Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, April 19, 2019


The Vanguard of Venus by Landell Bartlett (1928)

Landell Bartlett (1897-1972) was a Colorado-born accountant, editor, columnist, local historian, and  poet.  He published three science fiction stories and was said to have been a friend of Robert A. Heinlein.  He was a member of the Colorado science fiction fan community up to at least the 1950s.

The Vanguard of Venus was issued as a free promotional item from Amazing Stories, given to anyone who wrote in and requested a copy.  One did not have to be a subscriber to the magazine.  Eidtor/publisher Hugo Gernsback's aim seems to have been to compile a list of where the magazine readers were from, something that helped him later on when he published Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories.

Bartlett's story never appeared in print in Amazing Stories and the original pamphlet has become a prized collector's item.  The tale was reprinted the fan magazine The Gorgon (2 parts, July and September 1947), put out by fellow Colorado Springs native Stanley Mullen.  It was later added as a fill-in story to meet page requirements at the end of Ancient Sorceries, a reprint by Ken Krueger's Fantasy House (as Fantasy Classic #4) of the Algernon Blackwood's classic John Silence story.  The original pamphlet has recently become available on Internet Archive, which is where I read it.

Barlett's only other SF tales were also printed in The Gorgon:  "Operation Venus" (a sequel to The Vanguard of Venus) in the March-April 1948 issue and "Coma Berenices" in the final, twelfth issue (Vol. 2 #4, 1948).

What about the story?  Well, it's published by Gernsback so it's a decidedly clunky tale, but not as clunky as it could be.  It's only 24 pages long and I am calling it a book as a courtesy because it was first released as a single publication.

Stanley Murdock is a geologist working in the southwest United States.  He quit his well-paying job in 1923 and moved to India to write this document, placing copies in banks in Bombay and Madrid, with instruction that they be mailed to him, if still alive, on June 21, 1931.  If he had died before that date, his executors were given permission to retrieve the documents.  Murdock was killed in a train wreck in India in February 1927.  His executor, believing the document to be a work of fiction, sent it to his cousin, a publisher, to do with what he wished.  The story, therefore, has been published as a work of fiction.

In January 1923, Murdock and his assistant were exploring desolate parts of New Mexico for Murdock's employers.  Camping out one night, Murdock is awakened at one in the morning by something, a sound, perhaps, or a premonition.  Their horses are acting nervously and, as Murdock goes to calm them, he notices a large rock that had not been there when he went to sleep earlier.  Suddenly the rock opens up, large hands grab him from behind, and he is knocked unconscious by something sweet, like chloroform.

He wakes up in a large chamber in complete darkness.  Although he is free to move around, there appears to be no escape.  Then he hears someone coming toward him.  An unseen being who claims to be a Venusian named Oomlag-Tharnar-Illnag.  It seems Venusians had come to Earth a century before and have been living in New Mexican caves ever since.  They are preparing a conquest of Earth as well as the eventual eradication of humans.  (Once that's done, they will move on to Mars and obliterate life there.  Not because they have any use for the Red Planet like they have for Earth, but just because they can.)

The Venusians are technologically superior and cannot be stopped, according to Oomlag.  They do, however, need Murdock for some unexplained reason, so he will be held underground for several years.  While showing Murdock his new digs, Oomlag can't help boasting about Venusian science, showing Murdock many of the wonders they used to reach Earth, as well as the weapons they will use to destroy Earth's cities.  This gives Oomlag a chance to spout the scientific mumbo-jumbo that allowed Gernsback to claim the stories he published were based on real science.  The Venusians came to this planet by ships powered by radio waves.  they selected a landing spot by use of an atomic telescope.  They communicate with a portable wireless apparatus the uses "Venusite," an indispensable element with not yet discovered by humans.  Venusite guns will also be used to send power waves to destroy the planet's cities on August 21, 1931.  (Why that specific date, who knows?) And so on and so on.

Then the author ran out of steam.  The Venusians decided they did not need Murdock after all, (and remember that we have no idea why they needed him in the first place.), so they are going to release him because it's much easier to that than to kill him.  Besides, no one will believe Murdock's story anyway.

Rather than immediately trying to warn earth, Murdock decides he cannot take eight years worth of humiliation and disbelief until the August 1931 deadline of doom.  He writes this document, ensuring its release two months before the invasion so that he will endure only two months of humiliation and disbelief before we are conquered and destroyed.  He knows eight years worth of lead time will not work, but in the two months before Venusians strike he will be able to warn the world properly.  wht the hell?

Anyway, that's the story and I am sorry for all the spoilers.

But I did say, the story was not as clunky as it seems.  Bartlett's description of the New Mexico desert are pretty good.  So there!

As for the rest of the story, here's his description of the Field General, the Venusian in charge of this century-old invasion plan.  He "was a terrible thing to look upon.  A tall figure, well over seven feet, with unbelievably long, skinny arms and legs, a torso like a pouter-pigeon, and above it, set on a short, thick neck, a head shaped like an ostrich egg.  The head was entirely bald, covered with skin like parchment and of a most revolting ochre yellow color.  The ears tapered almost to a point; the eyes, small and set close together, burned like those of a cat in the dark, the nose was very wide and flat, almost pig-like; and the mouth, thick-lipped and exceedingly wide, was doubly hideous due to the total absence of chin.  In conversation he later revealed his teeth, the front four evidently filed to a point and the rest flat; all of a dark gray color.  He was clothed in some sort of tight-fitting dull green garment which, together with a brick-red jacket or vest over his huge, round chest, gave him the appearance of a grotesque turnip."

One particular sentence had me scratching my head.  On entering the dining hall of the Venusian lair, we find  "a chamber about a hundred feet square and about fifteen feet high, containing a dozen large, round tables of smooth rock, with smaller stools, also of rock, serving as chairs."  Now I know that in 2019 a hundred square feet corresponds to a ten-foot by ten-foot area, or even a five-foot by twenty-foot area.  Geometry may have been different in 1923, but I really, truly, deeply doubt it.  I can only Murdock was a pretty stupid geologist or that the author's knowledge of math was severely limited only to accounting.

This story is just a curiosity and can only be recommended for the curious.


  1. I remember reading plenty of SF adventures on Venus...until science told us the planet is unlivable.

    1. Who are you going to believe, George, science or the early SF writers?

  2. I don't suppose you know if anyone ever reprinted the sequel "Operation Venus", or if it's been scanned and posted online anywhere like VoV was, or if a copy of The Gorgon March-April 1948 is sitting in some fan's or some University library's special collections where it might be resurrected? - Keith