“You—you knew we were coming?” the governor ejaculated.’
The quotation above reveals my subject this column is a classic piece of pulp fiction:
The Golden Amazon series, beginning with ‘The Golden Amazon’ in 1944, and written by UK author John Russell Fearn, was a publishing phenomenon unique to Canada.
From 1910 to 1969 the Toronto Daily Star newspaper published a weekend supplement called “The Star Weekly Complete Novel” which was carried not only in the Star but in other newspapers across Canada. I recall ignoring examples when I lived in Ottawa and later in Toronto.
I ignored them (as a child and later as a teenager) because they were “gushy tear-jerkers”, typical examples being:
Woman Doctor’ by Anne Lorraine
Enchanted Summer’ by Hermina Black
The Velvet Hand’ by Helen Reilly
The Fog Hung Low’ by Gladys Burr Gardner
The Golden Amazon series, however, was something different, something ‘hard-boiled’ and ruthless. Violet Ray Brant, AKA the Golden Amazon, wasn’t merely empowered, she was invincible. A genuine superwoman, but without any desire to help the helpless or succour the wounded. I’ll give her this much, though. She understood exactly what she wanted.
“Reformed?” She laughed cynically. “Don’t misunderstand my motives. I simply know where to stop, that’s all. I haven’t reformed… In fact, I don’t think I need to reform. I have not given up hope of ruling the world one day—and maybe the rest of the solar system. But until I am asked to rule—thereby proving to myself that everybody wants me—I shall spend my time wiping out those who look likely to usurp my throne.”
This is a heroine you can trust… to be merciless.
“You can’t shoot him!” Bee gasped.’
“Jackson,” the Amazon said slowly. “I’m going to shoot you! Professor Dodd, an elderly man, crawled off this bench after you had finished with him—and I know perfectly well the law can never catch up to you for murdering him. But I can—and have. Do you remember when you fired at him, like this—?”
The revolver was fired with a deafening report, and Jackson clutched at his stomach.’
“And then like this?” the girl finished dispassionately; and fired again.’
She stood watching calmly as Jackson slowly curled over and at last dropped to the floor and became still.’
“You who are afflicted with the civilized disease known as sentiment will not agree with my actions,” she said, turning. “I call it justice…”
She ushers her friends out of the room, then remembers she has to go back and retrieve her atomic gun, not to mention take care of the other bad guy she had previously strangled unconscious.
She smiled as the man became dully conscious of her standing near him. Then she leveled the weapon and pressed the thumb-switch. A pencil of thin fire leaped straight for the man’s heart.’
“Evidence,” she said, half to herself, “is better destroyed, especially when it can talk.”
Most of the time she didn’t really need weapons of any kind.
He reached out and snapped on the light. He saw a face the colour of amber, blonde hair drawn back in shimmering waves from keen, exquisitely moulded features, and then caught over the crown of her well-shaped head with a band of gold. Eyes, the irises so deeply blue they were nearly purple, were watching him fixedly…’
Randfeldt’s eyes strayed from her frozen beauty to her hands—those dreadful hands, gleaming like amber satin…’
Those yellow fingers flashed out and seized his throat. Fingers tighter than constricting springs bit into his neck, dug down into his windpipe. Sheer strength held him pinned in the bed clothes. He coughed and struggled, tried to shout for help, but the grip remained—and tightened. At last the world went black before him as his senses fled into eternity.’
The girl stood looking down at him thoughtfully for a while. Nodding to herself, she switched off the bed light, leaped to the open window and vanished into the night. Presently the soft humming of a strange aircraft faded imperceptibly into distance…’
Not for nothing was she described thusly:
Here indeed, was a woman in every sense, yet, somehow, as sexless as a statue of highly polished marble.’
Cold. Cold. Cold!
How the heck did she get to be a superwoman in the first place?
As a child in 1940 she had fallen into the hands of a surgeon who desired world peace and figured a superwoman was just the thing…
Because of his glandular surgery the child had grown into a woman of surpassing beauty and razor-keen intellect, a born scientist, and gifted with a strength which had overwhelmed the strongest men…’
Her scientific genius, her almost sexless cruelty, had given her a brief dominion of Britain, achieved by ruthless disregard for sentiment. With her knowledge she had been able to transmute metals, had produced cold light, atomic force, and then—synthesis. The last discovery had sealed her fate. Determined to replace normal human beings with synthetic ones she had over-stepped the boundary of normalcy.’
I’ll say! Her solution to the problems and sufferings of the human race was to exterminate it entirely and replace it with a synthetic race of duplicates. No wonder she was unpopular!
However, in the sequel I am getting all my quotes from, ‘The Golden Amazon Returns,’ she has grudgingly come to accept the necessity of preserving the human race, having discovered that her synthetic creations have no opinion at all about her, neither for nor against, which made them unsatisfying and inadequate followers. Mere mortals were marginally better.
So what’s the plot?
Written in 1945, ‘The Amazon Returns’ takes place in the far off future of 1960. Professor Ken Dodd has invented the V-10 rocket (having fooled around with bits of V-2 rockets) and wants to give space travel to the world. Ex-Nazi German scientist Randfeldt want to use space travel to destroy the world. They discuss the matter and compromise by destroying Professor Todd first. The Golden Amazon then destroys Randfeldt. But not before another ex-Nazi scientist by name of Carl Meuller gets ahold of the plans and builds a base on the Moon from which he will bombard the Earth, destroying city after city, until the Earth capitulates and accepts his rule.
The Golden Amazon decides this falls under the category of usurping her throne so naturally she decides to wipe out Meuller and his cohorts.
Fortunately she has independently invented space travel and lands on the moon, unleashing duplicates of herself to distract the bad guys, and planting a homing device which Earth governments will use to launch hundreds of guided missiles (courtesy of the second copy of the spaceship plans Todd had given to his daughter Ruth) in order to destroy the base.
Unfortunately the Golden Amazon and her cohorts are captured by Meuller and are consequently doomed to perish in the soon-to-come missile bombardment from Earth, but as luck would have it his ex-Nazi sense of humour results in their being confined in one of the explosive missiles he launches to bombard the Earth before the Moon bombardment begins. Dashed convenient timing I say.
The Golden Amazon easily breaks her chains, frees her comrades (I can’t call them friends—she has no friends),figures out they’re going to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere and, in my favourite example of her scientific knowledge at work, jumps up and down on the outside of the rear of the spacecraft to alter its trajectory.
You see, every time she jumps her thrust changes the direction of the rocket ever so slightly. She waits till her gravitational mass is attracted back to the surface of the greater gravitational mass of the rocket, then jumps again. She does this 56 times. As a result the rocket does not burn up in the atmosphere and instead plops down safely in some ocean. Why didn’t the Apollo 13 astronauts think of this? Would have saved them a lot of trouble.
I left out a few plot diversions, like murdering her cousin’s lover because he turned out to be a bad guy.
“How much more evidence do you want?” the Amazon grated. “To start with, he is Teutonic in appearance…”
So she grabs the guy by the jaw and bends him backward…
All he could feel any more was that band of fire under his jaw and the core of pain eating into his back—breaking his back by inches.’
He screamed. Then the very fire of life exploded into agonizing darkness. There was a sound like a strong tree breaking in a silent wind…’
Slowly, the girl stood up again, then her final emotions exploded in a savage kick which landed in the dead airman’s ribs. Turning… she came back to the others.’
None of them said anything. Only Ruth Dodd made any sound at all and she was sobbing hysterically.’
“You can’t say I didn’t warn you, Ruth,” the Amazon said briefly. “I told you to have nothing to do with him.”
Actually I can’t help but think Ruth would have been better off having nothing to do with the Golden Amazon instead, but that’s just me.
This all seems startlingly sexist, as if the predominantly female readership of the Star Weekly supplement derived morbid and visceral satisfaction from a superwoman crushing, bashing and strangling men, occasionally tearing them to pieces, not to mention shooting and/or blowing them up, as if these were unusually pleasing examples of dating etiquette. Revenge is sweet, and very messy it seems. Something vaguely unhealthy about all this. And yet, something liberating too. Wish fulfillment fantasy perhaps. Some kind of fantasy.
There is no loc column in the supplement, but the series as a whole must have been popular, given that Fearn wrote 24 of them. These were:
The Golden Amazon’ (1944)
The Amazon Returns’ (1945)
The Golden Amazon’s Triumph’ (1946)
The Amazon’s Diamond Quest’ (1947)
Twin of the Amazon’ (1948)
The Amazon Strikes Again’ (1948)
Conquest of the Amazon’ (1949)
Lord of Atlantis’ (1949)
The Amethyst City’ (1951)
Daughter of the Amazon’ (1951)
The Central Intelligence’ (1953)
Parasite Planet’ (1955)
+ 11 others unknown to me, the last posthumously in 1961 (He died in 1960).
John Russell Fern occasionally contributed non-Golden Amazon SF novels to the Star Weekly as well, including:
Winged Pestilence’ (1953)
Dwellers in Darkness’ (1958)
Climate Incorporated’ (1959)
In truth he was a prolific pulp writer whose career began in 1933 and lasted well after his death (numerous reprints in translation published in Italy in the 1970s, for instance). He employed more than a dozen pseudonyms, the most famous of which is Vargo Statten (though I kinda prefer his lesser used Volsted Gridban).
And not just SF, but westerns, mysteries and romances in addition. Can’t say that he was a good writer exactly, but he certainly had the writer’s habit. Not a bad way to make a living. Hope he had fun. His stuff is fun to read, if a trifle disturbing.
[Note that ‘The Amazon Returns’ and 11 other Star Weekly supplements written by Fearn were recently donated to the BCSFA/WCSFA archive by long time Vancouver Fan Steve Forty. Can’t wait to read the rest.] [Also note that the four illustrations reproduced in this article were done by artist Bill Book (which I suspect is a pseudonym).]