Monday, January 18, 2016

Pellucidar: The Dead World

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This is an odd book to review. I actually read this book months ago, but was so conflicted and unsure about my feelings that I decided to take some time to let my thoughts settle on it, but accidentally forgot instead. Spoilers ahead, ye be warned!

Pellucidar The Dead World is one of the many sequels set in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Pellucidar series, although this one was written very recently by F. Paul Wilson. It's definitely a different style with a clear coherent structure and not the winding and sidequesting Burroughs often used. It's also a fairly short novelette in contrast to the long stories we're used to. So, let's be quick and dive in.

It's reasonably well written. Most certainly not amateur work, so that's a good start. The opening is really solid. The small eternally floating moon within the Earth's core hovering over the Land of Awful Shadow has always been strange, but the inhabitants are very confused when a metal object falls from the moon and into the ground beneath. Metal is unknown throughout most of the inner world, but even stranger is when strange red seeds begin to distribute themselves through the shadowy land and take root. This opening is really strong and really sets an atmosphere of something really out of the ordinary happening, even for a hollow rock filled with cave men and prehistoric animals. You really feel like something big and dreadful is starting but you don't know what. I love it!

Innes comes to investigate, and over time the strange red seeds give way to plants which produce a dreadful gas, seemingly killing everyone and everything in the Land of Awful Shadow. The crisis begins to grow as others in the empire run by David Innes become worried. Thanks to the ingenuity of Perry, they develop and equip gas masks and manage to retrieve plant samples and one of the inhabitants for study.

To their astonishment, the seemingly dead man wakes! They discover that this gas, whatever it is, causes suspended animation. Curiously, the red plants die when they are exposed to direct sunlight. Whatever is going on, the answer lies on that curious moon in its eternal eclipse. Thankfully the spread of these plants is contained to the shadow of the moon. Beyond it, everyone is pretty safe. Innes, Perry and a third man build a primitive airship and sail up to the mysterious rock. The third guy is pretty throwaway honestly. He is obsessed with getting a lidi to replace the one that was incidentally killed by the falling metal object. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time! There's not much to him, but his annoyance is rather well redeemed when even Innes and Perry begin teasing him about it.

Now, this is where things get a bit odd. In the original story At The Earth's Core Perry had a complex but cool theory about how this whole hollow earth thing happened. Here he seems to realize that his earlier theory doesn't stand up and how it makes little to no sense, and that there must be another reason for this formation. As they get closer to the moon gravity confusion sets in, they smack down, and realize that this is no moon; It's a space station!

Honestly, a giant super laser inside the Earth would be pretty awesome.
No, I'm not kidding. See what I mean when I say this is where it gets weird? Through exploration and actually pretty good exercise of exposition, it is revealed that the Earth was hollowed out hundreds of millions of years ago by an alien race, gathering all the valuable ore from the inside and leaving the moon as a base. The red plants were engineered so that during their periodic returns they could gather specimens of the local wildlife and study them. There are no aliens on board the station though. Yet. They do find that a ship is coming. And because the aliens are jerks apparently, the station comes much closer to the sun, thus making its shadow much larger. This becomes a huge problem for the people below, including David's lover Dian the Beautiful. The plants will be allowed to spread and pour their menacing gaze across the landscape.

Surprisingly when the ship arrives... there are no aliens. Only these ever-present sanitary spider robots that use special spray to disinfect things. It seems their programming went a bit wonky though, because they begin sterilizing with a vengeance, up to and including any living organisms and then engage in trying to kill our human heroes. Its heavily implied that they killed the aliens on board the ship which was on auto pilot, and may have even wiped them out everywhere else. That sucks!

These little buggers are determined too and begin trying to cut through metal to get at them. So they have to find out how to evade these metal monsters, prevent the shadow from becoming larger, killing off the red plants, and get off. Difficult stuff that is. At one point they almost smash the moon station into the inner surface which would have really been unfortunate for anyone within distance of the dust cloud. Because one dinosaur extinction wouldn't be bad enough.

Eventually they succeed, they day is saved, knowledge is gained and peace is restored to Pellucidar. I'm just plain not sure how to feel about the aliens though. Even after all these months I'm not sure how to feel. I could very easily get angry and think about the Ancient Aliens angle, except that it doesn't quite do that, since these aliens didn't screw around with humanity and build the pyramids or any crap like that. It's reasonably well done actually, and yet it feels kinda out of place. I know that sounds weird, since this is a setting where there are dinosaurs inside the hollow interior of the Earth where there are lizard people and Vikings, but it just sorta seems off. And yet I can't say that the angle is bad either. I just don't know.

I guess I would have been happier with perhaps another race of beings hidden on the light side of the moon, maybe a rival race of the Mahars that had been dabbling in strange sciences and plan on retaking the land they lost or unleashing some super weapon that Innes, Perry and a group of warriors have to stop. I feel kind of silly and I don't want to sound ungrateful, but it's really difficult for me to get a bead on how to feel about this.

All things considered, I think this is a decent addition to the Pellucidar setting. It's well written, introduces some interesting ideas, and I still really like the opening. It just didn't quite reach the heights I wish it could have. If you're a fan of ERB and interested, you should give it a look. Just realize that it has a different flavor. If you're not a fan with the earlier books under your belt you should be pretty well pleased actually. You can buy it for a song right here on Amazon:

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