My life in outer space

The Caves of Mars – Emil Petaja (1965)

Space Mercenaries / The Caves of Mars

“Beware of the Universal Panacea.

Ric Coltor had lost an arm in an interplanetary exploration. For a spaceman at any other time, that would have meant the end of his career. But not with the marvelous Martian Panacea in existence. Extracted from a fungus found only on the Red Planet, it promised mankind perfect health and longer life, for it grew back internal organs, conquered disease, and could even grow back arms.

So Ric went to one of the M-P colonies to become whole again and discovered a defect in that new Utopia—M-P not only gave its users glowing good health but it also gave them a fanatical devotion to the man who administered it, Dr. Morton Krill. A devotion that was so all-encompassing that any man who received it could easily become dictator of two planets if he were twisted enough to desire that. Dr. Krill was.”

Blurb from the 1965 Ace Double Edition

‘The Caves of Mars’ is a hugely enjoyable romp from Petaja. It begins when career-pilot Ric Coltor is accompanying his scientist friend to the ice-caves of Mars to search for Martian fungi and lichen which could prove profitable. However, Coltor wakes up in hospital minus an arm, sliced off by someone or something in the caves. He is given an artificial replacement arm, but begins to wonder if Martian Panacea, the new Martian wonderdrug produced through his friend’s discoveries, could grow his arm back, since it appears to cure all ills and people have regrown teeth.
However, there are suspicions about the drug – which is still illegal – since all who take it find themselves swearing undying loyalty to the man in charge of developing the drug, Morton Krill.
Coltor determines to try out some M-P and tracks down an illegal M-P house. Before he can be treated the place is raided and he finds himself under the benevolent eye of Dr Morton Krill himself, as well as his old scientist friend from the ice-caves and his lost love.
He is given a new arm, but no sooner is he up and about than his new arm, acting unilaterally, pulls a gun and shoots his friend.
Petaja packs a lot into the ensuing story, reminiscent of The Fugitive or The Thirty-Nine Steps. Resurrected Martians, buried vaults of Artificial Intelligences, power-hungry medical practitioners, it’s all here.
The denouement is somewhat rushed and the last few pages could do with a serious overhaul but otherwise it’s one of the better pieces from the Ace Doubles stable.

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