This fourth science-fantasy novel based on the Finnish legendary epic, KALEVALA, seemed like a good idea because there are actually four important heroes in these wonderful legends, and this novel completes the cycle concerning itself with the prophecy of the Great Return when the Vanhat seed shall return to Oava, the planet of their origin.
Kullervo is the “bad one” of the legends. Ugly, sullen, despised, he was actually born out of evil. He kicked his cradle to pieces and refused to drown when the wise women flung him into the river. As a vindictive cow-herd slave he changed cows into bears and this killed all of Ilmarinen’s household. Like Manfred and Oedipus, he was predestined for tragedy and doom. However, he is surely one of the most fascinating characters in all mythology. Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer, chose his tragic life for the theme of this magnificent symphonic tone poem, Kullervo, one of his finest works, involving choruses, soloists, and a sweeping Wagnerian nobility.
My Kullervo Kasi, a prototype of his ancestor, is the spawn of a leakage from a dark dimension of matter-energy that is incompatible with the life-forces in this one. Therefore, Kullervo Kasi is the natural choice of the Starwitch Louhi to find the tag-end o remnants f the Vanhat existing somewhere on despoiled Terra and destroy them . .
Blurb from the H-36 1967 Ace Double Paperback edition
In the fourth segment of Petaja’s reimagining of The Kalevala. The Starwitch Louhi rescues Kullervo Kasi from certain death on a volcanic world and. realising that he is the reincarnation of the Kullervo of legend, recruits him her quest to destroy the Vanhat.
Kullervo, not human enough to engender longstanding trust from humans, travels by Mothership from planet to planet, each time being moved on.
Louhi imbues him with powers which allow him to control the alchemical elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but only to kill enemies on his journey to Earth to destroy the Vanhat before the prophecy can be fulfilled of their return to their own world. He encounters various grotesques, such as a corpulent cannibal pirate queen and some religious fundamentalists who are quickly dispatched to oblivion.
Although better written and more interesting than ‘The Stolen Sun’, Petaja’s relocation of The Kalevala to the far future with its uneasy mix of magic and technology doesn’t really work. The Science Fantasy subgenre, which saw its origins in Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith achieved quite a level of sophistication in the Nineteen Sixties from authors such as Moorcock and M John Harrison. There has to be some form of internal logic that allows magic and technology to exist together and to convince the reader that this is plausible.
It is not present here, and we end up with something which is neither one thing nor the other and not a very satisfying blend of both.
‘Tramontane’ by the way, means ‘the stranger from over the mountain’, just in case you were wondering.
‘THE DEVIL OF NEW TARA
Diarmid O’Dowd, space explorer, was suddenly an Off-worlder in an Old World legend. Since he had crashed his ship through the green barrier to this uncharted world, he found himself due to take a place in the Deel’s song of ancient Ireland, living again on New Tara. Diarmid was scheduled to love the Lady and lose to the Lord, be the valiant Son of the Sun, and add a few heartsome verses to the legend – before being fed to Nacran.
But astronaut O’Dowd wasn’t pleased at the role cast for him, and with the help of Old Grane, the Wees, the Silkies, and Fianna-of-the-Dreaming-Lips, Diarmid broke the pattern. He had to find and counter the self-established god who had populated the planet with pookas and peasants, fearless heroes and firewings – all to fit a madman’s idea of a peopled poem.’
Blurb from the 1967 H-22 Ace Doubles Paperback edition
Diarmid O’Dowd is a space pilot who (for reasons which are not important) happens to be travelling alone near a previously impassable green barrier in space.
For some reason Diarmid finds his ship able to penetrate the green and, once inside, heading toward the surface of an Earth-type planet.
The planet is also inhabited by the ethnically Irish (and the Nords with whom the Irish have regular wars).
Diarmid’s damaged ship explodes shortly after landing leaving him alone although he is shortly discovered by two of the local gentry, Lord Flann and Lady Fianna, riding giant cats.
The green planet, it seems, is New Tara, and all of society seems to have been designed to conform to the legends of Old Ireland. It is controlled by an entity known as The Deel, an entity which wants to keep Diarmid alive for the present.
As he did (less successfully it has to be said) with the Kalevala in novels such as ‘The Stolen Sun’, Petaja has taken a mythology and used it as the basis for a work of SF. This works tolerably well and is an entertaining read, but suffers from the caricatured nature of some of the protagonists, particularly Flann who is more pantomime than Science Fantasy.
Petaja could also have made more of the overall premise and posed the question of whether the natives of Tara actually led far more fulfilled lives than those in the technology-enslaved worlds of the rest of the galaxy?
It’s raised briefly but not pursued to any great degree.
‘He had to bridge 100 generations…
Like an umbilical cord, the cortical hook-up linking Wayne Panu to his ship involved them in an unheard-of rapport, even in the ranks of the unique esper-pilot fleet that warred against the world-engulfing Mephiti.
In the outward surge into the far-flung galactic worlds for colonization Man had found but few habitable planets–but now even those few worlds were challenged. The Mephiti–dread, all-embracing fog forms–were Man’s match as they fought him planet for planet in the race for habitable space.
And only Wayne Panu, with his extraordinary ESP talents that went beyond the mind and the here and now–whose senses were strangely linked in the past to the heroes and legends of the ancient Kalevala–could retaliate in this fantastic war that devoured suns and swept across the ages of eternity.’
Blurb from the G-618 1967 Ace Doubles edition.
Wayne Panu is a military space pilot, attuned to a sentient ship, his mission is to destroy sentient life on habitable worlds. The weight of this responsibility is taking its toll. After his partner is killed, Wayne sets the controls to a dangerous and ridiculous limit and arrives in a Universe where he finds himself adjacent to a large copper spaceship with oars protruding from its hull.
An old man, Wainomoinen, takes him to a dying world where an evil witch, Louhi, has stolen the sun.
This is the third novel in which Petaja has adapted excerpts from the great Finnish saga, the Kalevala.
It is one thing to employ fantasy elements in a science fiction novel and rationalise them as futuristic science. It is another to move from a purely rational SF scenario to one of pure fantasy. That is not to say that it should not be done, but that it should be done in a way that works, which it does not do here.
Wayne is taken in by the fairly primitive Vanhat people, and within the space of a few pages is talking like a character from some Arthurian tale.
Perhaps given a longer page length this might have been something a little more special, since there is a clever conceit in the novel that the unfolding of events is dependent very much on Wayne’s character; what he was and what he has become.
A far better blending of the rational and the fantastic was carried out by Ian Watson in ‘Lucky’s Harvest’ and ‘The Fallen Moon’ which again takes the Kalevala as its principal source, to much better effect.
“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.