The Radio Beasts: A perfect sequel

The Radio Beasts by Ralph Milne Farley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Radio Beasts by Ralph Milne Farley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Radio Beasts by Ralph Milne Farley

At the tail end of my recent review of Ralph Milne Farley’s first novel, The Radio Man (later retitled An Earthman on Venus), I mentioned that I had so enjoyed this opening salvo in what soon turned out to be a series that I certainly wouldn’t have minded reading the next entries … if I could only lay my hands on some copies of these currently out-of-print books. Coming to my rescue was a reader and friend of this FanLit website, one Chuck Litka, who made me an uncommonly generous offer. He’d just moved to a new home and had discovered an old edition of The Radio Beasts, Book 2 in the series, in some packed boxes. Would I like him to send me this copy, free of charge? Would I? Well, Chuck was as good as his word, and the book arrived in the mail around a week later, thus allowing me to find out just what happened next to the series’ hero, radio engineer Myles Cabot, after accidentally transporting himself to Venus and then leading the humanoid Cupians in a revolt against their antlike Formian oppressors. (And allow me to say here, not for nothing, that I can’t help but feel that if more people were as spontaneously generous and giving as Chuck Litka was to me, a total stranger, then this world would surely be a better place.)

But let me backtrack for just a moment. The Radio Beasts, as had Book 1 in the series, originally appeared in the pages of the famous pulp magazine Argosy All-Story Weekly. That first novel had run as a four-part serial in the summer of 1924; The Radio Beasts was not long in following, initially appearing as a four-part serial beginning with the March 21, 1925 issue (with some beautiful cover artwork illustrating the novel by Modest Stein) and continuing on through the March 28th, April 4th and April 11th issues. The novel was reprinted in toto 16 years later, in the January ’41 issue of Fantastic Novels Magazine (with still another beautiful cover illustration, this one by the great Virgil Finlay), and finally in book form in 1964, as one of those cute little Ace paperbacks (with cover artwork by famed illustrator Ed Emshwiller). It was this Ace edition that Chuck was good enough to send me. Ace released the novel once more in 1976, and since then, the book has remained out of print. And that’s a real shame, because as my recent breakneck reading of the novel has served to reveal, the sequel is every bit as good as the original; in some ways, even better.

Whereas The Radio Man had been narrated in first person by Cabot himself, in the form of a manuscript that he’d managed to shoot from Venus to Earth, The Radio Beasts takes a wholly different tack. In this second installment, which transpires a full (Earth) year after the first, we learn that Myles has perfected his use of radio transmission of physical objects (what my fellow Trekkers would call a “transporter beam”) and is now visiting his home planet. He calls upon his old friend, a Mr., uh, Farley, and regales him and his family with the events on Venus (or, as the inhabitants of that world call it, Poros) of the preceding year. Thus, The Radio Beasts is told to us by this Farley fella, as he recalls the anecdotes of his planet-hopping school chum of yore. And what anecdotes they are!

The Radio Beasts by Ralph Milne Farley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCabot’s previous manuscript had ended happily, with the Cupians having successfully shaken off the nearly 500-year-old shackles of their Formian oppressors, and with Cabot’s marriage to the winged and antennaed Cupian princess, Lilla. But Myles’ only Formian friend, Doggo, was MIA after the war was over, and his archenemy, the renegade Prince Yuri, was similarly unaccounted for. The Porosian action in Book 2 kicks off with a rather shocking development, in which Yuri makes a sudden reappearance during the Cupian Peace Day celebration and assassinates Lilla’s father, King Kew, thereby becoming the new king of Cupia! This, naturally, leads to a brand-new outbreak of civil war, with the turncoat Cupians and their Formian allies on one side, and the adherents of the Kew dynasty on the other. But what Yuri is unaware of at the time of his usurpation is that Lilla, his cousin, is currently 1,000 miles north of the Cupian capital city of Kuana, at her Lake Luno island retreat, giving birth to the baby who would be the heir apparent after Kew’s death. Myles escapes from his jail cell after the assassination and undertakes that 1,000-mile journey on foot, experiencing a multitude of perils en route. And after 40 days of travel, he is greeted by great tragedy at Lake Luno, when he finds the island palace empty, his wife kidnapped, and his little babe dead, after having been stabbed by some cravenly villain. Thus, Myles has no choice but to wander still farther, in the hopes of rejoining his scattered troops in the mountains north of Lake Luno, and later striking back for both Cupia and his bride…

The Radio Beasts really is a perfect sequel, seamlessly picking things up from Book 1, reintroducing us to old characters while bringing in new ones, and expanding on the scope of the first installment. While it may not be as wholly original in conception as Book 1, it compensates by being even more action packed and relentlessly exciting. The book supplies the reader with any number of thrilling set pieces, among them Myles’ battle with a giant antbear at the bottom of its pit, while an enemy Formian watches from above; Cabot’s desperate plight during a raging forest fire, which the antmen have started to flush him out of hiding; Myles’ adventures in the underground Caves of Kar, replete with a flock of rather nasty minipterodactyls (as shown on that Modest Stein cover) and some particularly clingy, tentacled monstrosities; the befriending of Portheris, the giant bee that Myles had encountered in Book 1, and the alliance that Myles & Co. makes with him and his fellow Hymernians, resulting in a winged armada to rival the Formian air fleet; Myles’ battle in the arena with five woofuses (hairless, vaguely feline, lavender-colored killing machines; the most fierce predator on Poros); and the final fight between Myles and Yuri, in the no-man’s-land area between the contending armies, among giant beetles that are scavenging on the scattered dead.

The chapters are arranged in cliff-hanger fashion, relentlessly keeping the reader flipping those pages. Like his old friend Edgar Rice Burroughs, Farley sported a simply written yet elegant style. No deep ideas or weighty themes are to be found in these books; rather, the emphasis is on story, on sweep and drive, on colorful characters and awe-inspiring predicaments. And in these areas, The Radio Beasts must be deemed a complete success. As for the book’s title itself, there is some clever ambiguity to be found. Of course, it refers to all the outrageous Porosian fauna that Myles encounters during his wanderings. But it would also seem to refer to our hero, as well as to archvillain Yuri himself, who at one point declares Myles to be a beast because of his alien provenance. But as Lilla later tells the scoundrel, “There may be some doubt about Cabot being a Cupian, but there is no doubt that you are a beast. ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he’…” Some definite food for thought there, in a book whose main emphasis is thrills.

The Radio Beasts, as might be expected, is not without its flaws. Farley makes the same scientific gaffes here as were found in Book 1, quite naturally. For example, the sun should rise in the west and set in the east on Venus, not the other way around. The Porosian day should be equal to around 243 of ours, not the roughly 24 Earth hours that we see here. The surface climate of the planet is not tropical and humid, with frequent storms, as Farley depicts, but rather, well over 800 degrees F. The author is correct, however, when he mentions that the distance from Poros to the Earth is something like 25 million miles. But there are some other problems. Early on, he tells us that Cabot had spent three years on Poros in all, whereas it had already been established that that figure was five years. In one scene, a woofus’ “slathering jaws” are mentioned; that should of course be “slavering.” But perhaps my biggest problem with this second installment has to do with the bloodthirstiness that is espoused by Myles, verging on the genocidal. Toward the novel’s end, Myles tells his troops, regarding the Formian foes, “We must ask no quarter, and give none. We must go on until there is not a single Formian left living on the face of all Poros. For there is no room on any given planet for more than one race of intelligent beings…” And indeed, Cabot’s men do become quite relentless in completely exterminating their enemy, as well as (get this) all the antmen’s pets, to the tune of the complete obliteration of 1,500 species! Am I wrong in suggesting that the total destruction of all those Venusian life-forms is a tack to be regretted? How much more right-on it would have been, if Farley could somehow have come up with a way to arrive at a less appalling conclusion. Even Star Trek’s Federation, after all, ultimately made friends with the Klingons. One can only hope that things may alter as this series progresses, despite Myles having good reason to despise his Formian foes.

By the end of The Radio Beasts, the antmen have seemingly been vanquished once again, as at the conclusion of Book 1. And, again similar to the conclusion of The Radio Man, here, too, both Yuri and Doggo go missing; possibly alive, possibly dead. Furthermore, at the close of Book 2’s final chapter, Myles, still on Earth, receives an urgent SOS from Lilla in the middle of the night, and summarily transports himself back to Poros. What could that SOS possibly entail? I cannot imagine any reader who would not be compelled to find out, and so endeavor to lay hands on Book 3 in the series, The Radio Planet (1926). These first three books comprise a rather tight-knit trilogy, I have read; Books 4 and 5, The Radio Menace (1930) and the belated entry The Radio Minds of Mars (1955), are more tangentially connected. As for me, I’m hooked, and now am going to have to try to get ahold of that third installment. If there are any other readers here who actually possess this rarity and are as generously disposed as Chuck Litka, I would be deeply appreciative. If not, it’s off to eBay I go…

Published in 1925. Myles Standish Cabot, radio genius, who solved the secret of the wireless transmission of matter, returns to Earth from the planet Venus, who inhabitants, the Cupians, are much like men, except that they have antennae instead of ears, and communicate by radio. Cabot relates how the conquered Formians, giant, intelligent ant-men, conspired with Prince Yuri, a renegade Cupian, and his followers to again take control of the planet.

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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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2 comments

  1. I am just happy that the book did not disappoint, and that it has found a good home. It was a little enough way of showing my appreciation for the service and entertainment that you and the rest of the gang provide on this site for free, as well.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      See what I mean about Chuck Litka, folks? What a right-on brother!

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