Thursday, November 30, 2006

Find the Feathered Serpent -- Evan Hunter

I've mentioned this book more than once on the blog. (Here, here, here, here, and here.) Obviously it impressed me a lot back there in 1952. When I saw a copy at the World Fantasy Con for a mere $165, I was tempted to buy it, but Scott Cupp said, "Hey, don't do that. I'll send you a copy of the Gregg Press edition." I couldn't turn down such a generous offer, and it turned out to be even more generous that I'd suspected. When the book arrived I discovered that it was signed. Thanks again, Scott!

Naturally I read it almost immediately. It's a time-travel story, about Neil Falsen. whose father builds a time machine thanks to a "temporium crystal." The plan is to go back to the Yucatan and discover who or what inspired the story of Kukulkan. Not the second one. The first one. Among the many things that never occurred to me when I first read the book is why anybody would make that particular trip the very first one for a time machine.

Neil, who's 16, gets to make the trip because his father's laid up with a bum leg. Things like that happened in the '50s. It's like the fact that there's no publicity about the time machine. Nobody knows about it, and it's guarded by only one guy. Anyway, the time machine takes off (it has rotors like a helicopter and is powered by gasoline), and things go wrong. The machine gets out of control Two of the four crew members are killed on landing, and Neil and the pilot don't know where or when they are.

Turns out they're near the Yucatan, though, where they're rescued by Vikings, blown off course in a storm. The Viking captain is Eric, a red-bearded man with a winged helmet, so you can probably guess who Kukulkan will turn out to be.

There's a lot of action in the novel and two big scenes of fierce fighting. The violence is surprisingly graphic, or it surprised me on this reading. There's blood all over the place, and heads roll. Literally. No wonder I loved this book. Hunter slows it down for some teaching scenes about the importance of crop rotation and such, but not enough to have bothered me much, I guess.

The big surprise was the ball-playing scene. It's very short, only a page or so, but there's a much longer scene in an unpublished book called The Heart of Ahriman that Charlotte Laughlin and I wrote. I wrote the scene entirely on my own, and I had no idea that I'd ever read one before. I thought I'd come up with a unique idea, all on my own, with the help of National Geographic. The unconscious is a scary thing sometimes. (Two chapters from the novel are contained in Cross Plains Universe, by the way.)

It was a real pleasure to re-read Find the Feathered Serpent after so many years and to find that it was still fun. Unsophisticated? Sure. Dumb? Maybe. But fun. And the last scene between Eric and Neil still managed to get me choked up. This may have been Hunter's first novel, but he knew what he was doing.


Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well my Winston Science Fiction classic, Battle on Mercury, read once I tracked it down. I'm tempted (would that I had lots of extra cash on hand) to collect the entire run. There were some great authors that contributed to that line.

Unknown said...

Lots of cash is right. Those things are high-end merchandise.

There's been some discussion of fictionmags that Paul Fairman ghosted some of Del Rey's Winston novels. Wonder if your fave was one of them.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised the Fairman ghosting of Del Rey '60s (rather than Winston) juveniles wasn't common knowledge...I was, as I wrote one of the correspondents offlist, rather relieved to first read about the ghosting in the first edition of Nicholls's SCIENCE FICTION ENCYCLOPEDIA. Having become already familiar with Fairman's slickly dull hack sf (constant readers here might know his crime fiction averaged a bit better), it made sense that THE RUNAWAY ROBOT was so slickly dull, unreadable to me as a youngster. Denny Lien was kind enough to post a list of the generally-agreed ghosted novels:

1964 -

1966 -

1968 -

Unknown said...

Thanks for the list, Todd. Now we know Fairman didn't ghost the one Jayme likes. Or any of the Winstons. I missed that point along the way. Did you ever read any of the Paula Fairman gothics?