Review: Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele

When old is new again.

avengers-of-the-moon-by-allen-steele-hb-coverDue to be released in early 2017 from Tor Books, Avengers of the Moon takes readers on a slightly different path than most of the other works by award winning author Allen Steele. Those familiar with the author’s instinctive ability to take multifaceted characters and place them in worlds of complex social environments both probable and fantastic will find this story a bit simpler – in a good way. By allowing fandom to travel back in time to its roots, Steele combines the charm of those classic swashbuckling space adventures many of us grew up on with questions about artificial intelligence and space colonization that we face today.

In step with the plot-line of the original Captain Future series created way back in the 1940’s by Mort Weissinger and penned by Edmond Hamilton, our hero Curt Newton is a young man raised in seclusion by a unique, and sometimes conflicting trio of characters. Hidden away on the Moon, the boy lives with a sentient android named Otho, a powerful robot named Grag, and the preserved brain of Professor Simon Wright, a brilliant scientist who also happened to be a longtime close friend of Curt’s parents who was present when they were murdered.

Remaining loyal to the original cast but with more of a modern take, Newton’s love interest is a confident officer of the Interplanetary Police Force named Joan Randall. Her dedication to the job and determination to catch the bad guy is only clouded by her personal curiosity as she comes face to face with a charming suitor. With plenty of flirtatious innuendoes and awkward moments that stop well short of becoming silly, the two characters build a strong comfortable bond that will assuredly develop over future stories – should Steele decide to continue the journey – nudge, nudge.

In the successful tradition of modern superhero lore and a somewhat popular blueprint for the protagonist’s evolution, we have an orphaned vigilante bent on vengeance in the guise of honor. Oh, and there’s also something about saving the Solar Coalition from certain doom. Sure we’ve seen this archetypal hero stuff before, but this story has more of a Lone Ranger wholesomeness about it that harkens back to the pulp classics. Pure and simple, it’s a fun story that goes by fast.

Yes, the original stories are a little dated seeing that the first novel Captain Future and the Space Emperor was set in the unfathomably distant future of 2015. But Avengers of the Moon is much more than just a retelling of a classic story from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Steele has taken the wholesome ember of flame that set fandom afire long ago and breathed some fresh modern air into it. Here, readers get to experience that deep-rooted retro feel of an old favorite through the author’s vivid imagery and innate ability to make the impossible seem plausible. Old truly is new again.

For those hardcore fans, please don’t fret. We still have the classic space gun in hand, but thankfully we don’t have to suffer through the old-school pew-pew action in this story. The weapon of choice here is referred to as a plasma gun, shooting “translucent hoops vaguely resembling smoke rings.” I only bring this up because the 12-year-old kid in me wants to find this on the toy shelf – now.

Another nice touch to bring us more up to date in our speculative aspect of the fiction is something called the Light Deflecting Fantome Device. It is similar to the ship cloaking abilities we know from Star Trek lore, but with more plausibility in its design flaws and limitations. Technology isn’t always perfect, and Steele’s willingness to show honest boundaries to scientific advancements makes the fantastic that much more believable.

There’s nothing wrong with returning to the origins of fandom as long as it’s done correctly. And by correctly, I mean with style, utilizing realistic scientific creative license, and just enough loyalty to the original idea to keep the legacy going strong. Avengers of the Moon does this and a whole lot more. Allen Steele may have an award or two to his credit, but his passion for the classics that inspired so many readers and writers is what shines through in this latest novel. This is one of those books that will take older readers back to their childhood and leave them with warm-fuzzy-feels of nostalgia while teaching younger readers about discovery through the ageless art of space-saga.

Whether returning to old adventures or making new ones, Captain Future and his Futuremen certainly have a bright, um, future ahead of them.

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