Armageddon 2419 A.D.
Reviewed date: 2010 Aug 30
The Seminal "Buck Rogers" Novel
I'm not much into that Buck Rogers stuff, but I couldn't resist when I saw an old paperback that styled itself The Seminal "Buck Rogers" Novel. It contains the two stories that are the origins of Buck Rogers: Armageddon 2419 A.D., and its sequel, The Airlords of Han.
Anthony Rogers, hero of the first world war, gets trapped in a cave-in. Unknown gases send him into a deep sleep that lasts for nearly 500 years. He emerges into the 25th century to discover that the America he knew is gone forever. The continent is completely forested. Americans live in roving gangs, skulking under the tree cover to hide from their enemies. The Han rule the country from their fifteen shining cities, projecting their power with vast airships that float on rep rays and bristle with unstoppable disintegrator rays.
For being completely helpless, the Americans have an awful lot of genuine advantages over their rulers. First, the Americans can eavesdrop on the Han radio chatter--which is not in code--but for their own communication they have secure ultrophonic radios. The ultrophones work through some sort of sub-ethereal frequency; they have unlimited range, no static, are completely portable, and best of all, the Han have no idea they exist.
Second, the Americans have developed a super-element called inertron. Inertron has negative gravity, so that a person outfitted with an inertron jacket can float through the air. With small rockets, he can engage in aerial combat. Or, an inertron-clad airship can float through the air to challenge the Han airships. Inertron has another advantage: it is completely immune to the Han dis rays.
With these technological advantages, the Americans should be winning their fight against the Han, but they lack appropriate battle tactics. Tony Rogers applies his experience from World War I and helps the Americans turn the tide. Quickly the Han are pushed back and beaten.
The Han are portrayed as less than human. Tony Rogers is captured and spends some time as a prisoner, and his description of the Han is that they are callous, inhuman creatures. They have bred themselves to lack compassion and even to lack souls. That is why they are exterminated down to the last man, woman, and child. No mercy is given--that would be suicide, as Rogers explains.
That's pretty harsh. Even back in the 1920s when everyone was afraid of the Yellow Menace, surely people understood that the Chinese were human beings. Painting them as savage animals is a step too far. Nowlan tries to make up for that by explaining that the Han aren't really human at all. A group of aliens landed in China in the early 20th century, and managed to interbreed with the local humans. This produced the so-called Han race. They aren't even human! So it's OK to exterminate them like the beasts they are.
There isn't much to recommend about this book. Unless you're a devoted fan of Buck Rogers, skip it. I wish I had.