Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, February 11, 2021


Destination:  Saturn by "David Grinnell" (Donald A. Wollheim) & Lin Carter (1967)

Dstination:  Saturn by "David Grinnell" (Donald A. Wollheim) & Lin Carter (1967)

Donald A. Wollheim's character Ajax Calkins premiered in the first issue of Future Combined with Science Fiction in October 1941, a merging of Future Fiction with it's stablemate Science Fiction shortly after both magazines were taken over from Double Action Magazines, Inc., by Columbia Publicationsand when editor Charles D. Hornig was replaced by Robert W. Lowndes.  Lowndes was a member of the Futurians, an upstart group of science fiction fans and fledgling writers.  Lowndes and fellow Futurians Frederik Pohl and Wollheim also became editors of science fiction magazines with shoestring budgets, and if you are running a magazine on the barest of budgets, you corral your friends to contribute.  Pohl, Wollheim, C. M. Kornbluth, James Blish, Damon Knight, and Richard Wilson, along with Lowndes himself, all appeared in early issues of Future Combined with Science Fiction.  Wollheim, under his "Martin Pearson" pseudonym contributed four stories about the brilliant and self-aggrandizing Ajax Calkins who got his own "planet" to rule -- "Pogo Planet" (October 1941), "Destiny World" (December 1941), "Mye Day" (April 1942), and "Ajax of Ajax" (August 1942).  With those four tales, Ajax Calkins vanished from the face (and memory) of science fiction.

Flash forward to 1962.  Lowndes had been editor of (among many other things) Avalon Publishing's hardcover science fiction line since 1956 -- low-budget books catering mainly to the library and lending library market.  Wollheim was the editor of Ace Books, a major paperback publisher of science fiction.  Lowndes tapped Wollheim for several books for Avalon which Wollheim published under the pseudonym "David Grinnell."  One these books was Destiny's Orbit (1962), a re-working of the ear;lier Ajax Calkins stories.  Five years later, Calkins returned in Destination:  Saturn, co-authored by the prolific SF/fantasy author Lin Carter.  Sadly, that was the last adventure of Ajax Calkins, who really deserved many more sequels.

Don't misunderstand me.  The Calkins stories are not one of those series of science fiction who deserved to be placed in a pantheon of immortal classics.  They are very minor pieces of fluff -- old fashioned space opera romps that refuse to take itself seriously.  The two novels are short and both made it into Ace Doubles, the first combined with John Brunner's Times Without Number, and Destination: Saturn with Philp High's Invader on My Back.  But, by golly, they're fun.  Think Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero but toned down, or the early Retief stories by Keith Laumer.

Calkins is now the owner and ruler of Ajaxia, a small planetoid in the asteroid belt.  He has managed to get Earth to recognize the sovereignty of his little kingdom.  His planet has three inhabitants -- Calkins, his fiancee Emily Hackenschmidt (former field investigator for the North American Sector of the Earth-Mars Space Administration -- EMSA -- and currently Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Royal Court of Ajaxia), and the Wuj (a giant Martian spider-being more formally known as the Third Least Wuj of the Northern Panel Spinnery and and the Eggery of the Silver Downs, and a creature whose loyalty to Alax Calkins is far greater than his intelligence).  Ajaxia itself turns out to be not a natural planetoid, but a huge prehistoric spaceship from some lost, primordial race, and within Ajaxia are a large trove of alien artifacts and inventions that surpass anything ever imagined on Earth.  Ajaxia is located at the outer edge of EMSA's recognized territory; beyond the territory is no man's land and, beyond that, space controlled by the Saturnians.

The Saturnians are an amoeba-like race who were very happy with their place in the solar system until EMSA made contact with the planet.  The Saturnians were very intelligent and happy to discover that there was something beyond their own planet.  Quick studies, they soon absorbed the knowledge of Earth and Mars and determined to conquer the solar system.  As amoeba-ish beings, they can change shape to fill whatever bodies they wish to create with their newly-learned science.  Since their technolgy was now on a level with that of EMSA, the Saturnians were on an equal war footing with their opponents.  Luckily that changed when Calkins used a weapon  found stored in the depths of Ajaxia to defeat them.  The Saturnians went back to their planet to recover and regroup and EMSA offered Calkins the sovereignty of Ajaxia as a reward.  But there was a hitch.  The deal with Calkins was contigent on EMSA getting all the alien technology that is on Ajaxia.  What Calkins did not realize is that the deal also included the powerful engine that makes up the core of the little planetoid; to get at that, EMSA would have to destroy Ajaxia.  So Calkins and Emily head to Earth to resolve the problem, leaving the Wuj in charge of Ajaxia as acting Prime Minister.

Emily is somewhat wary of leaving Ajaxia, even with the Wuj in charge.  She fears the Saturnians might take this opportunity to take over the tiny kingdom.  Her fear are somewhat realized when a rahter curious moose turns out to be a Saturnian in disguise.   To relive Emily's worries Calkins radios the Wuj to ensure that all is well.  The Wuj, however, calls them imposters, saying that Calkins and Emily were back on Ajaxia.  The Wuj cuts off their call and refuses to answer any other attempts to contact him (or her -- the Wuj don't have to decide on which sex they are until later in their life span).  Something has gone terribly wrong and Calkins and Emily head back to Ajaxia.

The phoney Calkins and Emily are (you giessed it!) Saturnians.  While they are busy cataloging all the nifty inventions and weapons they can find, they accidently start the ancient spacehip.  Realizing this, they steer the little planetoid to Saturn, where it can be dismantled and its treasures given to the planet's rulers for the glory of the Saturnian race.  EMSA patrols quickly glom onto the facts that Ajaxia is now heading to Saturn.  Declaring Calkins and Emily as traitors, they chase Ajaxia toward Saturn with orders to destroy the little kingdom.  Can our hero and heroine save their little kingdom, thwart the Saturnians, and appease the military might of EMSA?

Of course they can, but along the way, we are treated to a glorious satire on bureaucracy, both human and alien, as well as some quick thinking on the part of Ajax Calkins to once again save the solar system.

A slight but very entertaining romp and certainly worth a couple hours of your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment