Let’s get this out of the way right now. Two things, really. First, is Manly Wade Wellman the best name for a pulp science fiction author you’ve ever heard in your life? I’ll save you the trouble of actually having to think: Yes, it is. Good lord, if you say it quickly enough, you bark out “manly-made well man!” and people stare at you for what seems like hours.
Second: Is this the most ridiculous cover of a pulp science fiction book you’ve ever seen? Again, yes, yes it is. Look closely. What must be the protagonist appears to be under attack by a giant cartoon hen with steel-cable tentacles spraying out where the beak should be. It’s nothing short of brilliant. Who’s NOT going to want to grab this thing?
With “The Dark Destroyers,” Manly Wade Wellman does everything he appears to set out to do. Entertain the reader. The story starts out with an explanation that the appropriately-nicknamed “Cold People” (they can only live in the extreme cold) invaded Earth some 50 years before the action in this novel. No one seems to know why they came – no efforts were made to communicate with the inhabitants of the blue planet they set down on – but they appear hell-bent on exterminating all of humanity. It was soon understood that these invaders could not withstand the temperatures of Earth’s hottest areas; soon, bands of survivors made their way closer to the equator in order to establish a semblance of rule, and try to determine a way to kill the Cold People and claim the Earth for Earthlings once again.
The “present day” of this novel begins with five chiefs of their own tribes around a council fire near the Orinoco river, investigating the possibility of creating an alliance from the other rogue tribes in hopes of consolidating smarts and weapons to crush the Cold People once and for all. Sitting not far from the council fire is upstart Mark Darragh, who does his best to talk sense into the men before him. Mark convinces the others that if they just give him enough time to study the creatures, he can gain an understanding of their weaknesses beyond the climate, and determine a way to intelligently defeat the enemy, rather than once again throwing manpower and steel at them, only to have all takers killed.
The book pushes ahead from there, finding Mark among the Cold People, eventually learning (through ridiculous happenstance) how they fly their aircraft. Cocky Mark finds himself in peril after peril, eventually finding himself a prisoner of these creatures. Rather than killing him, though, the aliens drop him among what appears to be a habitation of regular Earthlings who live in a type of zoo for the creatures to study. Tending to his wounds is Brenda Thompson, the love interest of the story; the banter between these two is some of the corniest dialogue this side of a 1940s B-western.
Before Mark’s had a chance to fully heal from the wounds he’s suffered from his capture, he’s spotted the perfect Deus ex Machina in the village that will aid in not only his own escape, but give liberation to the others in this makeshift zoo. The leader of the community, however, is Orrin Lyle, who’s had his own eye on Brenda for some time. He argues that the community isn’t ready to act, that they have spent 50 years studying the aliens, and need more time before taking action. Mark’s plan is foolproof, and time’s a-wasting. Orrin’s just not having it; Mark’s facing a tough decision – override Orrin and run the risk of having untold numbers of community members try to take him down, or try to convince the entire community, Orrin be damned, that there is little time left to act.
The book is a ripping read; for all its weaknesses (there aren’t many), it is solidly written by the prolific Wellman, who has a nice turn of phrase for the era in which he wrote. There are some eye-rolling moments, not least of which is the awkward scene in which Mark forces himself on Brenda in a manner that would get him arrested today, and perseveres in spite of her violent protests, only to find the tide turned almost immediately, because Brenda can’t say no to those boyish charms. Still, knowing that we’ve seen the same sort of stuff in old black and white films and recent presidential campaigns, we can move on without giving it too much thought.
I found the ending to be about what I’d expect it to be, the sort that you can more or less figure out from about a mile away. But that doesn’t make the book less satisfying. A solid effort, breezy and quick, something to cleanse the palate between something a bit meatier. On a scale of 1 to 10, Doc’s got to give this one a B-minus.
Project Gutenberg currently offers two of Wellman’s stories for free, and there’s a few handsome ones through Archive.org; however, “The Dark Destroyers” doesn’t seem to be available for free legally, so no links, but keep your eyes peeled. It’s worth grabbinga library copy, but I’m not sure I’d pay a lot of money for it.
Don’t forget – Doc’s Cavalcade of Russian Film Reviews kicks off on May 1st as he attends the Russian Film Symposium. He’ll be reviewing each of the four hundred or so films being screened that week in lovely Pittsburgh, PA. Not quite four hundred films, but I’m padding now in order to allow the logo off to the right not look so lonesome by surrounding it with playful text. But seriously – each movie will be reviewed. Mark your calendars! Watch this space!