Martin Magnus on Venus – William F Temple (1955)
Martin Magnus returns initially to the Moon where his protégé, Cliff Page, attempts his first Moon landing but settles the ship on a thin crust above one of Moon’s liquid water deposits. As the crew are escaping they discover the wrecked submarine of an alien race. This contains a map which leads to a strange pit in a crater at the bottom of which are chambers full of fantastical machines, as well as archaic helmets and weapons of seemingly gigantic humanoids.
Magnus and Page have no time to explore further as they are scheduled to set off for Mars.
In the first volume, Magnus encountered the amoebalike beings of the Venusian lake who were distinctly hostile.
This time the crew decide to land some way from the lake where it seems a village is located. The natives are humanoid and initially hostile, but once contact has been made they tell the Earthmen that they work for the Mek Men, digging ore. The Mek Men are gigantic humans it seems who carry armour and weapons identical to those found on the Moon
In the native village there is a very hit-tech metal well which fills automatically when water is taken. Water disappears when the natives fail to mine ore for the Mek Men. And so, it is up to Magnus to travel to the city of the Mek Men and discover their secrets.
Although a little more minimal in action and plot than ‘Planet Rover’ it’s an entertaining and well-written piece, peopled by larger than life human characters spiced with some mild humour. The Venusian natives, for instance, are won over ultimately by fried potatoes, which they appear to adore.
Magnus himself is the most fascinating character, however. He is a wisecracking Londoner who is very much a maverick anti-establishment figure, does not suffer fools gladly and has no time for senseless orders passed down through the chain of command.
In this respect it is interesting to compare this book in particular with Heinlein’s ‘Space Cadet’ from seven years earlier. Heinlein would certainly not have approved of such a disrespectful attitude to the chain of command one imagines, and Temple and Heinlein have distinctly different styles and temperaments. What is interesting is that both novels feature Venus and an attitude to colonialism that seems ingrained in the culture of the West at the time.
The Venusians who live in the lake have made it very clear they don’t want humans on their world, but us Homo Sapiens have decided we are going to there anyway, with no discussion or agreements needed with the inhabitants, which is much the same as the situation in the Heinlein novel. This sense of cultural superiority was a regular feature of earlier US SF but does not crop up often in British SF. This in itself is surprising, since the British, after all, are the experts on colonialism. One suspects also that the reasons for this cultural view differ markedly between the UK and the US. The British, or more specifically the English, retained an inherited sense of superiority from the Victorian era, while the US authors (bearing in mind that writers from both sides of the channel at the time were predominantly white male heterosexuals) tend to dwell on issues of racial superiority.
Even so, it’s an interesting parallel.