The Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday
Time for another installment in the series of book reviews which I call "Books That are not Worth Reviewing" -- This time, it's The Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday, a young adult novel from 1967.
I found my copy of this book in my grandparent's house over the winter. I assume one of their kids read it at some point.
The book was published by Whitman Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Western Publishing, which went out of business in 1997. It's a hardcover book, but not especially well-bound. However, you can tell that the publishers had ambitions. This is an 'Authorized Edition' of the book, as if there would someday be unauthorized versions. Also, instead of just listing the author, it says "story by Jack Pearl", and "Based upon characters and settings created by RAYMOND J MEURER and developed by Meurer-Preston-Austin, Inc." Meurer was a lawyer who did a lot of work on the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet TV/Radio franchises. I'm not sure who Preston or Austin is.
Other than the cover and insets, this book has an illustration for each chapter. It looks like the publishers wanted to save some money -- the prints are all in one color, but for a little variety, it's this odd blue instead of black. The book is illustrated by Arnie Kohn, who did a bunch of work for Whitman Publishing in the 60s. Kohn also did some pinups and some covers for Amazing Stories. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he was under-utilized at Whitman working on gems like the 1965 Munsters Book.
You can see the illustrations from the book itself in the image gallery.
The book clocks in at 212 pages. It starts with this fairly ridiculous dedication from Raymond J Meurer:
To adventure-lovers everywhere, this book is dedicated.
PRO TIP: Adventure lovers don't like the passive voice.
The book takes place not too long after the 1960s, but the world has developed space travel, and many world powers have spaceships. The story starts in Greenland, at a stopover in the World Grand Prix Air Race. International playboy Paul Girard lands his experimental plane, the XY-Fury, having pulled into the lead during the prior leg of the race. We learn right away what a special person he is:
General Walker grunted to himself. "Numerous activities" was an understatement when applied to Paul Girard. Hardly a day went by without the millionaire whiz-kid playboy providing news copy in some endeavor on the national or international scene.
Heir to the world's biggest cosmetic empire, the House of Girard, Paul had not been content to sit back and load on the fruits of his late father's industry. At fifteen, he had been a United States Olympic gymnastics champiion. At seventeen, he had been a war hero in the famous Green berets during the Viet Nam war. At nineteen, he had been elected to the Collegiate All-American football squad. Before his twenty-first birthday, he had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, had been acclaimed a brilliant amateur painter and sculptor, and had won his Black Belt in judo. There were a score of less publicized accomplishments that escaped the general's mind. Two of the more frivolous of these were his being named one of the world's ten best-dressed men and being voted the most eligible young bachelor in international society's jet set.
He's also modest, loyal, and patriotic. In short, Paul Girard is seemingly perfect. General Walker is a close friend of Paul, so they have a conversation during a rest break in the race which gives us an opportunity to learn even more:
Top condition was the word to describe Paul Girard. He was the picture of health and vitality, a lithe, muscular six-footer with the reflexes and grace of a panther. His dark good looks put most of Hollywood's leading men to shame, the general decided. Paul was the kind of man every father hoped his son would grow up to be like -- the kind of man every father hoped his daughter would marry.
What a cheap compliment. As a young person reading this book, you're told that Paul is basically who your parents want you to be, or to marry. Basically, he's James Bond, only smarter, more accomplished, and apparently less of a dick.
They watch the news for a little while, and there's a special bulletin about two vehicles crashing in space. One of the ships, the Pisces, is badly damaged and speeding wildly away from the Earth, with 36 people on board. It seems like there's no hope for rescue. The General expects Paul to return to the race, but he has other plans. He rushes to the Girard Foundation in West Virginia.
There, we meet Julie Girard, Paul's sister. She is the "Director of Experimental Research" at the Girard Foundation, and the source of much of the conflict in the book. Before she even speaks a word, we learn that Paul finds it
[...] always difficult to accept the fact that his young, beautiful, vivacious sister was the possessor of such an eminent title. It was no figurehead title, either. Julie had earned it by her dedicated and brilliant performance in the world of science. Some of the world's most illustrious physicists took pride in the fact that they had worked with Dr. Julie Girard on project developments at the Girard Foundation. Secretly Paul was a trifle awed by his "kid sister," as he jokingly thought of her. Although they were twins, Paul had been born fifteen minutes before Julie -- a fact that he liked to tease her about.
Julie and Paul are twins, and even though she's a brilliant scientist, Paul is constantly questioning her value as a person. And he wins every time, and makes her feel like an idiot. Julie just happens to be working on a new super-fast spacecraft -- the SWIFT -- a vehicle designed to travel at the speed of light. Paul wants to use it to rescue the damaged spaceship. SWIFT stands for Space Warp Infinity Finity Transport. The SWIFT is made of "high-impact, nuclear-forged, fossilized plastic" and can withstand any damage "short of a direct hit by a hydrogen bomb." It's hull has something called "molecular glide" which basically eliminates friction. But most importantly, it has an antimatter drive, developed by Julie, which is capable of putting out force exceeding "250 billion electron volts".
Unfortunately, the SWIFT isn't quite ready for flight. With only 100 hours until the Pisces runs out of oxygen, Paul convinces Julie to work nonstop to finish the SWIFT. She isn't happy with the danger that Paul will face, but he convinces her that it's worth it. The closing of the chapter where he convinces her perfectly sums up their interaction:
Julie managed a brave smile. "You're right -- as usual. All right, Paul, let's go down to Top Security Three and get to work."
"That's my girl," he said, laying a strong arm across her shoulders.
This book sets out to undervalue a woman who's a fucking rocket scientist and overvalue her playboy brother. And, it basically succeeds. Paul loves to grab his sister whenever he needs to really get his point across. It happens several times in the book.
Paul and Julie spend 96 of their 100 hours getting the SWIFT ready. The last thing Julie needs to do is install a governor on the engine, so that Paul doesn't go too fast. As they work, we learn a little more about the SWIFT, and also about Einstein and the Theory of Relativity, which must've been hard to put into a novel for young adults. After a long talk about the theory, and the possible dangers, Paul submits to the governor, which will keep the ship to a pokey one million miles per hour.
The drive is powered by an extremely rare (and fictional) element called "spartanium" -- only a gram of it has been refined. The Girard Foundation received it from a Russian scientist who was defecting to the USA. This element of the plot is a little vague, but it seems like the only spartanium on the planet is in Russia, but the Russians didn't even know that they had it, and maybe even what it was. But if they learned about the SWIFT, they would "solve the riddle as Julie Girard has solved it," and be able to build a fleet of powerful spacecraft. So, Paul and Julie decide that they need to keep the ship a secret, and not tell anyone about it, or what they are doing.
Blastoff! Paul rushes towards the Pisces for two hours. But by the time he finds the ship, and gets it in tow, there's not enough time to get back to Earth before the Pisces runs out of oxygen. Damn that speed governor! Luckily, Paul realizes that he can short-circuit the governor, and exceed the one million mile speed limit. He pushes the SWIFT to 1.5 million miles, and makes it back to Earth in time. Poor Julie feels awful about her second misjudgment:
Julie paled. "What a fool I was to put on that governor! It could have meant the death of all those people." She hung her head. "I'm ashamed of myself for not trusting your judgement. I might have known you wouldn't do anything foolhardy."
He laughed. "Like trying to break your so-called time barrier? [ed note: Paul has some doubts about the limits of the speed of light] No, not when thirty-six innocent people's lives depended on me." He tipped up her chin with one hand and said firmly, "But next time watch out, my girl."
Having saved the day, Paul and Julie suddenly realize that the survivors all saw the ship, and can probably figure out that it wasn't a normal rocket. Meanwhile, the President is wondering who saved the ship. It's actually not too hard to figure out that the ship landed in the vicinity of the Girard Foundation lab, and the President just happened to be college roomates with Paul and Julie's father. So, Paul finds himself sitting in the Oval Office, and it doesn't take long before he breaks his vow to Julie to keep the SWIFT secret. Luckily, the President agrees to keep everything secret. They come up with a cover story for the rescue -- the survivors were all hallucinating from oxygen deprivation.
Now that he knows about the ship, the President enlists Paul to be the head of the new "Spatial Intelligence Agency, to protect our growing interests within the solar system." Paul doesn't want the job. He's too busy with all his Girard empire responsibilities, and besides, he's an international playboy! But the President points out that this is the perfect cover for the job and takes a couple minutes to review/embellish Paul's resume:
Paul Girard offered a dozen reasons why it was impossible for him to accept the great honor. There were his countless responsibilities and burdens as chairman of the House of Girard Cosmetics and Chemical Company and its worldwide chain of beauty salons, Glamour Unlimited, as well as the Girard Foundation. He pointed out, too, that his reputation as a polo-playing, scuba-diving, speed-racing member of the international jet set hardly went with the dignity required by the important government post the President was offering to him.
"I think it's the perfect background for the chief of a secret intelligence agency," the President disagree. "Think of the camouflage it will give you. No one would suspect that you were a government agent. Your playboy activities give you a chance to jet to all parts of the world on missions for the United States, and no one, especially the Russians, will ever be the wiser."
[... Paging Ian Fleming ... ]
The President pressed on. "Paul, you are a very special man, physically, athletically, intellectually. Your special talents, your social position, make it possible for you to make a vital contribution to the security of this nation. You might be the one man who can tip the scales in our favor in the cold war with the Communist world. The stakes are high, Paul. Freedom!"
Any mention of freedom or liberty seems to be enough to get Paul to agree to anything. So, he agrees to the job. Once that's settled, they need to pick his codename. One of the survivors of the Pisces described the SWIFT as a "looming up out of the darkness of space like a great eagle" -- that's fairly descriptive, even though the SWIFT doesn't even remotely look like an eagle. The Space Eagle is born!
Back at the Foundation, Julie is pretty angry with her brother. She sees his new job as a "fancy excuse for you to indulge your childish whims and to ignore your responsibilities to the business and the Foundation. Imagine, a grown man playing cops and robbers in space!"
This whole book is basically a series of events where Paul gets to prove his sister wrong over and over again. Here goes:
Usually when Julie was in one her moods, Paul would wait until she ran out of steam. Then he would tell her how pretty she looked when she was angry and joke about her terrible temper scaring away all of her boyfriends. The two of them always ended up laughing like children.
This time it was different. Paul was in no joking mood. He walked over to Julie, who was standing by the big window behind her desk, and gripped her arms firmly.
"Now, you listen to me, little sister," he said with a severe voice. "When you talk about responsibilities, just stop and think for a moment what is the biggest responsibility that you and I have as Americans. Our first responsibility is to our country. It's been that way since 1776, Julie. I didn't accept this job because it sounded like fun. I accepted it because it was my clear duty."
Their hazel eyes locked, and abruptly all the anger drained out of the girl's pretty face. She looked ashamed.
And of course, she apologizes, and her brother forgives her once again. Then she shoos him off to the family vacation estate in Kentucky while she puts together the equipment he needs for his new job.
The estate is on 1,000 acres, and naturally, they breed the world's finest racehorses there. This trip seems to happen mostly so that the reader can get a glimpse of the domineering matron of the Girard family, and so that Paul and his mother can spend a little time insulting Julie.
Emilie Girard, well in her fifties, was a living testimony to the wonders of the Girard cosmetics and its Glamor Unlimited beauty salons.
"You get lovelier every time I see you, Mother," Paul said as he kissed her cheek upon his arrival at Paradise Valley. "All it would take would be some gaudy makeup and one of those new dresses the young girls are wearing these days, and you could pass as a jet-set debutante."
"That's very flattering, Paul," Emilie Girard said with a smile. "But I have no desire to look like anything but what I am, a fifty-five-year-old mother of two wonderful grown children." She pretended to frown. "Only I'd think they were even more wonderful if they would settle down and let me become a grandmother."
If it stopped there, it would just be cliche. But Paul keeps going.
Paul laughed. "You're the wonderful one, Mother. Don't worry, one of these days our little Julie is going to surprise you. She'll meet some dashing scientist with a brain that's even bigger than hers, and they'll live happily ever after and raise a family of little computers."
"Oh, Paul, you are awful to tease your sister like that." Emilie Girard laughed heartily, nevertheless.
It's really amazing how poorly this book treats Julie. She's obviously a brilliant scientist, she's described as being attractive. But even while describing her with those terms, the book constantly portrays her as a pitiful wreck.
After a couple days of R+R, Paul returns to the Foundation. Julie has cooked up some new equipment for him. It includes:
- Laser cannons on the SWIFT, strong enough to penetrate "three feet of cadmium steel" -- this is sort of funny because while cadmium is used to coat steel sometimes, I think it's just to prevent corrosion. It doesn't add any strength. On a somewhat unrelated note, cadmium shows up in Godzilla lore -- he is vulnerable to cadmium-tipped missiles. So, it's odd to see it referenced here as well, although this usage predates usage in Godzilla.
- The SWIFT also has a rocket launcher, which can shoot armor-piercing, heat-seeking missiles which are filled with anesthesia. This is just kind of odd. Maybe the writer didn't want to espouse violence? Maybe so, except that the book definitely has a body count.
- A small gas-powered pistol which shoots tranquilizer darts. The darts look like the eagle talons. Nice touch! Of course, Paul makes fun of his sister for coming up with it, telling her that "underneath that mask of graph paper and transistors and higher mathematics, there is a real, live girl."
- Paul adds in an "instant plastic surgery" kit developed by the Girard Foundation. It's a pill and some ointment, and after you take it, your "muscles, flesh, and bones [...] can be molded and reshaped much as a sculptor shapes a clay figure." There's also pills to change your skin color, and some sort of compound which causes "the human body to burn off calories at an enormous rate in a short time" -- so you can drop 100 pounds at once.
- He has a miniature radio hidden in his ear which he can use to summon the SWIFT at a moment's notice, and also to communicate with the President.
So, Paul essentially has everything -- he's smart, physically adept, talented, he has unlimited funds, an industrial powerhouse and research lab, decent weapons, he can disguise himself perfectly. He has a super-fast spaceship, waiting in orbit Short of being bulletproof, he's an unstoppable force. He meets with the President to update him on all of this. Check out the sexism in this exchange:
"You are truly an amazing young man, Paul," the President complimented him.
"Thank you, sir" Paul said modestly. "But most of the credit for this has to go to Julie."
"A remarkable girl."
Paul smiled. "Mother would consider it more remarkable of her if she found some nice husband and settled down."
After this meeting, we fast-forward seven weeks. Nothing has happened, there haven't been any missions. He buries himself in work and other responsibilities to the point of exhaustion. His sister convinces him to take a break, and he decides to fly to Switzerland to go skiing. Julie tells him "That's a wonderful idea. I only wish I could join you." Why is she left behind? Paul has just complained about all of his responsibilities -- is his sister even busier?
As you might expect, while he's rushing down the ski slopes (in a blizzard incidentally), Paul finally gets his first mission. In the span of a week, four CIA agents have been murdered in Hong Kong. The last one had a message hidden in a hollow tooth -- "On December twenty-fifth, Muta will wipe out the United States... maybe the world!" The note apparently refers to Dr. Lachesis Muta, a brilliant scientist who had defected to China a few years prior. But they don't really know what he might be plotting, or really anything else. The chapter ends with an awesome paragraph:
The more he thought about it, the more angry and indignant Paul grew. His fingers itched to get hold of Lachesis Muta. Only a low snake could plot such horror for what should have been a very merry Christmas day!
In Greek mythology, Lachesis is the second of the Three Fates, the one who gets to decide how long everyone lives. So, we can safely assume that Muta is up to no good.
Paul determines that the best way to get to Muta is through his son Addison, who lives in San Francisco. He reasons correctly that if Muta is plotting some sort of utter destruction of the US, he probably will try and get his son out first. He decides to get the FBI to snatch Addison and hide him somewhere, while he uses his disguise kit to look exactly like him. Conveniently, he speaks fluent Chinese, and he is a superb actor, having turned down contracts with major movie studios during college. He also has a photographic memory and a thorough knowledge of Addison's past. The plan works. Two weeks before the 25th, a couple of thugs capture him, thinking he's Addison, and fly him to Muta's secret base in Tibet.
Muta has a huge underground base hidden in the mountains of Tibet. Since he's so deep underground, Paul can't use his radio to summon the SWIFT, or to call the President. After he arrives, Paul is escorted to Muta, who falls for the disguise. His diabolical scheme is pretty basic. He has a dozen ICBMs -- half are US missiles, and the other half are Soviet. He's going to launch them at each nation, and they'll assume they each came from the other one, and nuke the hell out of the entire planet. Once they do that, Muta will gather up the survivors, and start a new society -- with him in control. Can't fail! "Was there no limit to this man's brilliance? It was a tragedy that such a brain was dedicated to evil instead of good."
Muta has a robot bodyguard named Mozzo, who he controls telepathically. There's guards outside the missile control center who will kill anyone who tries to enter, except for Muta, and they're under explicit orders to even shoot him if he's not with Mozzo. The missiles are already programmed to launch on Christmas. So, even if Paul kills Muta, the missiles might be launched. Paul sees no way out of this:
Paul wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a sleeve. It was diabolical. The mad genius had thought of everything. From the looks of things, it was nearly impossible to stop him from carrying out his plans.
Paul's disguise has seemingly fooled everyone, and he's given the run of the base, although everywhere he goes, he is followed by Mozzo. But clearly Muta has suspicions, because one of his underlings stages an accident that involves a nasty scratch on Paul's hand, and while they bandage him they take a blood sample to find out that he's really not Addison Muta. Paul knocks out a couple guards with his kung-fu skills, but Mozzo captures him before he does too much damage. Paul is locked up in a cell and left to wait for Doomsday. After feeling glum for a little while, Paul remembers when he was the quarterback of his college team, and nailed a 100 yard pass as the clock ran out to win the game. Inspired by his own victorious past, he decides to try and fight his way out.
Suddenly, the real Addison appears. Luckily, he thinks his father is insane and agrees to help Paul. Paul shoots Muta with the dart gun, and it knocks him out. Mozzo gets knocked out too -- he goes into 'rest mode' whenever Muta is asleep. Now's their chance! Paul and Addison make their way to the missile control room. Addison is shot and killed in the process. Paul just happens to have some Space Eagle medallions with him so he puts one in Addison's hand as he dies, naming his "first deputy" -- incidentally, his sister had asked to be deputized, but I guess she didn't make the cut.
Unfortunately, Paul is too late - he stops two of the missiles, but the rest have launched! The missiles will hit their targets in 28 minutes!
Paul rushes to the surface via a ventilation shaft and summons the SWIFT. Before the ship arrives, he calls the President to let him know what is happening, and to get him to try and convince the Soviets not to start a nuclear holocaust.
By the time Paul is in the SWIFT, there's only 5 minutes left. He drops the hammer, and in a couple of minutes, he's travelling almost at the speed of light. As he accelerates, he sees the effects of Relativity. Suddenly, there's a crazy explosion, he spins around, and he's travelling at 187,000 miles per second -- faster than the speed of light. Nice!
By this time, the missiles should have hit their targets. But there they are, suspended in time, since Paul is travelling at the speed of light. From Paul's reference, time is standing still. He decides to do a couple experiments -- "It was the least he could do for Julie after all she had done for him and for the whole of mankind." -- This it by far the most credit she gets through the entire book.
Anyway, Paul seems to discover that time reverses itself when you exceed the speed of light. This is a little confusing, but the science in this book is pretty novel at best. After all, he just accelerated from zero to 187k miles per second in a couple of minutes -- I'm sure that's a lot of G-force. The funniest thing about this part of the book is that it keeps mentioning that Paul is orbiting the Earth, taking pictures of the missiles the next time they appear, doing things on each orbit, etc. The diameter of the Earth is about 8,000 miles. If he's travelling at the speed of light, he's orbiting the Earth at least ten times a second. With the pressure off, Paul takes his time destroying the missiles. On each pass around the planet, he shoots another one. So, he's done in maybe two seconds. Success!
Paul goes back to Muta's base, and manages to nuke the whole place by heating up one of the remaining nukes with his laser. Then, he heads for home.
And that's basically the end of the book. Paul gives his sister the data he recorded beyond the speed of light. Of course, she can't publish it, so it's somewhat useless. Paul gets an invite to attend a "buffet supper" at the White House. The President pulls him aside to thank him, and tells him to be ready for his next mission.
This book was published to capitalize on the space race in the 60s, but it wasn't much of an effort. There's not much of a conflict between villain and protagonist -- Paul has no flaws, and any time he faces a challenge, they write the skill he needs into his background. The only real conflict, and only real relationship in the book, is between Paul and his sister, and he is utterly awful to her almost all the time -- even by the standards of the time. The book has one sequel "Operation Star Voyage," and that's it. There's no reviews of the sequel that I can find, but I've tracked down a copy of the book, and hope to give it a detailed review right here. Maybe Paul's treatment of Julie will improve some -- we'll see!
The very last page of the book, after the story is over, is "The Space Eagle Pledge to America" -- It's not mentioned anywhere in the story at all. The qualifiers in the second paragraph are pretty amusing.
|Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday|