Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Alien - Raymond F. Jones

I have to admit that the only reason I purchased The Alien by Raymond F. Jones was for this crazy cover. I especially like the “bachelor pad space age babes” depicted on it, with their cute glass bubble helmets and their skimpy outfits. All that’s missing on them is those torpedo bras that graced pulp babes back in the day. And dig their somewhat wary gazes at what is assumed to be The Alien, standing in naked majesty before them. And all the men are toting weapons ready to blast this cat into the cosmos, while the women linger there. Also, is it me, or doesn’t the Alien look astonishingly like Kevin Bacon?

Belmont Books - September 1966
I’d never heard of this “classic of Science Fiction” before, but Raymond F. Jones’s name seemed vaguely familiar. Turns out, he wrote This Island Earth, which was a pretty cool movie as I remember it. A quick look at his bibliography shows that he’s also written a fair amount of stories for the pulps in the 40s and 50s.

The Alien tells the story of a strange and massive crystalline “time capsule” discovered by archaeologists in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It seems that the asteroid belt contains evidence of an inhabited planet destroyed many thousands of years ago. Through a serious of half-life dating technology it’s determined that this crystal and the other relics found among the asteroid belt date back to at least half a million years ago. Among the team of scientists studying these finds is Delmar Underwood, a man whose disillusionment with earth has prompted him to follow a life out among the dunes of space. His companions include a team of “semanticists”, capable of deciphering codes and languages of the pasts, chief among whom is a Dr. Dreyer. The discovery of the crystal is reminiscent of that famous plot device used in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Only the cool thing about this time capsule is that it houses the remains of . . . The Alien!

Our scientists discover that the crystal is engraved with a cryptic series of symbols and codes, invisible to the naked eye. Previously, all efforts to crack the meaning of these hieroglyphics had proven futile. What's needed is some kind of galactic Rosetta Stone to provide the key. Luckily for our gang, a mathematical key is found on the time capsule, and soon enough Dreyer and Underwood are able to decode the meanings of the symbols, leading to a method for opening the capsule and unlocking its contents.

It’s like the discovery of an ancient Egyptian tomb, untouched for centuries and is all pretty exciting. Only instead of a preserved mummy we have a preserved alien being that lived 500,000 years in the past. And best of all, our archaeologists discover the key to resurrecting this self proclaimed, godlike being.

Should they do it? Well, what do you think, man? How else are we going to get this crazy scene depicted on the cover?

I thought the novel was a pretty cool ride. It’s got plenty tension throughout. It has a love angle to it, political conspiracy, warring factions, philosophical angst, a galactic confrontation, a trip to another planet, a space chase, and a final showdown between good and evil. There is the usual wonky science that you’ll get with books of this type, but I can forgive it considering the time it was first published (1951). So yeah, I would recommend it to fans of pulpy science fiction. 

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