Literature / The Planeteers
Series of five science-fiction short stories by John W. Campbell
, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories
between 1936 and 1938, and collected in book form in 1966 as The Planeteers
Ted Penton and Rod Blake have fled Earth in their nuclear-powered spaceship, the Ion
, after a mishap involving their illegal research on atomic power
(it involved destroying 300 square miles of Europe in an atomic explosion). Since nobody else on Earth is willing to use atomic power, nobody can catch up with them; and so while their lawyers try to sort things out on Earth, Penton and Blake bide their time exploring the Solar System and having adventures.
We first meet up with our heroes on Mars, where they encounter centaurs and parasitic shapeshifters
. Penton learns telepathy from the centaurs, which will prove useful in future dealings with intelligent aliens. After Mars, the pair proceed towards the outer system, where they start a revolution, fight blob monsters
, learn alien languages, encounter high gravity and extreme cold, solve problems with the power of chemistry, etc.
The stories are:
- "The Brain Stealers of Mars"
- "The Double Minds"
- "The Immortality Seekers"
- "The Tenth World"
- "The Brain Pirates"
The Penton and Blake stories are remembered today for their influence on Isaac Asimov
's more famous stories about the robot field-testers Powell and Donovan
Not to be confused with those other planeteers
This work provides examples of:
- Alien Lunch: The alien food stragath creeps Blake out because it tends to move around while you're trying to eat it.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Venus, Mars, Ganymede, Callisto, and the Tenth World's satellite Pornan all have breathable air.
- Almost Out of Oxygen: In "The Tenth World", Penton and Blake visit a planet that is too cold to have gaseous oxygen. They're trapped away from their spaceship by alien monsters, and find that they're using up oxygen faster than expected because of the planet's high gravity.
- As You Know: Penton and Blake often spend the first few paragraphs of a story recapping what has happened to them so far.
- Bizarre Alien Biology
- Blob Monster: The grethlanth and the shleath in "The Double Minds". (A shleath is like a grethlanth, only fifty feet in diameter.)
- Drives Like Crazy: In "The Brain Pirates", Terruns and all the residents of the tenth world's satellite come off as crazy drivers to the Terrestrial heroes. It's mentioned that their vehicles only go about twenty miles an hour, but thanks to the high gravity there's a lot of traction, and stopping can be very abrupt.
- Expressive Hair: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Rod Blake's hair "[rises] very slightly from his head" when he finds out about the thushol's tendency to Kill and Replace the other Martians.
- Future Slang
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Rod Blake starts laughing hysterically after encountering an alien disguised as Ted Penton. The real Ted Penton cracks him across the face to snap him out of it.
- Heavyworlder: Penton and Blake, when they visit worlds with sub-Earth gravity.
- Intoxication Ensues: Twice in "The Tenth World". It's mentioned that when Penton and Blake were on Venus, they got drugged out of their minds after mistaking sodium bromide for sodium chloride. Later, Blake gets drunk on excess oxygen when his spacesuit malfunctions, and his resulting irrational behavior ends up saving the day.
- I Say What I Say: A variant in "The Brain Stealers of Mars": Penton and Blake encounter shapeshifting aliens who impersonate them, and they have to spot the imposters; because the aliens can read minds, they can flawlessly imitate what Penton or Blake would say. It's not long before all twelve Pentons start speaking and acting in unison. Blake, on the other hand, is more uncertain, and the Blakes argue with and contradict one another despite all having access to the same mind.
- It Was Here, I Swear!
- Man-Eating Plant: A man-eating Venusian plant is mentioned as having almost killed one of the heroes in "The Brain Stealers of Mars".
- Mistaken for an Imposter: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Blake encounters a shapeshifting alien plant-thing that disguises itself—poorly—as Penton. He shoots it and it turns into a bat and flies away. He's still in the grip of hysteria when another Penton-thing shows up, and Blake shoots at it too. Of course, this one is real.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Usually played straight; Penton and Blake are able to eat Callistan jelly fruit and stragath (although the latter creeps Blake out because it tends to move around while you're trying to eat it). Averted in "The Brain Pirates", though, when Penton and Blake become stranded on the outer-system satellite Pornan and fear starvation because all the food there is full of heavy metals.
- Oh My Gods!: The characters do use "My God", but Penton also swears by multiple gods. Including, on one occasion, "By the Nine Gods of the Nine Worlds, and the multiple deities of space!"
- Omniglot: Penton, thanks to Martian telepathic techniques.
- Organic Technology: "The Double Minds" is set on Ganymede, where electricity was never discovered. Light bulbs are powered by fluorescent bacteria and cars have muscles instead of motors. Unlike most examples of Organic Technology, the story clearly states that Ganymedian gadgets are a poor substitute for electric-powered technology. A bit of an Unbuilt Trope, considered that it was written in 1937.
- Pepper Sneeze: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Rod Blake sneezes when exposed to pepper. This clues Ted Penton into the fact that he is the real Rod Blake, since he figures that the shapeshifting aliens couldn't have spontaneously imitated such a complicated reflex as sneezing.
- Perception Filter
- Speak in Unison: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Ted Penton and Rod Blake encounter shapeshifting aliens who impersonate them, and they have to spot the imposters. Because the aliens can read minds, they can flawlessly imitate what Penton or Blake would say, and it's not long before all twelve Pentons start speaking and acting in unison. (Blake, on the other hand, is more uncertain, and the Blakes argue with and contradict one another despite all having access to the same mind.)
- Speaks in Shout-Outs: In "The Immortality Seekers", Penton and Blake encounter a Callistan dog-like creature who speaks telepathically by repeating things she's heard people say or think—a living phonograph machine, they call her. She has an editorial ability, though, and only repeats thoughts that are appropriate to a given topic or situation.
- Spot the Imposter: In "The Brain Stealers of Mars", the thushol are Martian shapeshifting parasites who impersonate the heroes. They're also mind-readers, so that a duplicate has all the knowledge of the original, and the heroes can't find out who is the real one by questioning each other.
- Telepathic Spacemen: Penton and Blake encounter several species of telepathic aliens. Also, at the beginning of the series, the Martians teach Penton their telepathic techniques so that he becomes a telepathic spaceman, and he uses the skill to instantly learn languages on other planets.
- Two of Your Earth Minutes: Weirdly averted in "The Brain Pirates".
- Universal Driver's License
- Vocal Dissonance: Near the beginning of "The Brain Stealers of Mars", Rod Blake meets something on the surface of Mars that looks like Ted Penton—but it's new to imitating humans, and when it first speaks, it speaks in Rod Blake's voice.