ADRIFT IN THE UNKNOWN (1904) – Written by William Wallace Cook (like our previous story), this tale was originally serialized in Argosy magazine from December of 1904 to April of 1905. Our previous Cook story dealt with time travel, while this one deals with space exploration.
Burglar Peter Munn stumbles onto a meeting between scientist Professor Quinn and the four Robber Barons he has invited to his home. Those guests are Meigs the Wall Street Baron, Gilhooley the Railroad Baron, Popham the Coal Baron and Markham, who has cornered the market in food supply profiteering.
The uninvited Munn winds up taken along for the ride when the civic-minded Quinn reveals that his home is really a spaceship coated with antigravity paint and flies off with the reluctant tycoons in tow. Eventually the space travelers land on the planet Mercury.
In this story the surface temperature of Mercury is 500 degrees but Professor Quinn counteracts that with a cooling anti-temperature salve which he and his shanghaied fellow explorers apply to their bodies.
While exploring the planet Quinn and the burglar Munn get separated from the four squirrely millionaires. The pair wind up getting captured by the native inhabitants of Mercury.
The Mercurians are shaped like the Star Wars android BB-8, with a fat round bottom “ball” with their baseball-sized heads on top. Their heads have a single eye on one side and a single ear on the other, and they have tentacles instead of arms.
The scientifically advanced aliens use accordian-like speaking devices, translation technology and weapons which shoot purple rays which can be set to kill or paralyze.
When the communication barrier is overcome, Professor Quinn and Peter Munn learn they are being held in the Mercurian Kingdom of Baigol. A rival kingdom, Baigadd, has dishonestly acquired the Baigolian device called the Bolla.
That device is used to counteract character flaws and is used on potential political leaders to ensure via an “indexograph” that the candidate is sufficiently virtuous. Without the Bolla, Baigol faces a future of decadence and corruption, so Quinn and Munn are assigned by the King to recover the stone-like object.
When the two adventurers try to carry out this mission they wind up captured by the Baigaddians and learn that the 4 Robber Barons have already been taken prisoner by that kingdom. All of the Earthlings are sentenced to be executed.
Professor Quinn manages to substitute some of his antigravity paint for the ceremonial paint that the Executioner ritually applies to his body. The antigrav paint causes the Executioner to float away to die in space and, in the confusion, the 6 Earthmen escape.
The thief Munn successfully stole the Bolla and the sextet return it to the King of Baigol. Now free to leave the space explorers fly back to Earth. Contact with the Bolla has made Munn renounce his career in crime and has made the crooked tycoons decide to change their ways, too.
Adrift in the Unknown is fun but too often lapses into plain silliness. It’s not funny enough to count as a comedy and not serious enough to count as solid science fiction. I think only those readers obsessed with period items like this would find it appealing. +++
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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