An Earthman on Venus: Formian follows function

An Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAn Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAn Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley

Sometimes, it seems, a man must go through any number of occupations before hitting on the one for which he will be best remembered. Take, for example, the case of Massachusetts-born Roger Sherman Hoar, who, before he turned 37, was an assistant attorney general and state senator, taught classes in engineering and math, and wrote books about patent, tariff and Constitutional law; after moving to the Midwest, Hoar would also become a state senator in Wisconsin. An impressive enough career for any man, to be sure, but today, Hoar is undoubtedly best remembered for the science fiction novels that he somehow found the time to write, hidden behind the pen name Ralph Milne Farley.

The first novel of Farley’s to see the light of day, The Radio Man, was initially serialized in the pages of the 10-cent weekly Argosy magazine, a four-part affair stretched over the June 28 – July 19, 1924 issues; that first issue featured gorgeous cover artwork for the serial by famed illustrator Stockton Mulford. Farley’s novel was later reprinted as a three-part serial in the 12/39 – 2/40 issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (which, despite its name, reprinted prodigious amounts of sci-fi and fantasy), and was finally released as a hardcover book, in 1948, by the Fantasy Publishing Company, featuring another impressive cover, this time by one O. G. Estes, Jr. This reader was fortunate enough to pick up the highly collectible Avon Pocket Size Book edition of 1950 (cover artist unknown) while browsing around at the Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair last winter. (I happily forked over the $10 asking price, despite the book’s frail-looking condition.) For this Avon edition, Farley’s tale was released under a new title, for some reason: An Earthman on Venus. (Please note that the front cover makes two words out of “Earthman,” although it appears as one everywhere else.)

In addition, one year later, Avon came out with another version of the by-now-classic tale, this time as a 10-cent comic drawn by the great Wally Wood. And today, an economically priced edition has been made available by the fine folks at Armchair Fiction. A rather far-fetched but highly entertaining story, An Earthman on Venus functions as a well-done pastiche of Edgar Rice BurroughsJOHN CARTER OF MARS books, especially 1912’s A Princess of Mars; Burroughs and Hoar, as it turns out, were indeed friends! Farley’s story is fast moving, remarkably action packed, and ultimately rather pleasing; a tale at which ERB himself most likely smiled with great approbation.

In it, the reader encounters Boston bachelor and electronics genius Myles S. Cabot, who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances four years earlier. But a crash-landed meteorite (discovered by a Mr. and Mrs. Farley!), containing a lengthy manuscript from Cabot himself, serves to tell his story. Cabot had been working on a device that would hopefully take matter apart, send it off, and put it back together again; what my fellow Trekkers today would call a transporter beam. Following a freak explosion in his lab, Cabot had lost consciousness and awoken … he knew not where. Subsequent events, however, would prove that the Bostonian had somehow been transported to the planet Poros, which we here call Venus!

Cabot was immediately captured by one of the planet’s dominant races, the Formians: 10-foot-tall ants with a highly evolved culture. Cabot was taken, via a gyroscopically controlled flying machine, to the Formian garrison known as Wautoosa, where he befriended one of the soldiers, whom he nicknamed Doggo, while making an enemy of the aptly monikered Satan. From this point on, Cabot’s manuscript cleaves into two fairly discrete sections. In the first, our hero learns the Formian language, gaining great respect after inventing a device that enables him to hear the antmen’s otherwise silent, antennae-produced speech. He espies, in his courtyard, a delectable sample of the planet’s other dominant race, the Cupians, in the form of their Princess Lilla. The winged and antennaed Cupians, it seems, had been subjugated by the Formians around 400 years earlier, and Lilla had recently been kidnapped to serve as a possible breeding experiment with the young Minosian. (The Porovians know the planet Earth as “Minos.”) Cabot falls head over heels in love with the beautiful blonde kewpie doll … I mean, Cupian … and thus is easily used as a cat’s-paw by Lilla’s cousin Yuri, who gets the Earthman to spirit the princess back to her homeland.

In An Earthman on Venus’ second section, Cabot, having been declared a criminal by the ant queen, Formis, woos the princess at her father’s — King Kew XII’s — castle in the Cupian capital of Kuana (try saying that three times fast!), meanwhile fighting off the advances of the lustful brunette countess Bthuh, rising higher and higher in Cupian society, inventing some novel weapons of war, and finally, leading a Cupian revolt against their Formian masters. So it’s humanoids vs. antmen in a no-holds-barred battle for planetary dominance, as Cabot’s story edges closer to its conclusion…

With this, his first piece of fiction, author Farley manages quite a piece of impressive world building. To flesh out his planet Poros, he gives us giant spiders; the cowlike green aphids that provide both populaces with milk; carnivorous plants; green kangaroolike lizards called brinks; giant bees with which the Formian airships do battle, dogfight style; 4” long purple grasshoppers; beetlelike pets called buntlotes; mathlabs (no, not meth labs!), a rabbitlike pet; the dreaded woofus, a vaguely feline, hairless and lavender killer; and flying snakes. He gives us a thumbnail history of both the Formians and the Cupians; shows us several modes of transportation (I especially like those two-wheeled automobiles called kerkools); discusses the narcotic of choice on the planet, the saffra root; provides any number of words in the language of the planet (for example, a kerkool-ool is a garage, while a kerkool-oolo is a garage keeper); and details what the Cupians like to do for fun (mainly games and athletic competitions, it would seem).

Adding further credibility to his conceit is the fact that Cabot requires painstaking months to learn the language of the two peoples, first assimilating the alphabet, then constructing his device that turns silent antennae vibrations into sound, and finally taking more months to learn to understand what he is hearing. I have never found it believable, in so many sci-fi and fantasy novels that I have read, when one of the protagonists is able to communicate with an alien species in a matter of days. Farley, to his great credit, gets it just right here. His central character, I should add, is a highly likable and sympathetic one. Though a scientific sort, he is obviously also well read and highly literate, and a little light research reveals that the quotes that he is prone to dish out hail from such varied sources as Alfred Tennyson, Robert Herrick, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain and Omar Khayyam. Secondary characters are economically but vividly sketched in, and the writing style is concise, clear and pleasing.

Still, seemingly unavoidably, some problems do crop up. First of all, we are told that the only areas of Poros that are uninhabitable are those surrounding the Boiling Sea; the rest of the planet seems to have a merely warmish albeit humid climate. Of course, today we know that the average surface temperature of Venus is something on the order of 864 degrees Fahrenheit (much worse than where my sister lives in South Florida!), rendering it completely unfit for Cabot or any other Earthman. Farley tells us that the days on the planet are around 24 hours long, as on Earth; in actuality, they are something like 5,832 hours long, or around 243 of our days. And Farley shows us the sun rising over the planet’s eastern horizon and setting in the west, as it would here, but on Venus, in actuality, it would be the other way around. So, yes … author Farley’s conception of Earth’s closest planetary neighbor is fantasy oriented at best, lending his tale an almost fairy tale-like aspect. The reader, thus, is more than ready to agree with Cabot when, wondering if he might only be dreaming all the fantastic events that have transpired, he refers to them as “a very interesting set of imaginary adventures”…

By the end of Cabot’s narrative, following the havoc of the Formian-Cupian war, his only antman friend, Doggo, as well as his archenemy, Yuri, are missing and unaccounted for, surely leaving the door wide open for a possible sequel. And those sequels would indeed soon be forthcoming, in books such as The Radio Beasts (1925), The Radio Planet (1926) and The Radio Menace (1930). Having hugely enjoyed this opening salvo in the series, I certainly would not mind reading more about the exploits of Myles Cabot on the planet Poros … if I can only lay my hands on some copies. Stay tuned…

Published in 1948. Armchair Fiction presents a special illustrated edition of Ralph Milne Farley’s science fiction adventure classic, “An Earthman on Venus,” complete with original Frank R. Paul illustrations and more. It’s high adventure and strange romance on a planet of mystery. When Myles Cabot accidentally transmitted himself to our distant neighbor in the sky, Venus, he found himself naked and bewildered on a fantastic world where every unguarded minute could result in a horrible death. Man-eating plants, tiger-sized spiders, and dictatorial ant-men kept Myles on the run until he discovered the secret of this strange world—humanity was a slave-race and monstrous ants were the real rulers of the planet! But Cabot was resourceful, and when his newfound love, the beautiful Princess Lilla, called for help, the ant-men learned what an angry Earthman could do. “An Earthman on Venus” is epic science fiction, packed with the excitement of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the scientific vision of H. G. Wells. You won’t be able to put it down once you begin turning the pages.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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15 comments

  1. Great review (and title punning)!

    • Sandy Ferber /

      As always, Bill, thanks very much for the kind words! I really am enjoying this current reading project of mine, involving sci-fi/fantasy/horror fiction from the period 1900 – 1950. It will probably keep going for at least another year and change, so stay tuned for more such fare….

  2. Marion /

    I groaned at your heading!

    I think I might love the green kangaroo lizards.

  3. Sandy Ferber /

    Sorry about that, Marion. I couldn’t resist. And yeah, you’ve gotta love those “brinks”….

  4. All of you, stop it!

  5. Hey Sandy — I was in the process of moving when I saw this post, and all my books where packed away. They’re unpacked now, and I find I have an Ace copy of the Radio Beasts. If you are still interested in reading it, drop me an email with a mailing address and I will send it out to you — once I locate the post office in Eau Claire… Moving has taught me that I have too much of everything, including old SF books from my distant youth, so if if I can find a good home for Radio Beasts, so much the better. Chuck

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Thanks so much, Chuck! That’s so nice of you! I’ll be in touch….

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