succeed but as the Regina approaches the Earth with its planetoid in tow tidal mayhem is unleashed, causing massive losses to the entire British shipping industry. Our explorers are forced to tow their plundered planet to Jupiter, where it takes up orbit as just another moon of that planet.
Back on Earth our heroes face multiple lawsuits from businesses damaged by the tidal havoc they caused. A plenary pardon from the King saves them and they donate their other space treasures to the British Museum.
The crew members that our heroes were so suspicious of become incredibly wealthy from gold they looted back on Silens. Lawsuits are not exactly the most fascinating way to end a space adventure, but what can you do?
The Stolen Planet is merely okay. The only thing that makes it stand out from the many other space journey novels of the distant past is the heroes’ odd paranoia about their own crew and the very anticlimactic finale.
Plus, having to kill the initially adorable mascot is a very ballsy twist. Major studios today would probably nix that brave decision, in the name of selling toys centered around the mascot. +++
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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