Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of another neglected pulp hero – in this case Northwest Smith. Created by the female author C.L. Moore in the 1930’s Northwest Smith was a ruthless outer-space smuggler and mercenary decades before Han Solo. With his Venusian partner Yarol at his side and armed with a trusty blaster Smith roamed the solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid. In the course of their criminal pursuits the two often found themselves in the role of reluctant heroes, sometimes with the fate of entire planets at stake. For more on Northwest Smith and other neglected pulp heroes click here: https://glitternight.com/pulp-heroes/
3. SCARLET DREAM (1934) – Once again lying low between illegal activities of some sort Northwest Smith finds himself in the Martian city of Lakkmanda. The city’s illicit markets are legendary throughout the solar system and Smith buys a very odd scarlet blanket made of some otherworldly silk-like material. The blanket was found on a deserted spaceship with no sign left of the original crew, which should have warned our hero away from the odd blanket but if it had there would be no story.
At any rate Smith buys the unusually warm and hypnotic cloth and uses it as a blanket back at his cheap hotel room. While he sleeps the blanket transports Smith to another dimension, a nightmarish land where all previous victims of the blanket (and others like it) are trapped forever. The only way out is through death – usually at the hands of a sinister, chimeric winged beast who devours his humanoid victims.
Smith’s guide and companion through this bizarre dimension is a beautiful (of course) and scantily-clad (ditto) brown-skinned alien woman with orange hair and white clothing spattered with the blood of her late sister: a relic of her sister’s death at the hands of the winged beast. The strange realm includes copper-colored grass each blade of which has a tiny mouth which sucks blood from those foolish enough to lie down in it. There are also living, predatory trees and a lake of purplish-green water containing half-glimpsed monsters of unknown nature.
All of this surreal and deadly landscape surrounds a central temple building where the winged creature dwells until it is hungry enough to go in search of prey. Northwest Smith decides the best course of action is to confront the beast in its lair and therein search for a means of escape from the scarlet dimension.
4. DUST OF GODS (1934) – Still hanging out on Mars waiting for another illicit job to come along Northwest Smith and Yarol are running so low on funds they’re down to their last drink. A mysterious Englishman buys them some Segir (Venusian whiskey) and hires them to complete a shady job that has already killed or driven insane all his previous hirelings.
The Englishman wants Smith and Yarol to retrieve certain relics for him from a hidden cavern at one of the Martian poles. Inside the cave lie the crashed remains of a structure from the long-lost planet that used to stand between Mars and Jupiter. The planet was destroyed in the distant past by the power of a being worshipped as that world’s mightiest “god”, Pharol the Black. The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter is nearly all that remains of that nameless planet except for the odd ruins that crashed at the Martian pole eons ago.
Smith and Yarol’s enigmatic client believes the physical remains of Pharol the Black lie within the ancient structure and he wants those remains for his own nefarious purposes. Our heroes encounter countless dangers when they venture into that cavern, dangers that put the modern reader in mind of Alien, Doctor Who and Indiana Jones all at once.
The alien structure at the heart of it all contains scientific oddities like liquid light and eerie remnants of the amoral reign of terror that Pharol the Black had inflicted on the long-destroyed planet between Mars and Jupiter. When Northwest and Yarol realize that the artifacts the Englishman wants will actually result in Mars being destroyed the way Pharol’s home planet was the criminal pair find themselves battling to save their own lives – and incidentally the lives of all other life forms on Mars.
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