The Airlords of Han
By Philip Francis Nowlan
Published by Librivox
Read by Alan Winterrowd
Anthony (later called “Buck”) Rogers is back in the sequel to Armageddon 2419 A. D. The story pretty much continues where the first one left off but now the Han, those Oriental occupiers of New Yok and other parts of America. Sadly, it is hard to see this original version of Buck Rogers as the same adventurer of the serials, although at least Twiki the robot does not appear anywhere in the story.
Actually, in spite of name similarities the original Rogers has nothing in common with the TV series of 1979-81 and while a lot of adventurous stuff goes on in this story, so much of the excitement gets lost in the telling. Perhaps it is the fact that it is all told in the first person past (I did this, then I did that) but with very little emotion. In fact much of the time I kept waiting for the real action take place as so much of it seemed to have taken long before.
Also Mister Nowlan got all bogged down with trying to explain details that were not entirely necessary and ran into flashbacks that Rogers himself only learned about long after the story took place… and telling a story in the future about how something that happened in the past to someone else does little to push the plot although that was not the only confusing bit of exposition. That part involved his wife, Wilma and could have been told better and more directly later when the she actually comes to his rescue.
The pacing of the story is uneven and clumsy. Just as something starts to happen we suddenly pause to have a whole chapter on the technology of the Han invaders. This is followed by an equally long and rather boring chapter on American technology of the 25th Century. It all read like a magician actually telling us how he does his tricks. Frankly we don’t need to know the minutia of how the future tech works and, in fact, he goes into such detail as to make it unbelievable. He’d have done better to leave out most of the details and let his readers make of the rest for themselves. Certainly that part of the story would have stood up better in the long run. As it is, both Americans and Han would have a hard time holding off a band of 21st Century middle school science students since their so-called advanced technology seems a bit primitive now.
Once we are finished drowning in bad SF tech, we are treated to a verbose, but bland discussion of Han sociology and then finally we get back to a bit of action in which Rogers, having been taken prisoner of the Han, is not only given several guided tours of the Han City, New Yok (and don’t think that pronunciation wasn’t annoying!) but is then told of their plans for how to survive the current American attack. Why? Because the bad guy is required by law to tell the hero everything he needs to know to defeat the bad guy? If I want a bad guy going on about his fiendish plot, I’ll watch Phineas & Ferb’s Dr. Doofenshmirtz expostulate to Perry the Platypus. In comparison, Doof is an organized and intelligently crafty fellow.
Anyway, once Rogers and Wilma are back together they managed to use their Swoopers and Airballs to exterminate the Han in a happy ending… if genocide is a happy ending. But wait! There’s more. In an appendix to the story, Nowlan reveals that the “Mongolian” Han (who I thought were actually Chinese – Back, after over 1700 years… It’s the all new Han Dynasty! But no…) were actually hybrid people who were the offspring of aliens who bred with Tibetans. Yeah? Seriously? Why? Not only does this make no sense whatsoever, even by the known science of the time it was written (keep in mind the definition of species), but the explanation not only has no bearing on the story and explains absolutely nothing.
In all, this was a very disappointing story, no wonder the TV series had a mouthy robot!
I’m sorry, but Alan Winterrowd puts in a performance only slightly better than mediocre. That might not be his fault since the writing itself is so dire, but I have listened to other bad stories that were read by excellent readers who, somehow got me to enjoy listening to them and if this were a better story, I would probably have given Mister Winterrowd more credit for the work he put in. However it’s a poorly written story and the reader fails to bring anything to it, although it is hard to say if anyone could have done better. Perhaps this was just a matter of the wrong (or right) reader for the very much wrong story.
In any case, it’s not a great story, although the events obviously were adaptable to the screen, they make for exciting viewing, but old Buck just does not tell the story well, I guess.