Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, February 24, 2012

1969: Secret of the Sunless World (Capps, Carrol M.)

Complex plot carries its own weight (4/5)

Carrol M. Capps (more well known under the pseodonym C.C. MacApp) wrote only a handful of science fiction and fantasy novels from 1968-1971 but also wrote more than 30 short stories from 1960 until his death in 1971. His novella The Mercurymen won the Nebula award in 1966, but otherwise remains fairly unknown. The most accessible works of Capps would be via Project Gutenberg with this short stories (1) Tulan and (2) And All the Earth a Grave.

Rear cover synopsis:
"SPACE PIRATE - His name was Gondal, most feared of all creatures in the universe. But there was one ravenous ambition he had yet to satisfy. On a distant, sunless planet lay the key to the secret of the humanoids who had strangely vanished after reigning over all space. Gondal intended to discover that secret--and become master of the galaxies. But Gondal needed one man to help him--an Earthling named Vince Cullow. Prisoner on Gondal's Spaceship, Cullow was forced to choose between robot-like submission, and the kind of torture only a twisted mind of Gondal would conceive, as they sped toward the unknown..."

Thrice as long and thrice as accurate, so goes my synopsis: Vince Cullow has been smitten with the first known human case of an alien virus. No humanly elixir can cure his pain and progressive blindness, but the hypertrichosic bipedal Nessen aliens DO know of a cure. The aliens concoct a scheme to deliver Vince to a notorious ophidian space pirate named Gondal, who will take Vince to the sunless world where a cure is available. But the deal is too good to be true.

The Nessen use Vince to get close to Gondal and to another Nessen named Zarpi, who they both suspect of secretly vying for unseen booty hidden away on the sunless world, Shann. As Vince receives his treatment, the arachnid doctor spins the revelation that Gondal played a deviance hand in the operation, where Gondal holds the only medication that will allow Vince to keep his vision for good. Thus, the pirate holds Vince as captive to his plans to unveil the hidden treasure stolen away somewhere on the resort planet.

As Vince spies another Zarpi with the kidnapped Lenjan archaeologist of interest, so begins the levels of deceit Vince will unfold. The operation has granted him perfect vision in both dark and light, which he uses to lead Gondal into a hollowed cave which houses mysterious Lenjan artifacts. Are the scientific remains of the Lenj the real prize, and is it as valuable as their lives when Zarpi and the ursine Chullwei are boring into the mountain for access to the same trove?

It's obviously a completed plot given that it's only 204 pages long. There are more alien species, more planets, and even more interesting tidbits that make the universe that Capps has created to be of such intrigue to warrant a 4-star rating. It's this scope and detail of plot which really secure such a high rating for a single-edition novel (Dell, July 1969). I'd recommend taking notes with this one.

As far as literary flare is concerned, Capps fails to find his knack for insightful passages and sympathetic situations, but one area of focus he excels in is physical descriptions of all the alien species. The four or five bipedal aliens are a tad monotonous, including the near-glabrous human, but the lengthy descriptions of each are an interesting appendix to the plot. Capps's invention of the sunless world, Shann, is interesting, too. Perhaps it's not too realistic but the idea is fantastic.

One major problem with the novel and one minor issue drop the book from a 5-star to a 4-star rating with prompt. Nearly the last third of book is continued after a stop-gap in the plot. The transition is abrupt and detracts from the wonders of the Shann and the battle being waged between the Vred caretakers and the collaboration of Zarpi and the Chullwei. The remaining third of the novel has its enticing parts--some enshrouded plot teasers and some otherworldly charms. The final 5% is a bit of a let down, depending how you view the last 15%. It's certainly no whiz-bang conclusion, but it could have been better crafted if the damnable transition never occurred.

Reading Capps's short fiction would be on my list if it were condensed into a collection, but as it stands now, his 32 works of short fictions are scattered throughout the pages of Fantastic Stores, Amazing Stores, and If. Sadly, none of Capps's other titles exactly beckon the attention of my visual scrutiny... maybe Recall Not Earth... maybe.

1 comment:

  1. The Jerome Podwil cover for Recall Not Earth is in my top ten covers :) I love his art. This sounds great -- I'll definitely put it on my list. I love the concept of a sunless world -- Poul Anderson had a similar concept -- I forgot the title. It's probably worth tracking down as well.