World Beneath Ice by John Russel Fearn (Borgo Press, 2012)
World Beneath Ice (AKA Conquest of the Amazon) is not the first adventure of the Golden Amazon, although it’s subtitled “The Golden Amazon Saga, Book One”. It is the first book in the series published by Borgo Press (now Wildside). Chronologically speaking, this is the 7th Golden Amazon novel. The original title was Conquest of the Amazon and was originally published in 1949. Many people remember it from the 1973 lurid cover reissues which attempted to sell it as sword and sorcery novel. In any event, it makes for an interesting “Origin Of” story, since the heroine is already established. I’m not sure why Wildside/Borgo Press decided to start the series at an advanced timeline, but I’m speculating it may have to do with copyrights. All of the Golden Amazon stories and novels have been reprinted by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, but they are quite expensive. Gryphon Books reprinted many of her adventures in the 1990’s. In the meantime, there are these cost effective digital editions from Wildside. And I like the re-title.
Fearn conceived of the Golden Amazon as a hero pulp. Back in the late 1930’s, Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider and various other caped crusaders were kings of the news racks. Until comics stole their audience, the hero pulps promised monthly novel-length adventures for a slim dime. John Russel Fearn, who had been publishing stories in many genres, approached magazine editor Ray Palmer with an idea of a ‘female Tarzan” who comes of age in the jungles of the planet Venus, as opposed to Earth. The initial story ran and the readers were pleased. Russel would publish 4 more Golden Amazon stories, until he re-booted the character as a science fiction heroine in the Toronto Daily Star in 1944. The novel-length supplement the newspaper published proved to be wildly popular and Russel continued the series for 21 novels.
In the novels, the Golden Amazon is Violet Ray Brandt, the adopted daughter of a famous surgeon. Bio-engineered to be a superior human, Violet Brandt decides to rule the human race and begins her life as an anti-hero. But Russel decided to make her one of the good guys and she came back in the sequels as a defender of humanity. Tall, muscled, and beautiful, the Golden Amazon is wish-fulfillment for a generation of science fiction fans with poor social skills. I’ll let the academics waste verbage on how other artists (usually men for some reason) were creating superwomen characters in the post war era, although most were sold under the counter. Even one of the creators of Superman has been revealed to have been a contributor to this genre.
In World Beneath Ice, the Amazon is one her way back to earth after a perilous mission. But before she returns to Earth in her custom-built spaceship, the Ultra, she manages to send an enemy space armada into the sun. The Amazon escapes, but Earth loses all communication with her and fears the worst. Months later, the sun begins to dim in power. It suddenly dawns to everyone on Earth that the invading space fleet’s incineration has caused the sun to begin cooling off. With no Amazon to save them, humanity’s greatest and best are summoned to deal with the impending crisis. Her sworn enemies blame the Amazon for the death of the sun. Since she’s not around to defend herself, the public, in crisis, agrees with them.
Eventually the Amazon shows up and announces she’ll deal with the situation. By now, great underground shelters are being constructed to movie the population of Earth to safety. Huge glaciers are rolling over the cities of the northern hemisphere. In spite of her protests, the Amazon’s enemies get her convicted in a kangaroo court and shot into space. But not to worry, she manages to make it back to Earth safely and is rescued by one of her admirers: a hunk named Abna from the lost Atlantis civilization living in safety under a dome on Jupiter.
You still with me? Good. Because now the story becomes pure, unadulterated 100% pulp. Not only does the Amazon manage to return to civilization in triumph, but she ruthlessly crushes her enemies. And she manages to save people from a collapsing shelter. All with her golden boy in tow, who keeps trying to pledge true love to his auric goddess. But the sun is still shrinking in the sky and in danger of turning into a white dwarf. Will Goddess Vi have time to save humanity from an icy death or will her enemies stop her? And what about Ethel, her adopted niece ?
John Russel Fearn created one of the most bizarre pulp heroes I’ve ever encountered. The man was a giant in the industry who never received the credit he deserved. Although he could write in just about any genre, the Golden Amazon was his most popular creation, providing material for the Toronto newspaper’s novel supplement every year. I’m sure he could’ve knocked out an adventure every month if asked.
The pulp elements are evident: a heroine with godlike powers and villains who are rotten to the core. Rocket ships which run off copper as fuel for their atomic pile. Dastardly industrialists who know how to pilot private space ships. Imminent danger for human civilization. But this heroine is a code unto herself, who decides she is above humanity even if she wants to save it. Think Tarzan, Conan and Genghis Khan in the body of a beautiful woman.
And the Amazon’s plans for the future? A matriarchy with her in charge:
“Call it a dream, if you like, but at least I have made part of it come true. I am trying, planet by planet—excluding Mercury so near to the sun, Venus with its torrid poison atmosphere, and Pluto so far away—to create a union of the Solar System, to bring all the planets together under one government—a sane, sensible government. To that end I have brought the moon under Earth’s jurisdiction, and then Mars….”
The original illustrations show the Amazon to be cheery and blond. She could double for a breakfast cereal ad in those 50’s newspaper drawings. But the one used for the cover of this digital book is a good picture of the Amazon as she’s described. Awesome and beautiful, without a single bit of emotion. A bitch goddess surveying her domain. And yet her adventures were so popular in the newspaper that the editor tried to find someone else to continue the series when Fearn died in 1961.
The Golden Amazon is worth reading. We’re not talking Tolstoy hear, but the author knew how to grind out a captivating tale. And that’s what really matters.